Thursday, 23 November 2006
Department of Foreign Affairs
Question 80: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs his plans for greater all Ireland economic cooperation and the development of greater cross-Border links; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39590/06]
Question 100: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs his plans for greater all Ireland economic co-operation and the development of greater cross-Border links; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39260/06]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 80 and 100 together.
The Government's objective is the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and the restoration of the institutions, including the North/South Ministerial Council. In the St Andrews Agreement we have set out a clear path to restoration by 26 March 2007. This will greatly enhance the excellent work being undertaken by the North/South Bodies, as well as facilitating the development of North/South co-operation to the benefit of all.
A key priority for the Government is to give enhanced impetus to North/South co-operation, including through all-island economic co-operation. On 26 October, the Secretary of State and I launched a ground-breaking Study on the All-island Economy. The study sets out a strong and cogent economic rationale for economic co-operation on the island.
Initiatives identified in the Study embrace further collaboration in Research and Development, including maximising access to EU funds; a new targeted approach to enterprise training and to identifying labour market needs on an all-island basis. We have also agreed to pool our resources in trade promotion, including the opening up of trade missions to businesses across the island and the placing of the overseas offices of Enterprise Ireland and Invest NI at the disposal of companies, North and South. Already trade missions to India and Canada have included companies from both parts of the island.
The Study identified co-operation on the planning and delivery of infrastructure as key to maximising returns on the major infrastructure investments being made, North and South, and also to help ensure more balanced regional development. In this regard, the all-island dimension will be an important horizontal theme of the Government's next National Development Plan for the period 2007-2013.
The Governments are committed to working together to create a more integrated and regionally-balanced road network, enhancing key routes between the major urban centres on the island. In addition the Government is moving ahead to re-open the remaining few cross border routes closed as a result of the Troubles. I should add that some significant progress has already been achieved, for example in the upgrading of the Dublin Belfast road and the agreement to joint investment in the development of the City of Derry Airport.
The Government is also committed to taking forward plans for the restoration of the Ulster Canal to create a further major inland waterway for the border region.
In the energy sector, the Single Electricity Market will be operational in 2007 and plans are advanced for the development of further interconnection of our electricity and gas supply systems on a North/South and East/West basis. The two Governments have agreed to work together to maximise the contribution of renewable and sustainable energy to the future energy needs of the island.
The Government's vision is of a strong, competitive and socially inclusive island economy which will deliver better results and better outcomes for people, North and South.
The two Governments, along with key stakeholders, will now jointly develop a more detailed programme of work in each of the areas identified in the Study as well as seeking further opportunities for co-operation in the education and health sectors.
Recognising the significant practical benefits of all-island economic collaboration, I look forward to working on this important agenda with a restored Northern Ireland Executive and North/South Ministerial Council in the near future.