So, after nearly 14 years, it is time to say farewell to the Centre for Cross Border Studies – although not to this blog, which is migrating to a new site (see below).
We have done some good things in our small centre in Armagh during that time, and I must pay tribute to my colleagues for their huge support and extremely hard work: incoming director Ruth Taillon, particularly for her superb work on impact assessment; deputy director Mairead Hughes, a brilliant financial manager, who has been my most valued colleague since the day we opened in September 1999; Patricia McAllister, as conscientious and efficient a personal assistant as exists on this island; Annmarie O’Kane, who has done wonders with the Border People cross-border information service; Eimear Donnelly and CarolAnne Murphy for their impressive organisational and ICT skills; and our good friends John Driscoll and Caroline Creamer, director and deputy director of CCBS’s ‘sister’ organisation, the International Centre for Local and Regional Development. Successive chairs and vice-chairs – Chris Gibson, one of the North’s leading businessmen, Helen Johnston of the National Economic and Social Council, and Pauric Travers of St Patrick’s College Drumcondra – along with the CCBS board have always been there for us when we needed them.
The Centre’s contribution to ‘Strand Two’ of the Northern Irish peace process has been welcomed by leaders from a wide range of backgrounds. The Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, has called us an ‘important entity, doing important work’ and the Tánaiste, Eamon Gilmore holds that work ‘in very high regard.’ Fianna Fail leader Micheál Martin has called us ‘a courageous and pioneering initiative.’ The Republic’s most senior civil servant, Martin Fraser, says the Centre’s publications are ‘fundamental to understanding how cross-border cooperation works on the island of Ireland.’ Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has talked about the Centre ‘leading the North-South inter-connection process.’ For the unionists, DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson has warmly and publicly thanked the Centre for its work. Abroad, one of the EU’s top experts on cross-border cooperation, Joachim Beck of the Euro-Institut in Germany, has called the Centre’s impact assessment toolkit ‘a top project with a top partner – it would be hard to find a better one in Europe.’
Yet it is disappointing that we have become to a certain extent prophets with not very much honour in our own country. The lack of interest by the island’s third level institutions in the subject of cross-border cooperation as part of the Northern Irish peace process never ceases to baffle me. In the past 18 months I have spoken to academic and policy audiences on this fascinating topic from Norway to Israel, Austria to France, England to Belgium. But I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of such audiences I have been invited to address in Ireland over the past 14 years.
The media are another element who are almost totally uninterested in what we do. If I had not been a former senior journalist with The Irish Times (and a dab hand at putting out press releases, harassing newsdesks and writing letters to the editor), I doubt whether the Centre’s work would have raised more than a line or two in the press and on radio on this island. I have, for example, been trying in vain for a decade to interest education correspondents in the unique Irish success story that is the Standing Conference on Teacher Education North and South (SCoTENS), described by the Professor of Education at Oxford University, John Furlong, as ‘an incredible achievement’.
None of this would matter if North-South cooperation remained high on the agenda of the responsible governments. But it doesn’t. I have to say that in recent months in particular it has seemed to me to be lower than ever. With the Northern system wrapped up in its interminable and risk-averse processes (and the G8) and the Southern system totally distracted by its presidency of the EU, necessary ‘North-Southery’ has almost disappeared off the map. The less pragmatic wing of unionism must be delighted.
All this is worrying. Without the active interest and involvement of both the British and Irish governments, the two main parties in Northern Ireland will go back into the tribal silos where they feel most comfortable, the world will forget about this insignificant and awkward province, and in another generation the malign cycle of sectarianism and violence which has been the pattern here for the past 160 years and more will be in danger of raising its ugly head again. And that active involvement can still pay off. Witness Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness’s recent package of measures aimed at a more shared society, which appeared to cynics to be a product of pressure from London along the lines of ‘share more and get more money from us’ (and we’ll announce it before the G8 comes to Fermanagh!).
Maybe this will change for the better in the autumn. I will be more an observer than a participant then (although I will continue to manage the Centre’s ‘Towards a Border Development Zone’ project). I plan to start writing a book about North-South cooperation and the Northern Ireland peace process, and to put up the occasional blog on my new site, www.2irelands2gether.wordpress.com (if any of the readers of A Note from the Next Door Neighbours would like to subscribe to this, perhaps you could let me know on email@example.com). I’m also available to do anything that will further the noble cause of cross-border cooperation for peace, reconciliation and mutual benefit in Ireland (occasionally for a small charge). I will be, in short, a cross-border gun for hire.
Since this is my penultimate ‘Note’ before I stand down as director of the Centre for Cross Border Studies, I am going to use it to nominate my personal Top 14 cross-border co-operators, one for every year since the Centre was founded in 1999.
There is no doubt that the pioneers of cross-border cooperation are passing on: some, like the intellectual leader of the movement, Sir George Quigley, and the valiant unionist headmaster from Portadown, Billy Tate, have gone to a better place; others, like pathfinding North South Ministerial Council Joint Secretaries Tim O’Connor and Peter Smyth, have moved into business or retirement. Now is the right time for the ‘sustainers’ to take over, those more attuned to longer-term strategies and structures and impact assessment.
My 14 nominated pioneers of practical cooperation for mutual benefit in Ireland are, in alphabetical order:
Roger Austin, who has run the Dissolving Boundaries ICT in schools programme (currently with Angela Rickard) for many years and was one of the founders of the all-island European Studies Programme as long ago as the 1980s. Dissolving Boundaries is simply the most outstanding example of cross-border cooperation between schools I have come across anywhere in Europe.
