September 21, 2019

CCBS 20th Anniversary Conference

The Good Friday / Belfast Agreement; reflecting on a 20 year journey of cross-border cooperation and plotting the path to a successful future

20th September 2019, Crowne Plaza Dundalk

Dr Helen Johnston, Chair, Centre for Cross Border Studies

The Centre for Cross Border Studies (CCBS) marked its 20th Anniversary with a special celebratory conference in Dundalk on Friday 20th September. This special conference explored if the Belfast / Good Friday Agreement has fostered growth and improved relations between and within these islands.

The event began with Dr Helen Johnston, Chair of the Centre for Border Studies’ Board, who welcomed the audience of over 150 delegates and made special mention of thanks for the continued support of the Irish Government, and namely the Department of Education and Skills through its provision of core funding, and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Reconciliation Fund, which has supported a number of CCBS’s projects.

Dr Anthony Soares, Acting Director, Centre for Cross Border Studies

In his opening remarks, Dr Anthony Soares, Acting Director CCBS, reflected upon the origins of the Centre, from its creation in 1999 to promote, support and advocate for improved Cross Border and North/South cooperation in line with Strand Two of the Belfast / Good Friday Agreement, to its current work which includes its flagship project, Border People, and acknowledged that this would not be possible without the continued support of the Irish government. Dr Soares stated that the 20th Anniversary was a time to reflect upon the successes and disappointments of twenty years of cross-border cooperation, and urged the audience to look ahead to the next twenty years of cross-border cooperation, as although we are in uncertain and changing times, the one permanent feature on these islands is our geographic location.

Panel for the first Keynote Session of the day

The first keynote session of the day consisted of David Sterling, Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, Martin Fraser, Secretary General, Department of the Taoiseach, and Sir Mark Sedwill, Cabinet Secretary, National Security Advisor and Head of the UK Civil Service. Mr Sterling began the session by highlighting the importance of the Centre’s previous and ongoing work, in particular the work of the Centre in delivering the Border People project, and the wider significance of North/South relations. He went on to warn of the threat that Brexit poses to these North/South relations and of the dangers that a No-Deal Brexit may bring to the island of Ireland. The second speaker of the keynote session, Martin Fraser, who had also spoken at CCBS’s 10th Anniversary Conference, reflected upon the successes of North/South cooperation and how the relationships, which have been built in the past twenty years, can help navigate the Brexit process and the years ahead. He finished by lamenting the absence of the Northern Ireland Assembly in recent years. Completing the first keynote session, Sir Mark Sedwill, stressed the importance of re-establishing the Northern Ireland institutions and reinforced Dr Soares’s point of not just needing to plan for the immediate future, but to look further ahead and to secure and protect the relationships between and within these islands over the next twenty years.

Members of the first panel discussion

The first panel of the day focused on British/Irish Cooperation and was moderated by Dr Katy Hayward, Queen’s University Belfast. Sarah Tiffin, the Deputy Head of Mission at the British Embassy in Dublin, began by thanking CCBS for its thoughtful engagement of people on both sides of the border before going on to state that the East-West relationships between these islands are built upon a complex and often difficult shared history and with relationships as much about the heart as the head. Ms Tiffin has twice been seconded to the Irish government and as such has a unique perspective on British/Irish relations, describing them as an iceberg with the visible tip being the institutions like Stormont, but with so much more going on beneath the surface. Dr Etain Tannam (Trinity College Dublin), made the point that Brexit has highlighted that British-Irish relations may not be as embedded as had been thought and that the formalisation of this cooperation through the institutions is essential in order to maintain and grow cooperation. Matthew O’Toole, former advisor at No. 10, revealed that Northern Ireland did not feature prominently in the United Kingdom’s strategic thinking in the run-up to the 2016 Referendum and how this contrasts strongly with the European Union’s prioritisation of Northern Ireland. This European focus has resulted in N.I’s prominence in the Brexit negotiations.

Prof Duncan Morrow, Keynote Speaker

The second keynote speaker of the conference was Prof Duncan Morrow, Ulster University, who focused on the evolution of North-South relations. Looking back to the creation of the border in 1921, Prof Morrow discussed the different circumstances under which it has existed, the different ways in which the border is viewed and understood as well as the ‘necessary or unnecessary violence’, depending on an individual’s viewpoint, which has taken place since its creation. Duncan emphasised the importance of the role of the Good Friday Agreement in the future of Northern Ireland and how the document is a means to achieve ‘Reconciliation, Tolerance and Mutual Trust through Equality, Partnership and Mutual Respect.’ He finished with the point that any change in the sovereignty of Northern Ireland will merely mean a change of administration and will fail to address the issues that exist, such as the lack of a middle ground in Northern Ireland’s politics.

