Common interests

Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Micheál Martin

Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Micheál Martin gives an overview of the Irish Government’s cross-border plans.

The recent disruption to air travel reminded us forcefully that Ireland is an island. Regardless of our political perspectives, nobody living on this island can dispute that we share a small and relatively thinly populated, defined geographic space. It therefore makes total sense for the two political jurisdictions on this island, North and South, to co-operate in the interest of providing the best possible quality of life for the people of this island. By doing so, we can provide better public services throughout Ireland and save the money of taxpayers north and south of the border.

We are making good progress. A number of key projects have been agreed and implemented through the North/South Ministerial Council and other contacts since the restoration of the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly in May 2007. The Irish Government has agreed to provide a very significant contribution to the upgrading to dual-carriageway status of roads to Derry and Letterkenny and from Belfast to Larne and we have maintained that commitment through the current budgetary difficulties.

We have delivered a single electricity market for the island and are working towards common arrangements for gas and shared targets for renewable energy. High-speed and low-cost broadband is becoming available on a cross-border basis through Project Kelvin, which has been made possible by co-operation between the relevant departments north and south and the Special EU Programmes Body. And other North/South bodies like Tourism Ireland and InterTradeIreland are making a critical contribution to economic recovery by helping to promote the island internationally and boost levels of trade, innovation and collaborative research at home.

We have an opportunity also to provide closer and more efficient services by pooling our resources to ensure value for money. Certain patients can already access GP and radiotherapy services on a cross-border basis. We can go further still by planning our hospital services to enhance choice on both sides of the border, by providing highly specialised services on a cross-border basis and by working together to jointly provide certain organ transplant services, which may require the critical mass of both our populations to be sustainable. And on issues like obesity, child protection or suicide prevention, it is surely only common sense to pool our resources and deliver a coherent message throughout the island.

In the area of higher education, there is huge opportunity to achieve more for less by working together. The emerging strategic alliance between Letterkenny Institute of Technology and the University of Ulster is a case in point, bringing the skills and expertise of two well-respected institutions together to cater for a larger demographic area. The Irish Government sees this as a key project under the North-West Gateway Initiative and has been pleased to support it through our Strategic Innovation Fund. There is more we can do together as well to promote our ‘innovation island’ as a centre of excellence for cutting-edge research and development. We are seeing more and more high-quality collaborative North/South research under the US-Ireland Research and Development Partnership and under the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP7) and there is no point in being shy about selling this message of research excellence on the international stage. This may entail closer co-operation between Invest NI, the IDA and Enterprise Ireland, building on joint work on investment promotion and overseas trade missions already underway. Our economic agencies are bound to remain competitors in several respects, but we should not let that blind us to genuine opportunities in all our interests when they arise.

We are fortunate that political relations on the island have never been better. That was not a luxury afforded to previous administrations north or south as they sought to forge a brighter economic future in times past. The world does not owe us a living–it is a very tough international environment, as many of our competitors struggle to emerge with advantage from this recession. There are huge opportunities, however, if we pool our talents, our thinking and our time. Together, we have the potential to ensure our island is renowned internationally for the quality and effectiveness of its practical co-operation to the benefit of all our people.

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