John Bradley, formerly of the Economic and Social Research Institute, and the only senior Irish economist who has done serious, sustained work over nearly 30 years on the economic relationship between North and South.
Aidan Clifford, director of the Curriculum Development Unit of the City of Dublin VEC (and his colleague Mary Gannon). Aidan felt it was a ‘moral imperative’ for Irish people to contribute to the Northern peace process, and he did it personally by setting up the cross-border Education for Reconciliation programme for secondary schools, dealing with the hard topics of peace and conflict resolution in the classroom.
John Coolahan, one of Ireland’s most distinguished educators, who had the vision to establish (with Harry McMahon) the Standing Conference on Teacher Education North and South (SCoTENS), which is now widely recognised as probably the most outstanding and sustainable all-island network set up since the Belfast Agreement.
Tom Daly for his leadership, particularly in recent years, of the cross-border region health authorities network, Cooperation and Working Together (CAWT), which has been a trail-blazer of practical cooperation leading to concrete improvements in health and social care (including reductions in waiting lists) in the border region.
Will Glendinning, South Armagh farmer and former Alliance politician, whose Diversity Challenges initiative brings together former security force members on both sides of the border and collects the ‘Troubles’ stories of loyalists, republicans and ex-security force members; and who works to bring republican dissidents into the political process.
Breege Lenihan of the County Monaghan Community Network for her leadership of a remarkable link-up between Monaghan’s community groups, community groups in South Armagh and the Orange Order in Monaghan and Armagh. This project is grass-roots peacebuilding at its most imaginative and courageous.
Ann McGeeney, formerly director of the Cross Border Centre for Community Development at Dundalk Institute of Technology, who has been a constant source of practical counsel and wise advice to grass roots community leaders doing cross-border work in the Down-Armagh-Louth-Monaghan region.
Marianne McGill, formerly of Cooperation Ireland. Rather than nominate the obvious people here – chief executive Peter Sheridan or his predecessor Tony Kennedy – I am going for Marianne, who for many years ran the highly innovative North-South Civic Link programme, which involved second level students identifying local community problems and devising an action plan to deal with them
George Newell, East Belfast community worker, who has done sterling work in extremely difficult circumstances to bring large numbers of working class Belfast Protestants – and particularly young people – across the border to experience music and culture and sport and debate in the once feared and hated Irish Republic.
Father Sean Nolan and his colleagues, Mary Devlin and Josie Brady, from Truagh Development Association in rural North Monaghan close to the Tyrone border. Before there was any EU money for such work, they were involved in an astonishing range of cross-border community development, education, rural regeneration and peace and reconciliation activities (and they are still doing them now that the money has run out).
Tim O’Connor, who as first Southern Joint Secretary of the North South Ministerial Council from 1999 to 2005, was a hugely energetic groundbreaker, whether it was in overseeing the establishment of the North/South bodies or working behind the scenes to set up influential networks like the International Centre for Local and Regional Development.
Padraic White, former head of the IDA, who is the latest in a long line of business leaders (Sir George Quigley, Liam Connellan, William Poole, Martin Naughton, Liam Nellis, and Laurence Crowley, Stephen Kingon and Michael D’Arcy of the North/South Roundtable Group) who have done vital work in developing cross-border economic and business cooperation.
Mary Yarr of the Antrim-based Inclusion and Diversity Service, which works to meet the needs of the North’s immigrant children. Mary has built strong links with Trinity College Dublin and several Southern education centres to produce highly innovative resources to help develop an inclusive ethos in the classroom which have then been distributed to schools throughout Ireland.
My summer job, before I settle into the hard business of writing a book about cross-border cooperation and the Irish peace process (after a side trip to Moldova), is to direct the 2013 Merriman Summer School from 14-18 August in Lisdoonvarna, Co Clare, with the title: ‘Ireland, North and South: Two societies growing apart?’ This aims to take a hard look at politics, society and culture in the two Irelands over the past 15 years since the Good Friday Agreement.
Among the speakers will be Seamus Heaney and Michael Longley (reading poetry together); the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh, Most Rev Richard Clarke; Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin TD; Alliance East Belfast MP Naomi Long; former head of the Irish School of Ecumenics, Dr Geraldine Smyth, journalists Fintan O’Toole, Dan O’Brien and Susan McKay, and a round table of young politicians from all the main parties on the island discussing the school’s provocative theme. There will be poetry and music and trips to the beautiful Burren countryside.
If anybody is interested in more information about the school, see www.merriman.ie/index.en Queries about registration should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org or +353 (0) 86 3820671.
In a small village in South Armagh something rather wonderful is beginning to take shape. After some difficult early years the Middletown Centre for Autism, a North/South body whose mission is to create a centre for excellence in Ireland for the education of children and young people with autism spectrum disorders, is beginning to take off.
In 2009 the Centre, set up two years earlier with funding from the two Departments of Education, was in serious danger of having no future, after the then Irish Education Minister Batt O’Keefe announced a funding ‘pause’ for the project because of financial cutbacks on the Southern side. This pause was lifted following eight months of representations from the Centre’s board and the Northern Minister, Caitriona Ruane. However there were continuing questions both from unionist politicians and so me Northern parents about the wisdom of taking autistic children out of their home setting for assessment and treatment.
These concerns were triumphantly put to bed by an extremely positive report on Middletown’s services by a joint team of inspectors from the two Departments a year ago. They rated these services as ‘outstanding’: the highest assessment category. Earlier the education committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly had visited the Centre and had also gone away impressed, including sceptics like the DUP chair of the committee, Mervyn Storey.
