Written answers

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Northern Ireland Issues

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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59. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will outline the proposals he conveyed to Ambassador Richard Haass during their recent meeting; if his Department forwarded a written submission in relation to these all-party talks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47569/13]

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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I met with Dr Richard Haass on 31 October in Iveagh House. We had met previously in New York on 25 September and have agreed to keep closely in touch. I believe that close and ongoing contact with Dr Haass and his team is preferable to a formal submission at this stage in his consultative process. During these meetings, we discussed each of the issues that he has been asked to address by the Northern Ireland Executive including parades, flags and emblems and the past. Dr Haass has committed to concluding his work by December and, to that end, he has embarked on an ambitious programme of work. I am very supportive of the process of consultation with wider society undertaken by Dr Haass and his team. I believe that this is an essential component to a successful process.

The Government believes that the process presents an opportunity to reaffirm the commitments made throughout the hard-won peace process and to making further progress towards advancing reconciliation and the creation of a truly reconciled and prosperous society in Northern Ireland.

During our meetings to date, I have assured Dr Haass that he and his team have the full support of the Government in the pursuit of their work and that we are ready to assist them in any way we can. Dr Haass and I have agreed to remain in close contact and meet again in the coming weeks.

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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60. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his participation in the Economic Investment Conference held in Belfast on 10 and 11 October 2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47570/13]

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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Officials from my Department attended the Northern Ireland Economic Investment Conference in Belfast in early October. This conference allowed excellent networking with representatives from the Northern Irish business sector. Attendance at the Conference was another example of the very good relations between the UK and Ireland which Prime Minister Cameron attested to in his address to the conference. Prime Minister Cameron’s comments on the collaborative work being undertaken between the two Governments is reinforced in the UK’s economic package for Northern Ireland “Building a Prosperous and United Community” which acknowledges the need for the UK Government and NI Executive to work with the Irish Government with the aim of supporting economic growth and a shared society with equality of opportunity for all in Northern Ireland. I spoke of this in my address to the Chamber of Commerce during my recent visit to Derry.

At the Belfast Conference the Prime Minister also referred to the ongoing work to establish common visa arrangements across the UK and Ireland which could have significant economic benefits for business across the island.

My decision to involve Northern Ireland companies in the recent Global Irish Economic Forum has been heartily welcomed by those companies and by the NI business sector. I and my Department officials will continue to engage fully with Northern Ireland business and government representatives for the benefit of the economy of the island as a whole.

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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61. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has been engaged in any discussions on the Together: Building a United Community Strategy; if he will outline any detailed proposals he has brought forward in relation to this work; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47571/13]

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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I have previously welcomed the publication in May 2013 by the NI Executive of a new strategy ‘Together: Building A United Community’. The publication of the strategy is an important acknowledgement of the ongoing blight of sectarianism across communities in Northern Ireland and recognition that building a shared society requires a comprehensive response across political, economic, civic and social life. Building relationships between divided communities takes time and sustained effort and will need to be at the core of the work of the NI Executive, NI Party Leaders and the NI Assembly for some time to come.The Government will continue to support all efforts by the Executive and political leaders in Northern Ireland to promote reconciliation. The priority now, in my discussions with the Parties in Northern Ireland, is to encourage and support them in implementing the Strategy to its fullest extent, both in terms of promoting an ethos of respect and reconciliation and in implementing fully the individual practical proposals as set out in the Strategy.I welcome the rapid implementation of the proposal in the strategy to establish an All-Party Group, under the independent Chairmanship of Dr. Richard Haass, to consider and make recommendations on difficult matters including parades and protests; flags, symbols, emblems and related matters; and the past. I met with Dr. Haass on 25th September and 31st October in Dublin and assured him that he and his team have the full support of the Government.

In my discussions with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, with the First and deputy First Minister, and with other members of the Northern Ireland Executive, I continue to encourage all parties to seize the opportunity provided by the new Together Building a United Community Strategy and by the All-Party talks to accelerate the realisation of a cohesive and united community based on tolerance and respect in Northern Ireland. The ‘Together: Building A United Community’ strategy was also discussed at the North South Ministerial Council Plenary held in Dublin on 5 July 2013.

The EU funded PEACE and Interreg programmes have made an important contribution to supporting peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland and our border counties and I am glad that support for this valuable work will continue in the 2014 – 2020 period. I am particularly pleased that during our Presidency the European Council decided to include a special allocation of €150 million for a new PEACE Programme in the Multiannual Financial Framework. It is clear that the PEACE programme in particular has considerable potential to focus on the key issues of youth employment and tackling marginalisation, which are also to the fore in the “Together Building a United Community” strategy.

The Government will also continue to support reconciliation in other ways, including through the Reconciliation and Anti-Sectarianism Funds, which provide grants to organisations involved in reconciliation work on a cross-community and cross-border basis. We will also continue to support commemorative initiatives and events in Northern Ireland which foster reconciliation and mutual understanding among the different communities on the island.On 30th October, I hosted a Reconciliation Networking Forum in Dublin Castle which brought together groups supported by the Funds, along with representatives of business, religions, politics and broader civil society. This Forum considered the role of civil society fifteen years after the Good Friday Agreement and its conclusions will help to inform a new reconciliation policy that is currently being prepared by my Department. I continue to engage with representatives of communities and wider society on issues relating to reconciliation, most recently on my visit to Derry last month.

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