Tuesday, 17 January 2012
Dáil Éireann Debate
71. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if North-South co-operation is being adversely affected by budgetary cuts; if North-South relations will be adversely impacted as a result; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2321/12]
106. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will detail the steps to be taken in the coming months to address the priorities of the North-South Ministerial Council. [2453/12]
North South Cooperation is currently operating at a very high level. The North South Ministerial Council (NSMC) meets in three formats: Plenary, Institutional and Sectoral. Since this Government came into office, the work of the NSMC has been taken forward at all levels, with a total of 16 Sectoral meetings having taken place, along with an Institutional meeting on 3 October 2011 and Plenary meetings on 10 June and 18 November, 2011. The next Institutional meeting is planned for the late spring, and the next Plenary will be in June.
At the meeting in Plenary format in Armagh on 18 November, discussions covered a wide range of issues, particularly in regard to the economic challenges faced in both jurisdictions. There was also a review of progress across a range of areas of North-South co-operation, including the work of the North-South bodies, particularly as they relate to fostering economic recovery across the island. Opportunities for efficiencies and to make mutual savings through co-operation in areas where there is cross-border duplication of services were also discussed.
The special importance of tourism in the economy, North and South, was recognised as was our wish to work closely with the Executive to ensure that the sector’s potential is fulfilled, maximising the benefits of forthcoming initiatives both North and South, including the Titanic centenary in 2012, Derry City of Culture in 2013 and “The Gathering”, also in 2013.
Ministers noted progress on EU-related matters, including collaboration to maximise drawdown of EU funds from the FP7 research and development programme, progress on current EU programmes and the potential for co-operation on future EU programmes.
The Government’s decision to defer further investment in the A5 and A8 road projects was noted by the Council, while a payment of £3 million in accordance with the previously agreed procedure in respect of a project milestone reached was approved. The Government’s commitment to provide £25 million for these projects in both 2015 and 2016 was acknowledged and the relevant Departments North and South are to prepare a new funding and implementation plan for agreement at the next NSMC transport meeting with endorsement at the plenary meeting in June 2012.
In regard to establishing the North-South parliamentary forum, the work undertaken by the Ceann Comhairle and the Speaker of the Northern Assembly and in joint meetings of working groups of the Oireachtas and the Assembly was welcomed.
We also discussed the North West Gateway Initiative and agreed that the NSMC Joint Secretariat would convene a meeting of officials from relevant Departments in both jurisdictions, with a view to a progress report being presented to the next NSMC Institutional meeting. The officials’ meeting is to take place early next month.
Arising from the Good Friday Agreement, a number of specific priorities were identified which became the agreed areas of cooperation within the remit of the NSMC. Ministers continue to work on these areas in collaboration with their Northern counterparts. Ministers also identify, where possible, additional opportunities to engage cooperatively in areas where there is scope for joint action.
At its November Plenary, the NSMC discussed progress made on the St. Andrews Agreement Review which is examining, inter alia, those agreed areas of North/South cooperation and whether there is a case for adding to them. The NSMC agreed that, as a way to making progress on this, there will be consultation within the Executive and within the Irish Government, as well as discussion at the next NSMC Institutional meeting, with proposals to be agreed at the plenary meeting in June.
As to the impact of budgetary cuts, it is of course the case that Government has to bring forward major savings across the full range of public expenditure, and the North South bodies are not immune from this process. However, a programme of savings has been agreed with our Northern Ireland colleagues to this effect which will focus on ensuring that the bodies can continue to deliver their core objectives. The Government has also underlined its commitment to infrastructure development as I outlined above.
We shall continue to work with our Northern partners to ensure that cooperation grows to the maximum extent possible. I was in Belfast on 16 January for meetings with First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness to discuss how we can work even more closely in addressing some of the challenges facing both the Government and the Northern Ireland Executive.
72. Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has had any meetings recently in relation to Northern Ireland and in particular activities in west Belfast; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2323/12]
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Eamon Gilmore): Since becoming Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade I have visited Northern Ireland on a number of occasions and, during these visits, have met with my Northern Ministerial colleagues, as well as community representatives. Yesterday, I visited Belfast where I met with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and subsequently I participated in a joint meeting with him and with the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. We reviewed matters of mutual concern, including economic cooperation between North and South, focussing on how both parts of the Island can work together to overcome common economic challenges. We discussed how both governments and the Executive could work more closely together on funding issues, such as on EU Programmes and on the International Fund for Ireland. We reviewed plans for the forthcoming Decade of Commemorations, which it was generally agreed should be approached with mutual respect, tolerance and inclusivity, building on the success of the Queen’s visit. We also discussed a range of other issues, such as recent developments on security and related matters.
The Government remains fully committed to the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. The Programme for Government affirms our commitment to strengthening North South cooperation even further, and to working with our Northern colleagues to develop greater economic collaboration to accelerate the process of economic recovery and job creation on this island. I intend to continue to travel to Northern Ireland on a regular basis to continue building and strengthening relationships.
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