Referrals of young people with particularly challenging learning difficulties (at the moment only happening in the North) represents a small part of the Middletown Centre’s work. It also provides training services for parents, teachers and other education professionals all over Ireland. For example, its 2013 spring programme shows training events in a range of autism-related provision taking place in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Kildare, Navan, Letterkenny, Belfast, Londonderry, Coleraine and Omagh, as well as in Middletown itself. In April and May, there are 21 events in areas such as sensory processing, promotion of positive behaviour, anxiety management, autism and play; autism, art and music; challenging behaviour, the hidden curriculum and the use of the curriculum to create an autism-friendly classroom.
The Centre’s services are slightly different in the two jurisdictions. In the South they concentrate on research and the training of parents and teachers. In the North they work in particular with teachers, classroom assistants and speech and language therapists, and directly with particularly challenging young people referred to them by the autism teams of the Education and Library Boards. After the positive joint inspectors’ report, plans are in hand to expand very significantly the services offered throughout Ireland.
The Centre also carries out research into autism, and has an input into the training of teachers in a number of colleges of education in both jurisdictions. There is, for example, a great dearth of research into the condition available to parents with children over 16, and Middletown organises events at which they can hear the findings of the latest international research. Since the Centre began training parents and educational professionals at the end of 2007, over 23,000 people have been trained.
Another innovative and highly successful North-South training-based initiative is the Social Welfare Summer School, held alternately every year in Queen’s University Belfast and National University of Ireland Maynooth since 2000.
This week-long school provides civil servants in the North’s Department of Social Development (DSD) and the South’s Department of Social Protection (DSP) with an opportunity to reflect on and debate the key social policy issues of common concern facing both jurisdictions. The event is largely targeted at junior and middle management who have not previously experienced higher education and who would benefit from this kind of intensive and challenging learning opportunity. The civil servants stay on campus, providing them with a real university experience. Since its inception, over 600 civil servants from the two jurisdictions have been through the school.
A demanding week involves academic lectures, study groups (each of which must produce a written report on their particular topic), expert visitors, and speeches and observations from senior management from both Departments. Under the tutelage of the school’s academic director, Professor Madeleine Leonard of Queen’s School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work, last year’s 48 students examined issues around disability, older people, workless communities, one-parent families, youth unemployment and reforming welfare and work in the context of the current economic crisis.
Professor Leonard has been involved with the summer school since 2004, and her energy and drive have helped both to provide the civil servants with a unique cross-border learning opportunity and, as a consequence, to cement links between the two Departments.
Apart from its academic rigour, the school generates greater understanding between civil servants from the two jurisdictions. As the week progresses, camaraderie heightens and the much-needed breaks away from studies – which last year included a tour of Stormont’s Parliament Buildings – help build a relaxed atmosphere that is most palpable on the Friday evening when certificates are presented to students. To whoops and cheers, students are called one by one to receive their certificates, accredited by the Institute of Leadership and Management, in recognition of the hard work they have put in during the week.
Senior management in both Departments also use the opportunity to renew relationships and exchange views. The Heads of the two Departments, Niamh O’Donoghue from the DSP and Will Haire from the DSD, attended last year’s school and strongly reaffirmed their commitment to continuing the initiative.
PS Many thanks to Ciaran Lawler of the Department of Social Protection for providing the text for the second part of this ‘Note’.
Sir George Quigley died on 3 March after a long and full life of service to Northern Ireland and Ireland. He was as near as a small place like Northern Ireland gets to a Renaissance man: head of four government departments; chairman of Ulster Bank and Bombardier; the tireless chair of numerous public bodies in both parts of Ireland; leader of the campaign for lower corporation tax; author of a mould-breaking report on contentious parades; overseer of loyalist arms decommissioning – one could go on and on.
Those of us who work in the field of practical cross-border cooperation as part of the Northern Irish peace process will particularly miss him. He was effectively the ‘father’ of such cooperation. In 1992, as chair of the Confederation of British Industry (NI), he urged policy-makers to work for a Belfast-Dublin ‘economic corridor’ and an ‘island of Ireland’ economy. In this he was away ahead of his time – and suffered unionist hostility as a consequence – but his thinking informed both the 1998 Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and the establishment of probably the most successful of its North/South bodies, InterTradeIreland. He continued to preach the virtues of practical cross-border cooperation as an essential tool for peace and reconciliation in Ireland right up to the end.
In an interview for The Journal of Cross Border Studies in Ireland shortly before his death, Sir George outlined his continuing vision of North-South cooperation: the so-called ‘Strand Two’ of the Belfast Agreement. [i]
‘I believe that Strand Two has been a resounding success – contrary, probably, to what many people expected. The North-South relationship has been transformed. Someone, indeed, has referred to its unprecedented ordinariness and normality today. We seem to have been able to resolve North-South tensions in a way which still too often escapes us so far as the traditional divisions within the Northern Ireland community itself are concerned,’ he said.
He gave three examples of North-South success stories: the fact that Northern Ireland’s exports to the Republic are now worth the same as its sales to all the other EU countries combined; the continuing close cooperation on infrastructure development, and the success of the Single Electricity Market on the island.
However he also noted ‘how vastly enriched is the discourse these days about North-South possibilities.’ He pointed to a range of examples: the Irish Academy of Engineers’ 2010 study, Infrastructure for an island population of 8 million; the 2012 Centre for Cross Border Studies report by John Bradley and Michael Best, Cross-Border Economic Renewal; Dublin business consultant Michael D’Arcy’s 2012 survey of Opportunities in North/South Public Service Provision (also published by the Centre); the Journal of Cross Border Studies in Ireland (again from CCBS), the journal Borderlands and other research publications from our ‘sister’ organisation, the International Centre for Local and Regional Development (ICLRD).
