Co-operation Ireland welcomes restoration of North/South ministerial council

Leading cross-border peace charity welcomes restoration of north/south ministerial council but warns more needs to be done to bring about ‘an Ireland at peace with itself’

Speech given by Tony Kennedy on Tuesday 17th July 2007

“For the first time for many years, we have, on the island of Ireland, two governments established with a mandate for the next four or five years. They also share a determination to build a prosperous and peaceful future, working together as appropriate. This presents us with a unique opportunity to develop North-South co-operation based on practical issues which will benefit all communities. However for North-South co-operation to fulfil its potential some issues need to be addressed.

“The first is the need for a shared overarching vision of what North-South co-operation is working to achieve. Reconciliation should be at the core of this vision, ensuring that North-South working has meaning for all communities on the island and threatens no-one. Such an expansive understanding of the ultimate aim of co-operation avoids reducing the North-South agenda to narrow economic concerns and provides validation for the crucial work of relationship building and attitudinal change. This vision should be generated by an inclusive process of dialogue between the key stakeholders in North-South co-operation, including government, the business sector, and civil society, and should inform the development of future policy and programmes at all levels. As a basis for discussion Co-operation Ireland suggests that all cross-border activity should work to encourage a process of integration between the two parts of the island so as to remove the hindrances that the border presents to economic co-ordination, social cohesion, and cultural reconciliation and to ultimately lead to an ‘Ireland’ at peace with itself”.

“Secondly, the reconvened North South Ministerial Council should, as a priority, develop a coherent policy framework for North-South co-operation. This would entail drawing up a comprehensive and integrated programme of actions, which would bring the current disparate elements of North-South co-operation together in one framework. This document would guide activity by setting objectives and targets across all sectors of co-operation and would identify indicators to enable monitoring of progress. Implementation should be subject to regular review, with at least annual reporting, and the framework should have the flexibility to evolve in response to learning and emergent needs. In addition, there is need for a coherent policy environment in both jurisdictions which is supportive of North-South working and recognises the impact of the border by devoting particular (but not exclusive) attention to problems in the border corridor.

“Finally, there is an urgent need to establish the proposed North South Consultative Forum. Civil society has been at the forefront of fostering co-operation and building relationships between Northern Ireland and the Republic throughout the conflict, developing a deep knowledge and understanding of cross-border working and, in the form of the North-South Ad Hoc group, building a strong all island network. The establishment of the Forum would provide a mechanism for civil society to feed this learning into government policy making and facilitate a partnership approach to the development and delivery of North-South initiatives. A number of roles suggest themselves for the Forum including: informing the development of policy and encouraging a North-South policy environment; evaluating cross-border interventions and documenting learning; and facilitating an inclusive dialogue on the vision and direction of future co-operation.

“The composition of the Forum should be such as to ensure it will execute its roles and generate its opinions in a credible and effective manner. Therefore, while it should be representative of the social partners it should, to ensure focus and relevance, be limited to a maximum of 60 members with its core drawn from organisations actively involved in cross-border and all-island working. The remaining membership should be balanced between North and South but with a weighting towards the border areas. In order to be an effective partner for government, the Forum should be given a clear remit and role and should be sufficiently resourced, with the support of appropriately-sized secretariat.
“We are on the cusp of a new era in relations between North and South. The political progress of the past decade has opened up the prospect of a future where the ‘cold denying silence’ of the past is replaced by genuine friendship and partnership. However, while there is general agreement on the benefits of working together, the potential of North-South co-operation will not be realised if we continue to approach it in an incoherent and fragmented manner. An opportunity now exists to remove these obstacles and ensure our ways of co-operating North-South are fit for purpose in this new era. Civic society looks forward to supporting this endeavour.”