Wednesday, 26 July 2017
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
North-South Ministerial Council
386. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the status of the Fresh Start agreement in relation to Northern Ireland, specifically with regard to the Narrow Water bridge project linking counties Louth and Down; if funding for this project has been agreed; and when it is due to progress. [34984/17]
Full and timely implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and successor agreements, including the 2015 Fresh Start Agreement, is a key priority for the Government, as reflected in the Programme for a Partnership Government.
Since the Fresh Start Agreement was signed in November 2015, there has been sustained progress with implementation, with each administration actively pursuing the necessary work to fulfil the respective commitments.
Progress on implementing the provisions of both the Fresh Start and Stormont House Agreements are considered at periodic Review Meetings, which are co-convened by the two Governments with the participation of the Executive. The last review meeting was held in Belfast on 14 December 2016. Unfortunately, as a new Executive has not yet been formed following the Assembly election in March, it has not been possible to convene a Review Meeting since. The Government is continuing to work with the British Government to support and facilitate the parties in their efforts to reach agreement on formation of a new Executive. The Government wishes to see this achieved as soon as possible.
Implementation of the Fresh Start Agreement is continuing to the fullest extent possible in this context, and as an integral part of this, the Government is meeting its commitments as regards infrastructure projects under the Agreement. In relation to the Narrow Water Bridge, there have been North South discussions at senior official level regarding co-operation on this and other infrastructure projects and exploring financing options for future border infrastructure projects.
Under the Fresh Start Agreement, it was agreed that a review of the proposed Narrow Water Bridge project would be undertaken with a view to identifying options for its future development for consideration by the North South Ministerial Council (NSMC).
Following on from consultation, involving the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Northern Ireland Department for Infrastructure, with stakeholders concerning options for the Narrow Water Bridge proposal, I understand that an options paper is being prepared for consideration by the North South Ministerial Council at its next Plenary meeting.
In the absence of a Northern Ireland Executive, and specifically a First and deputy First Minister, the NSMC cannot meet. However, with the Government continuing to work with the British Government and the political parties in Northern Ireland, I am hopeful that meetings of the NSMC will recommence as soon as possible to enable further important engagement on progressing all-island cooperation in general, and including the options concerning the Narrow Water Bridge.