‘This ICLRD material deals with an impressive range of issues from river basin management to the mapping of functional territories throughout the island, with much else of significance in between. This last is a potentially exciting concept since, put at its simplest, it could hopefully be developed to provide guidance, in an island context, on what services should be put where, having regard to optimum catchment areas, thereby enhancing accessibility and ensuring that services are affordable, economically operated and effectively configured and managed to sustain high quality.
‘The richness of this discourse takes us into an entirely different world. What is now vital is to get it positioned within the mainstream of government thinking, North and South, and to have governments that are determined not to let a single idea that merits follow-up fall on stony ground.’
He particularly urged the North South Ministerial Council to set up a ‘small joint planning function’ to take forward some of the ‘significant possibilities for North-South synergy in such areas as health, higher education and research, energy, tourism and water’ identified in Michael D’Arcy’s study. ‘There are enough ideas here to fuel a North-South public sector agenda for at least a decade ahead and it would be a shame if the report were simply to gather dust somewhere… It can never make sense – but especially not when there is going to be such an ongoing tight constraint on resources – to duplicate capacity unnecessarily or to meet needs in other than the most cost-effective, value for money way.’
Sir George’s call for more to be done to sensibly align, and not duplicate, some key public services on this island is one that is repeatedly echoed by the Centre for Cross Border Studies in its meetings with politicians and civil servants. To date these calls appear to have fallen largely on deaf ears. North-South cooperation is very low down the policy agendas in Dublin and Belfast these days.
Twice in the past six months Fianna Fail leader (and former Minister for Foreign Affairs), Micheál Martin, has pointed to the dangers of this. In powerful – if under-reported – speeches he warned that ‘the enormous potential of developing an all-island approach to many issues has barely begun to be realised by the political establishment.’ He said that ‘the British and Irish governments have significantly disengaged’ and in recent years ‘we have seen no ambitious initiatives, no new agenda, no sense of urgency’ in the North-South field. He listed economic cooperation, integration of energy markets, and more cooperation in education and health services, agriculture and transport as areas crying out for joint action for mutual benefit at a time of scarce resources.
He warned about ‘the sense of drift and disillusionment which are undeniably now a growing factor’ and stressed the ‘compelling need and opportunity to reinvigorate the all-island dimensions of the [Belfast] Agreement.’ [ii]
i) The 2013 Journal of Cross Border Studies in Ireland will be published on 9 April.
ii) Micheál Martin in Belfast: “There is nothing inevitable about peace and progress”: Slugger O’Toole
[27 February 2013]
In a thought-provoking blog on the new 15 Years On site (http://15yearson.wordpress.com) this month, former Community Relations Council director Duncan Morrow lists all the promised reforms in Northern Ireland since 1998 which have not been realised: a Single Equality Bill, a Shared Future, the Review of Public Administration, Dealing with the Past, educational reform, youth work, parades, Irish language, flags, shared housing and cross-community development.
He warns that if politicians and people in Northern Ireland ‘can’t muster the energy’ to conjure a positive vision of a society that will begin to face up to the ‘bad relations’ of a deep and continuing sectarian divide, then ‘the prospect of a “scared future” played out before our eyes in recent weeks in Belfast will finally knock on the head the ridiculous notion that you can get on with promoting the new “golf and Titanic economy” without eliminating the risks to peace and stability.’
In a similarly provocative column in the Belfast Telegraph last month Malachi O’Doherty, also writing about the flag riots in Belfast, warned that ‘while we live on a fault line between two communities, it will always be possible for small groups to wedge their way in and create havoc that will resonate through the whole population’. He saw a real possibility that ‘the key vulnerability in this society, the estrangement of Protestant and Catholic communities and their anxieties about identity and respect’ could be exploited by such groups.
On the face of it these unfortunate events should have relatively little to do with relations between the governments in Belfast and Dublin, which appear to be as benign as ever. But they are happening at a time when interest in the North in the Republic – among politicians, media and public – is at an all-time low. The economic and financial crisis is everything there. To cite the words of one senior figure who knows both jurisdictions well: ‘there is no longer a constituency of the concerned in the South’.
So there is little or no pressure on anybody in Dublin to concern themselves about what is happening in the narrow and insecure world of Northern unionism and loyalism. This remains one of Western Europe’s most defensive and fearful communities. They watch the rise of a new Catholic middle class, with its confident politicians, senior civil servants and business leaders. They see Catholic majorities at every level in the education system. They see the demographic trends as reflected in the 2011 census moving against them. Too many of them – poorly led by their politicians – still insist on perceiving change as a push towards their ultimate nightmare of an eventual united Ireland.
Those of us who live in the Republic know that there is little or no appetite for such an outcome there. Almost nobody under 35 south of the border has a clue about the ‘Troubles’. Few have visited the North. Even fewer express any interest in a united Ireland. Like young people everywhere, they are far more interested in education and jobs and careers and the ‘good life': in Ireland if possible; in England, North America or Australia if not. In the words of one Southerner who is a long-time resident of the North: ‘most people in the Republic see Northern Ireland after the Good Friday Agreement as back as part of the UK.’
It is vital that Southern policy-makers and other key influencers start to build new relationships with the unionist community in the North, and to explain to them that what they want for the island of Ireland is a partnership, not a takeover. They should take a leaf out of Senator Martin McAleese’s book and reach out a new hand of friendship to these still beleaguered people. It is crucial that the North-South relationship, which up to now has been too often at the level of elite groups and institutions, finds a way to build a better understanding with ordinary unionists.