Members of the second panel of the conferenece

The panel that followed Prof Morrow’s keynote was moderated by Andy Pollak, founding director of the Centre for Cross Border Studies, and featured Prof Kathy Hall and Dr Mary C. Murphy, both of University College Cork, as well as Michael D’Arcy, Ibec/CBI Northern Ireland Joint Business Council. In his opening remarks Andy highlighted the European Union’s work in establishing cross-border cooperation networks and how improved North/South relations have helped the peace process. He also stressed the importance of PEACE and INTERREG funding and how the decision to leave the EU in June 2016 has threatened all of the progress that has been made. Dr Mary C. Murphy reinforced Duncan’s earlier comments on ‘Reconciliation, Tolerance and Mutual Trust through Equality, Partnership and Mutual Respect, and she emphasised the importance of the North South Ministerial Council in achieving this end. She stated that the NSMC has played a key role in normalising and depoliticising cross-border relations on the island of Ireland and how, Post-Brexit, there is an opportunity for the NSMC to play a greater role with an expanded remit and an increase in resources. Prof Kathy Hall introduced the conference to the Standing Conference on Teacher Education, North and South (SCoTENS) of which she is Co-Chair. Prof Hall explained that SCoTENS is a network of 24 colleges of education, university education departments, teaching councils, curriculum councils, education trade unions and education centres on the island of Ireland with a responsibility for and interest in teacher education. She went on to explain that SCoTENS receives annual funding from Ireland’s Department of Education and Skills. In Northern Ireland, £12,500 funding was provided by the Department of Education and the Department for Employment and Learning (more recently the Department for the Economy). This matched funding continued until the 2017/18 financial year when both northern departments unilaterally withdrew funding, reducing the overall income by 25 per cent, and severely limiting the extent of the network’s activity. Attempts are underway to appeal the Northern departments’ decision. Michael D’Arcy focused on the economic relationships between the two jurisdictions and stated how Brexit had shone a light on the economic connection between the North and South of the island of Ireland. He stressed the need for an All Island Investment Strategy.

Prof Cathy Gormley Heenan, the final Keynote Speaker of the day

The final keynote speaker of CCBS’s 20th Anniversary Conference was Professor Cathy Gormley-Heenan, Ulster University, whose speech evaluated whether the 1998 Good Friday Agreement had been a success or failure. She opened her keynote by stating that the Agreement had different levels of success for different people, depending on how they had been affected by the conflict in Northern Ireland. In political terms, Prof Heenan argued that after the GFA the political parties had taken to “Power Snaring & Power Splitting” rather than the hoped power-sharing, and that good relations and reconciliation had not been mainstreamed. She also stated that devolution in Northern Ireland was a vehicle to be used to reach a destination, but it had broken down. She expressed the view that Brexit has again drawn attention to the border, but while there had been extensive discussion around the physical border and its technicalities, there has been no focus on the border which exists in peoples’ minds. Brexit has also disturbed the way in which we view ourselves and enabled the binary choice of British or Irish in Northern Ireland to come to the fore again.

The final panel of CCBS 20th Anniversary Conference

Steven McCaffery, of the Social Change Initiative, chaired the final panel, which featured the journalist Susan McKay, Peter Sheridan of Cooperation Ireland, and the independent commentator Sarah Creighton. In opening the panel discussion, Steven reflected upon his own experience of Stormont and echoed Cathy Gormley Heenan’s earlier words that Stormont was meant to be used as a vehicle for reconciliation, but that reconciliation was never a priority for those in the Assembly or the British or Irish governments. Susan McKay explained that younger generations do not have to accept the current malfunctioning peace process, and that while older generations may see the current situation as an improvement, those with no personal experience of the troubles are demanding more. Susan stressed that it cannot be assumed that people want the Assembly back as it was, and while the principles of the GFA are good, they have not been realised. Peter Sheridan focused on the importance of a good economy in a peaceful society. Peter explained that economic development is about openness and it is therefore vital that we learn how to build a partnership with the ‘other side’. A thriving economy is essential for peacebuilding and a peaceful society is essential to a thriving economy. Peter finished by saying that Brexit will have profound and far-reaching consequences for the island of Ireland. Sarah Creighton began by highlighting the upcoming centenary of the existence of Northern Ireland and how it, like the Backstop, will divide Northern Ireland. Sarah went on to state that while politicians have only recently focused their attention back on the GFA, Civic Society and community groups in Northern Ireland have always been working in progressing the elements of the Agreement. Sarah referred back to Prof Duncan Morrow’s earlier keynote and agreed that politicians have been cherry picking certain parts of the Agreement as a way of justifying their position in the Brexit negotiations. On a more hopeful note, Sarah finished by highlighting the growing numbers of people identifying as neither Unionist or Nationalist, and that this may translate to more issues-based politics in Northern Ireland.

