Remarks by An Taoiseach at the launch of the yearbook of the Centre for Cross Border Studies at St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra, 7 February 2005
Dr Chris Gibson;
Dr Pauric Travers;
Dr Ferdinand von Prondzinsky;
Andy Pollak; Distinguished Guests; Ladies and Gentlemen
I am delighted to join Chris Gibson, Andy Pollak, Pauric Travers and the rest of the Board and team at the Centre for Cross Border Studies for the launch of the Centre’s Yearbook, Year Six.
I am very pleased also to be undertaking the launch here in St Patrick’s in Drumcondra, a place very close to my heart. In coming here this afternoon, I was struck by the fact that we are launching a publication of one of the newest academic institutions on the island on the site of its oldest College, St Patrick’s.
The difficult journey undertaken by North/South relations in the 20th century is well captured by a number of the contributors in your Yearbook. Who could disagree with Conor Brady’s characterisation of those relations in the Fifties as “the great, icy silence”?
Measured against that backcloth, what has happened to North/South relations in the almost seven years since the Good Friday Agreement has been remarkable.
How has that come about?
Firstly and critically, the political context has been transformed. The principles of consent, partnership, equality and mutual respect enshrined in the Agreement are now the compass points of a new beginning in relationships on this island.
Flowing from that political and constitutional accommodation, we have constructed a new institutional framework for co-operation that recognises all of the realities, political and practical involved.
We have put the focus on practical, tangible benefits to both parts of the island. Indeed, the test of mutual benefit is a fundamental one for all North/South co-operative projects under the Agreement.
After decades of the “great, icy silence”, we have at last been able to start releasing the vast potential for mutual benefit that lies in working together on practical things on this island.
The new institutional framework includes the North South Ministerial Council, bringing together Ministers from Dublin and Belfast to take forward co-operation on a range of areas. It goes without saying that I look forward to the day – and I strongly wish it to be soon – when representatives of the Northern Ireland parties are back again around the North/South Ministerial Council table with us.
In areas such as Tourism, Trade, Agriculture, Education, European Programmes, Food Safety, Inland Waterways, there is a whole new dynamic of co-operation taking shape in a way that would have been unimaginable ten or fifteen years ago. The work of the new North/South Bodies established under the Good Friday Agreement has been particularly significant and important in that regard and I pay tribute to all involved.
The practitioners involved in these Sectors and projects know that together is better. Together is stronger.
I am particularly excited about the prospects for an island economy, building on the great progress already made North and South. If the past was about standing apart economically, the future must be about pooling our resources and brainpower and ensuring a more cohesive approach to common challenges.
Such an approach threatens nobody and benefits everybody.
And we have the good start of recent years and the fine work of new organisations such as InterTradeIreland and Tourism Ireland to build on as a foundation.
That is why the Government looks forward to working intensively over the coming months to ensure that the momentum of North/South co-operation to mutual benefit – and I stress that it must continue to pass that test – is maintained and developed.
Role of Centre for Cross Border Studies
It is also essential that North/South co-operation is not the exclusive preserve of the politicians or the public sector. Other actors in the North/South arena – the private sector, trade unions, the farming sector, the voluntary and community sector, the universities and other educational institutions, to name but a few – have a critical role to play also in this process.
That is where the role of the Centre for Cross Border Studies has been, and will continue to be, so important and valuable. It seems to me that you have carved out a very useful role in complementing the work of the new North/South institutions created by the Agreement and serving as a kind of inter-face between the public sector in both parts of the island and the non-governmental practitioners in the field.
Your Yearbook sets out the scope of this role very well.
A word of praise also for your tireless Director, Andy Pollak, who I know gets great support from the Board and his colleagues. He deserves great credit for his huge personal commitment and for the strong leadership he gives to a fine and growing team at the Centre. We are pleased that you share your premises in Armagh with the Joint Secretariat of the North/South Ministerial Council, and I acknowledge the presence of a number of members of that team here today also.
Current Political Situation
We all know that these are difficult times for the peace process. Trust and confidence have been damaged and will take time to heal.
Through the Good Friday Agreement itself, Weston Park , the Joint Declaration and the Comprehensive Agreement of last December there is ample context for everyone to move forward. The issues are now clear. What needs to be done is clear.
For our part, the Government will continue to engage with the British Government and all the parties to advance all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement. We will fully discharge our responsibilities as co-guarantors of the Agreement. The implementation of the Agreement is the will of the people of this island, North and South.
We have come a long way and we have made a new beginning. We will continue to work to build a better future for everybody.
The spirit of the Centre for Cross Border Studies is the spirit of this new beginning.
I thank you for the contribution you are making.
I am honoured to launch your Yearbook and wish you well with your vital work in the months and years ahead.
See the yearbook.