The alternative is indifference and willed ignorance. In the words of the young woman who confronted Martin McGuinness during the key television debate of the Irish presidential election campaign in October 2011: ‘As a young Irish person, I am curious as to why you have chosen to come down to this country, with all your baggage, your history, your controversy? And how do you feel you can represent me, as a young Irish person who knows nothing of the Troubles and doesn’t want to know anything about it?’ (emphasis by the speaker in italics).
Unfortunately, indifference seems increasingly to be the attitude at official level. After a period in the well-funded early 2000s when senior departmental civil servants in Dublin tried to follow Bertie Ahern’s exhortations to do as much North-South cooperation as possible, such work is now – with a few notable exceptions – very low on their agendas. Many of the officials who were genuinely committed have moved to other responsibilities. Others have gone back into their traditional single-jurisdiction silos. This leads to silly things like the exclusion of the all-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil – described by the Irish News as the ‘largest folk festival in the world’ – from the Discover Ireland 2013 calendar of events because it is in Derry, and therefore deemed to be the sole responsibility of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board.
Nearly two years ago I wrote a ‘Note’ saying that the Centre for Cross Border Studies had 15-18 months funding left, we were starting to feel a little nervous, and were appealing to our readers and supporters for some good new ideas for cross-border cooperation in Ireland.
In the event we generated most of those new ideas within the Centre’s four walls in Armagh, with my colleague Ruth Taillon coming up with a disproportionate share of them. These ideas – nine of them in all – were combined into a package of research, evaluation, training and information projects during the first five months of 2012 which was submitted to the Special EU Programmes Body for INTERREG funding last May. In November we received the hugely welcome news that eight out of the nine would be funded, starting on 1st February 2013. 2012 was a slightly difficult year – with the cupboard a bit bare and a number of staff working reduced hours – but we are now raring to get into our 2013-2015 work programme.
The eight projects cover a range of areas. ‘Towards a Border Development Zone’ builds on a proposal that came out of John Bradley and Michael Best’s 2012 study, Cross-Border Economic Renewal: Rethinking Regional Policy in Ireland – to explore the potential of a joint economic development approach across the whole Irish and Northern Irish border region. It will involve five linked studies of how to develop an overall Border Development Zone strategy (to be led by local authority chief executives in the North and county managers in the South), plus individual studies of four possible development sectors in the region: 1) SMEs with export potential; 2) tourism and recreation; 3) agriculture, food and fish processing; 4) low carbon initiatives, energy saving and renewable energy.
Three of the projects will be run by the Centre’s ‘sister’ organisation, the International Centre for Local and Regional Development (ICLRD). These will: 1) engage local authorities in the cross-border region in new shared services initiatives, including pilot projects in areas like tourism and environmental and emergency services; 2) continue the ICLRD’s training and animation programmes in cross-border cooperation for local authority groupings; and 3) update and provide training in a number of tools including an updated all-island digital atlas and an all-island deprivation index, using data from the 2011 censuses in both jurisdictions.
There will also be training in and further development of the Centre’s highly regarded 2011 Impact Assessment Toolkit for Cross Border Cooperation. New budget and evaluation toolkits will be developed to help people who are applying for EU funding for cross-border cooperation projects, and then implementing such projects.
The Centre will join with the cross-border region health authorities’ network, Cooperation and Working Together (CAWT), to develop and train people in the use of a tool that will map the provision of acute health specialities on the island of Ireland.
The final project will be a third phase of the highly successful Border People cross-border information service, which the Centre has been running in partnership with the North South Ministerial Council’s Joint Secretariat since 2007. This phase will focus on working with citizens’ advice and information bodies in the two jurisdictions to train existing advice workers to provide practical cross-border information for people crossing the border to live, work and study.
Another new initiative with which the Centre is involved will be launched on 1st February. A group of individuals working in peacebuilding, peace research, cross-border and cross-community organisations have come together to discuss how they might use 2013 to reflect on the successes and failures of the 15 year period since the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, and how we might all learn from those experiences to do better in the future.
The group – calling itself ‘15 Years On’ – consists of Peter Sheridan (Cooperation Ireland), Avila Kilmurray (Community Foundation for Northern Ireland), Professor Brandon Hamber (INCORE, University of Ulster), Susan McEwen (Corrymeela Community), Colin Murphy (Glencree Community), Neil Jarman (Institute for Conflict Research), John Driscoll (ICLRD), Professor Jennifer Todd (Institute for British-Irish Studies, UCD), Ruth Taillon and myself.
We are beginning a year-long conversation about the progress of peace and cooperation in Northern Ireland and Ireland, and where we should go from here. We plan this conversation to take place largely online, leading to a culminating event towards the end of the year. The discussion will also feed into a session on 26 May at the big Rotary/INCORE Global Peace Forum in Derry. Members of the group and others who are interested will be invited to post regular blogs and comments on a new shared blog page (http://15yearson.wordpress.com) on issues to do with the Northern Irish peace process. Please join us in this important conversation. It is open to everybody.
After last year’s hugely successful visit by Queen Elizabeth to the Republic and a joint communiqué of extraordinary warmth following last March’s summit between David Cameron and Enda Kenny, British-Irish relations were generally considered to have reached a closeness unprecedented in more than 90 years since Irish independence and partition.
In July the Irish ambassador to Britain, Bobby McDonagh, spoke of the elements that went into this successful relationship. The first of these was Britain and Ireland’s shared membership of the European Union, which ‘psychologically, has placed us on a more equal footing as nations than at any time in our history’. However, almost as he was speaking, that equality as fellow EU members was starting to become problematic.
