Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Thursday, 19 November 2020

Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement

Cross-Border Further and Higher Education Sectors: Discussion

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I am delighted our colleague, Senator Blaney, suggested the witnesses make this presentation. In his introductory remarks, he outlined the importance of LYIT and Derry to the wider north west. During the last Dáil term, the committee members visited Magee campus and LYIT. It was very enlightening. It demonstrated to us very clearly the importance of both Magee campus and LYIT to the broader economy. It was very much underpinned by the North West Strategic Growth Partnership, whereby the local authorities worked very much together. At the time of our visit, we met Mr. Seamus Neely, the then Donegal county manager, and his counterparts from Derry. It was clear that not only did they have a memorandum of understanding but that they were also implementing programmes together, which was important. We can have strategies and plans but if there is no implementation we are going nowhere. It was the opposite in the region in question; things were happening through collaboration. There was a great synergy involving the local authorities, and similarly between LYIT and the Magee campus. That is very heartening.

I am delighted that Mr. Hannigan mentioned that further education is very much an aspect of the partnership. As we know, the regional colleges were established to lead in the necessary economic development of the regions. The further education colleges were then developed to meet the needs of the local economy and growing areas with the potential to create jobs. It is important that the further education element be maintained.

Are the industrial promotion agencies, both north and south of the Border, an integral part of the delegates' work and thinking, in addition to the background work they do in preparing programmes?

The education architecture is set out regarding Connacht–Ulster through the proposed Connacht–Ulster alliance and the technological university involving GMIT, Sligo IT at LYIT. Mr. Hannigan told us the application would be submitted in January. When are decisions expected regarding the success, or otherwise, of such technological university applications? When the alliance is put in place, there will be new demands and challenges. I am very anxious that we do not sidetrack the impetus that has existed between Letterkenny and Derry and that we emphasise consolidating the new educational architecture between GMIT, Sligo IT and LYIT. I hope that the parallel consolidation and further development of the important Letterkenny–Derry framework will be continued. It is essential. We all warmly welcome the shared island initiative of the Government.

As we know, education and health are two of the sectors identified in the Good Friday Agreement for development on an all-Ireland basis. What the witnesses have been doing is putting into practice what is reflected in the overall thinking behind the Good Friday Agreement. Now there is an opportunity to build on that, with specific funding, additional funding, provided through the shared island initiative. Deputy Mac Lochlainn mentioned that we do not want universities and institutes of technology competing for students. It is essential to the further development of new programmes in colleges that they be complementary and not compete with those of their neighbours, north or south.

I had the opportunity in Letterkenny and Derry to see at first hand the important ongoing work and the determination of both sides to make it succeed. I wish the delegates well in their continued work.


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