Dr Christopher Gibson launching a special edition of the CCBS journal

The evening session of the Centre for Cross Border Studies began with a Drinks Reception, generously sponsored by Queen’s University Belfast and Dublin City University, and the Launch of a special edition of the Journal of Cross Border Studies in Ireland by Dr Christopher Gibson, first Chair of CCBS. Guests were entertained by an excellent string trio from the Cross Border Orchestra: Caroline, Emma and Richie, who were representing the 100 young musicians of the Cross Border Orchestra along with their Chief Executive, Sharon Treacy-Dunne. In launching the special edition of the Journal, Dr Christopher Gibson stressed the importance of continuing the excellent work that has been carried out in cross-border cooperation over the last twenty years. The Conference Dinner was the final part of the day with dinner speaker, Fintan O’Toole, of The Irish Times, who was introduced by Prof John Doyle, of Dublin City University. In his speech Fintan O’Toole noted that although the Irish Border measures only 500km, the more you get to know about it the bigger it gets, and as the Brexit negotiations have progressed it has become huge. However, there have been thirty years of politically effective cooperation between the UK and Irish governments and this will have to be re-established again because, as mentioned by Dr Soares in his opening remarks, geographically Britain and Ireland are close together. Fintan finished by stating the Belfast Agreement brought Northern Ireland out of a dark time and it continues to give a direction in which to move forward through the current troubles.

Fintan O’Toole during his speech at the conference dinner

 

The Centre gratefully acknowledges the continued support from the Department of Education and Skills and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Reconciliation Fund.

Recordings of the Conference Speakers are available here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Date / Time Event Details Watch/Listen
20/09/19
9.00am

WELCOME
Dr Helen Johnston, Chair, Centre for Cross Border Studies

OPENING REMARKS
Dr Anthony Soares, Acting Director, Centre for Cross Border Studies

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20/09/19
9.30am

KEYNOTE SESSION
Mr Martin Fraser, Secretary General, Department of the Taoiseach
Mr David Sterling, Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service
Sir Mark Sedwill, Cabinet Secretary, National Security Adviser and Head of the UK Civil Service

Q&A

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20/09/19
10.00am

PANEL DISCUSSION
MoDERAToR: Dr Katy Hayward, Queen’s University Belfast
Dr Etain Tannam, Trinity College Dublin
Ms Sarah Tiffin, Deputy Head of Mission, British Embassy Dublin
Mr Matthew O’Toole, Independent Commentator

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20/09/19
11.30am

KEYNOTE SPEAKER
Prof Duncan Morrow, Ulster University

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20/09/19
12.00pm

PANEL DISCUSSION
MoDERAToR: Mr Andy Pollak, founding Director, Centre for Cross Border Studies
Prof Kathy Hall, University College Cork
Dr Mary Murphy, University College Cork
Mr Michael D’Arcy, Ibec/CBI Northern Ireland Joint Business Council

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20/09/19
2.00pm

KEYNOTE SPEAKER
Prof Cathy Gormley Heenan, Ulster University

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20/09/19
3.30pm

PANEL DISCUSSION
MoDERAToR: Mr Steven McCaffery, Communications Strategy Executive, Social Change Initiative
Ms Susan McKay, Journalist
Mr Peter Sheridan, Chief Executive, Cooperation Ireland
Ms Sarah Creighton, Independent Commentator

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20/09/19
6.00pm

DRINKS RECEPTION & JOURNAL LAUNCH by Dr Christopher Gibson, former Chair, Centre for Cross Border Studies

Generously sponsored by Dublin City University & Queen’s University Belfast

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20/09/19
7.00pm

DINNER
DINNER SPEAKER: Mr Fintan O’Toole, The Irish Times
CHAIRED By: Prof John Doyle, Dublin City University

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