There has always been a potential tension between Ireland’s geographical, cultural and economic closeness to the old imperial power and her newer and rather successful relationship with the EU. One of the central thrusts of Irish economic policy since the late 1950s had been to reduce the country’s enormous trade dependence on the UK (as recently as the mid-1950s over 90% of Irish exports went to Britain; in recent years it has been less than 20%). EU membership since 1973 has played a central role in this policy.
Successive Irish governments have always been committed to a deepening of the European Union (despite some serious doubts by the Irish electorate in their initial rejections of the Nice and Lisbon treaties), whereas the UK has tended to see the EU primarily as a trade arrangement to promote British economic interests.
Former Taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald foresaw this tension between the two countries’ EU policy directions as long ago as 2000, when he said: ‘There must at least be a possibility that a future stronger pull towards Britain… could conflict with Ireland’s need to enjoy a capacity for independent action in the European sphere.’ [i]
Something of that has begun to happen during the past two years. We all know how in 2010 the Irish Government was forced to seek an €85 billion ‘bail out’ from the ‘troika’ of the EU, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund as its debt-ridden public finances and banking sector came close to collapse. This loss of fiscal sovereignty has tied Ireland more closely to the EU and the eurozone, making its integration into an eventual banking union, to be followed by elements of a fiscal, and perhaps even a political union, more likely. The jury is out on whether Ireland’s submission to a harsh EU and IMF-imposed austerity regime is working, although one major US investor has talked recently about the ‘Irish turnaround’ being ‘one of the best investments of the decade.’[ii]
The situation in Britain could not be more different. Here, with Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne warning that austerity and recession will last until 2018, Euroscepticism is rampant, particularly in the Conservative party. In June one third of David Cameron’s MPs signed a letter urging him to legislate for a referendum on Britain’s EU membership. An authoritative survey of British attitudes in the following month showed that 49% of people would vote for the UK to leave the EU, and only 32% would vote to remain.[iii] Opinion polls suggest that the anti-EU UK Independence Party will eat heavily into Conservative Party support in the 2014 European parliamentary elections. Many authoritative observers[iv] believe that in these circumstances an in/out referendum in Britain must be only a matter of time, with a vote to leave the Union highly probable.
Where does all this leave the small, peripheral province of Northern Ireland? Ironically, one of the few things the DUP and Sinn Fein have in common is their distrust of the EU: the former from a position of old-style Tory ‘British loyalism’, the latter from their insular philosophy of ‘We ourselves’. Those positions probably chime well with the instinctive conservatism and feeling of distance from the EU which is the dominant attitude of most Northern Irish people, unionist and nationalist.
But what will it mean for the island of Ireland if the UK – and with it Northern Ireland – leaves the European Union? A recent paper co-authored by the former Irish ambassador to Britain, Dáithi O’Ceallaigh, warns that such a withdrawal would be ‘a source of enormous instability and turbulence for Ireland’. It would mean that ‘an external border of the European Union would run through the island of Ireland.’ [v]
The extreme fringe of unionism might relish this prospect, but intelligent people everywhere on the island would be horrified. What would happen to the Common Travel Area between the two islands? Or nearly 50 years of bilateral trade treaties? Would Ireland have to agree a trade agreement with Britain outside the EU framework which would endanger its determination to remain at the core of Europe? What would it mean for one of the building blocks of the Belfast Agreement – practical North-South cooperation – which has led, in Peter Robinson’s words, to a ‘better than ever relationship’ between Northern Ireland and the Republic? And on the other side of the ideological fence, what would its implications be for the Irish nationalist dream of eventual unity by consent?
i) Fitzgerald, G., Blair’s Britain, England’s Europe: A View from Ireland,
ii) ‘Irish bond trader buys big into ‘Irish turnaround’, The Irish Times, 14 December 2012
iii) Survey of British attitudes by Chatham House and YouGov, July 2012
iv) e.g The Economist, 8-14 December 2012
v) O’Ceallaigh, D. and Kilcourse, J., Towards an Irish Foreign Policy for Britain, Institute for International and European Affairs, August 2012.
For the second month running I am unashamedly going to blow the Centre for Cross Border Studies’ trumpet. Because the Centre does not only write about cross-border cooperation in Ireland; it not only researches such cross-border cooperation – it also does practical cooperation between the two parts of this island.
Last month I wrote about the cooperation and exchanges it manages between teacher educators and student teachers. This month I am going to write about another unique and innovative cross-border project it runs: the Border People cross-border mobility information website (www.borderpeople.info) and service.
This started in 2007 as a partnership with the North South Ministerial Council Joint Secretariat, and was jointly launched by Rev Ian Paisley, Martin McGuinness and the then Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern October of that year. The aim was to provide an online information service for people crossing the Irish border to live, work, study and retire. It provides information on a very wide range of practical subjects in both jurisdictions: tax, social security, healthcare, job seeking, employee rights, qualifications, education, housing, banking, telecoms and so on. It has been largely funded by the EU PEACE and INTERREG programmes.
After five years Border People is going stronger than ever, with 17,000 page views per month and around 60 monthly email and phone queries to its hardworking manager, Annmarie O’Kane. It provides a ‘signposting’ service to authoritative sources of public information on both sides of the border, notably NI Direct (Northern Ireland government information); government departments in the Republic; the Citizens Advice Bureaux in the North and Citizens Information Board in the South. When you download the website, it looks at first like a North South Ministerial Council product, but if you look carefully in the bottom right hand corner on the front page you will see the logo of the engine behind it: the CCBS in Armagh.
The website is highly regarded by those who use it. A user survey carried out in 2010 by the Centre’s independent evaluators, Indecon Economic Consultants, founded that 92% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that Border People was ‘an important and valuable resource for people working and living in the border region of Ireland.’
A leading expert on EU labour mobility, Dublin lawyer John Handoll, has said: ‘In my practice and research into free movement issues, the Border People website has become an essential tool. Its clear and user-friendly design allows citizens on both sides of the border to access up-to-date information on key topics. It has evolved over time in response to citizens’ needs and has become a first port of call for those seeking to understand their rights.’
The Border People project is a real example of cross-border cooperation at its most pragmatic and sensible: a means of making government departments and information providers, as well as the general public, more knowledgeable and thus more effective in dealing with the kind of practical obstacles to the cross-border movement of people that should be a thing of the past in post-Belfast Agreement Ireland and post-Maastricht Europe. However a 2010 study by the Centre for the cross-border labour market organisation EURES found that cross-border employees frequently ‘fall between two stools’ when it comes to labour regulation and welfare provision: very often they can’t get their employment rights respected, their unemployment benefits paid, their children recognised for health and education purposes. There are also major mismatches between official data in the two parts of Ireland, and officials in government offices are more often than not completely ignorant of what so-called ‘frontier workers’ are entitled to.
The Centre is currently planning a new 2013-2015 phase of the project which will aim precisely to increase the capacity of officials responsible for citizens information in both jurisdictions – whether in government offices or citizens advice and information services – to provide such information on a cross-border basis. This will involve training such officials and advisers in how the information systems of the other Irish jurisdiction work, with the objective of creating a network of specialists who can provide information for the estimated 20,000 citizens whose employment, studies or other ‘life events’ bring them across the border for extended periods. At time of writing, we are waiting for a response to an EU INTERREG funding application of which the new phase of Border People is a key part.
Meanwhile Annmarie O’Kane continues to take daily queries from people who are often close to the end of their tether in their efforts to prise information out of officials who know little or nothing about the often complicated business of living and working in two separate jurisdictions. In a few short years she has become one of the very few acknowledged experts on this island dealing with complex cross-border queries in areas such as social security, healthcare and older people’s benefits. In this she is performing a vital public function that – like so many vital functions in the cross-border area – happens almost totally under the radar as far as most politicians and journalists are concerned.
PS Further to my Note last month on the Standing Conference on Teacher Education North and South (SCoTENS), I would like to add a particular tribute to my colleague Patricia McAllister, the SCoTENS administrator, for all her splendid work in ensuring the continuing success of this highly innovative network.
As a rule I try to avoid using this column as a way to blow the Centre for Cross Border Studies’ trumpet. But given the Irish and Northern Irish media’s almost total lack of interest in things cross-border, I sometimes can’t resist the temptation to tell a particular success story that the Centre is involved with.
One of these is the rather clumsily titled Standing Conference on Teacher Education North and South, or SCoTENS as it is more commonly known. Who would have thought 14 years ago, at the time of the Good Friday Agreement, that the training of teachers would become one of the outstanding examples of North-South cooperation in the post-Agreement period? It all sprang from one tiny mention in the text of that agreement of ‘teacher qualifications and exchanges’ as a possible area for cooperation. Two leading professors of education, John Coolahan at National University of Ireland Maynooth and Harry McMahon at University of Ulster, seized on this phrase to organise a well-attended conference in Belfast in 2000 to discuss how it could be built upon.
Out of this – with a two year gap to obtain initial funding from the Department of Education and Skills in the South and the two departments in charge of education and higher education (DE and DEL) in the North – SCoTENS was born in 2002. In the past decade SCoTENS has ‘seed’ funded nearly 80 North-South research projects in educational subjects, including technology and maths, the teaching of science, history and geography, language teaching (including Irish), special education and inclusion, citizenship and diversity, and arts-based education, as well as teacher education itself. It has managed a programme which has seen over 170 trainee teachers do a central part of their assessed teaching practice, not in the comfort zone of schools near their colleges or in their home towns, but across the border in the other Irish jurisdiction. And it has held 10 international conferences – bringing leading speakers from Britain, Europe, North America and Australia – so that the annual SCoTENS conference is now seen as a ‘must attend’ event for anyone involved in teacher education on the island of Ireland.
The former Joint Secretary of the North South Ministerial Council, Tim O’Connor, has said that SCoTENS is a ‘superb example’ of what professional associations can achieve if they set their minds to working on a North-South basis. At a SCoTENS ‘away day’ last month the Professor of Educational Studies at University of Oxford, John Furlong, said SCoTENS was ‘an incredible achievement’.
A team from Oxford University, led by Professor Furlong, last year carried out an evaluation of SCoTENS’ first eight years. Their findings were ‘overwhelmingly positive. Despite limited and precarious funding, significant dependence on the goodwill of volunteers and the support of a paid secretariat with myriad other responsibilities [i.e. the Centre for Cross Border Studies], it has achieved an enormous amount. Many respondents felt that through SCoTENS they had developed a greater knowledge and understanding of the educational systems and practices across Ireland. Many of those we spoke to believed that the majority of the initiatives SCoTENS has led – conferences, research projects, the student teacher exchange programme – would simply not have happened without the organisation. Its leadership and administration were vital.’
Elsewhere the evaluators commented on the North-South student teacher exchange programme in the following words: ‘By giving the next generation of teachers the opportunity at first hand to experience a very different educational, social and political setting, the scheme was actively promoting the objectives of peace and reconciliation.’
SCoTENS held its 10th annual conference in Cavan earlier this month on the subject of creativity in teacher education, with addresses from Sir Ken Robinson, the visionary educationalist and expert on creativity (on video from the US); the Duchess of Abercorn, founder of the Pushkin Prizes for creative writing for Irish schoolchildren, and Professor Lisbeth Goodman, the alarmingly brilliant American who teaches creative technology innovation at University College Dublin, and who was named Best Woman in the Academic and Public Sphere and Best Woman in Technology in the Blackberry Rim international awards in 2008. Those attending included the Ministers for Education North and South, Ruairi Quinn and John O’Dowd (who jointly opened the conference), and senior officials from both their departments and inspectorates.
As I said at the beginning, this is a ‘good news’ story that the Irish media have been almost completely uninterested in. Despite annual conference press releases and regular communications from me (a former Irish Times education correspondent) to education reporters on all the major newspapers, there has not been a single article on SCoTENS’ work in the past decade, other than an Irish Independent opinion piece by former co-chair Professor Teresa O’Doherty and a mention in an Irish Times profile of John Coolahan, probably Ireland’s most distinguished living educationalist, that the single thing in his long career that he was most proud of was the establishment of SCoTENS.
Regular readers of this ‘note’ will know that I have certain obsessions which keep re-surfacing: the need to upgrade the Belfast-Dublin rail line; the exhortation to Northern Irish people to fully enjoy both their identities, Irish and British; the need for more people-to-people cooperation across the border; and the imperative for the public sectors in the two Irish jurisdictions to work more closely together to provide joint services for the benefit of both their peoples.
It is to this last subject that I am returning this month. In June the Centre for Cross Border Studies published a report by Dublin business consultant Michael D’Arcy called Delivering a Prosperity Process: Opportunities in North/South Public Service Provision. This consisted of an initial analysis of the potential benefits of North-South cooperation in 10 areas of public service delivery, based on conversations with senior civil servants and business leaders in Belfast and Dublin.
It is notable, in the words of one senior Dublin official, that ‘there is now a record amount of goodwill, knowledge of each other and positive relationships in place’. Another noted that the next phase of Northern Ireland’s development is ‘now generally perceived to be a bureaucratic and administrative task.’ The challenge is to turn the vague and unfocussed goodwill towards North-South cooperation between the two administrative systems into concrete public sector projects for mutual benefit and value for money.
And it is a big challenge. As a third Dublin official put it: ‘80 years of separation have created innumerable individual difficulties and differences between the two systems, many of which are sufficiently profound to present enormous obstacles.’ A senior Belfast official said that the practical results from 13 years of North-South cooperation through the architecture of the Belfast Agreement had been ‘less than the time and effort put into making them fly’.
However Michael D’Arcy’s conversations have thrown up numerous suggestions for sensible, mutually beneficial public sector cooperation. They include a joint plan to support employment and economic growth that will particularly target marginalised communities in both jurisdictions; a cross-border health service plan in areas such as ‘grouping’ some border region hospitals and the joint provision of certain specialist services (e.g. in cancer treatment); creating a Single Energy Market to take full advantage of Ireland’s very significant wind, wave and biomass opportunities (and thus building on the proven success of the all-island Single Electricity Market); cross-border cooperation in the difficult area of public water supply; an all-island tourism research project to make sure that the successes of Tourism Ireland in overseas marketing are transferred into real ‘on the ground’ gains in the two jurisdictions; the use of Ireland’s 2013 EU presidency to showcase the island’s ‘single market’ business achievements; and the provision of a jointly commissioned operational ‘tool box’ to help civil service managers overcome the myriad problems that arise when they try to work with their cross-border colleagues.
It seems to me that there are some excellent opportunities here that at the very least senior officials in Belfast and Dublin should be discussing. To take one example: the Single Electricity Market (SEM) – a ‘single pool market’ into which all electricity generated on or imported into the island must be sold, and from which all wholesale electricity for consumption on or export from the island must be purchased – is a huge success story, much admired by electricity providers elsewhere in Europe. It has led, for example, to Ballylumford power station in County Antrim – once notorious as the fulcrum of the 1974 Ulster Workers Council strike – now providing 17% of the island’s capacity. The SEM is successful because it delivers lower prices to consumers, increases the attractiveness of the sector to investors and enhances the island’s energy security.
D’Arcy argues that the opportunities to expand this Single Electricity Market into a wider and more innovative Single Energy Market include coordinated planning for energy emergencies (of which there are likely to be more than a few in the future given our dependence for over 90% of our energy supply on imported fossil fuels); economies brought about by an all-island wind generated electricity system as an alternative to those fossil fuels, with the potential to become an energy exporter; and new high-skilled jobs in the engineering and ICT sectors.
This month’s opening of the first East-West electricity interconnector from County Meath to North Wales, built by EirGrid, the state owned company which also operates the Single Electricity Market, means that the all-Ireland network is also linked to the all-European network. Moves towards significant all-island wind and other renewable energy provision could not be more timely. As a senior Belfast business person told D’Arcy: ‘Enhanced energy security and sustainability for the island is a shared strategic goal.’
P.S. Turning to another of my obsessions, I noticed from a recent article entitled ‘Train Network has Key Role in Development of Economy’ in the glossy magazine that is provided on the Belfast-Dublin Enterprise that a new strategic study by AECOM/Goodbody proposes investment in new track – giving ‘journey time improvements of up to 30 minutes’ – on key routes from Dublin to Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Galway, Mayo and Waterford. Only Belfast is missing. A source in Irish Rail tells me that there will be no major investment in the Belfast line for the foreseeable future – the message seems to be that we should all be taking busses on the spanking new road between the island’s two largest cities!