February 1, 2009

The Centre is to undertake five new EU INTERREG-supported research projects in 2009-2011

Between February 2009 and December 2011 the Centre will undertake five major new research, development, training and information projects supported by the EU cross-border programme INTERREG IVA. These have been packaged under the collective title: the Ireland-Northern Ireland Cross-Border Cooperation Observatory (INICCO). The five constituent projects are as follows:

1. NORMAL BUSINESS RESTORED: Reviving the border economy in a new era of peace and devolved government

The aim of this package of four closely inter-related research projects is to find ways of understanding and increasing the accessibility, size, transparency, competitiveness and profitability of Irish border region markets in a context where peace and normality have finally arrived in Northern Ireland and the Southern Border Region. The added element of an international economic recession has been added since the application was first written in 2007. This overall project – in which the Centre will be partnered by InterTradeIreland – will begin in autumn 2009. Tenders for research applications will be issued in early summer 2009.

The four constituent research projects will be:

  1. The specific challenges the region faces due to its peripheral location, with an exploration of how it might become less peripheral through new business communication technologies, optimal use of supporting institutions (including higher education institutions) and the experience of more advanced border regions elsewhere in Europe.
  2. How border region retail and wholesale markets might be made more efficient drivers of regional growth (and more robust in the face of currency changes) in the longer-term.
  3. How the micro-enterprises (with under 10 employees) which are the mainstay of so much economic activity in the region might be enabled to expand by exploiting increased access to larger cross-border markets on their doorstep (and to learn from the experience of successful ‘niche’ producers in other parts of Ireland and Europe).
  4. How the region’s tourism ‘product’ (including ‘green tourism’) might ‘dovetail’ with strategic plans for tourism in Ireland as a whole, and how border towns might learn from ‘good performers’ elsewhere on the island to bring more visitors to the region.


The benefits of harmonising cross-border planning in specific regions along the Irish border is something that has already been recognised by both administrations (e.g. in the North-West Gateway initiative). On a small island like Ireland the complexity of spatial planning – and its relationship with economic development, social policy and infrastructure – is increased by the border’s existence. In the next five years local authorities in Northern Ireland and the Southern border region will have to take on extra responsibilities for planning under the Reform of Public Administration in the North and new regional planning guidelines in the South.

The Centre and its sister organisation, the International Centre for Local and Regional Development (ICLRD) will bring together a network (CroSPLaN) of planners, housing providers, economic development officers, local officials and councillors, and community and business interests on both sides of the border to promote more systematic learning and exchange in planning. The ICLRD will lead a three year programme consisting of the following:

  • Two action research projects per year
  • Two executive training programmes per year for local councillors, officials and other local leaders
  • One technical workshop per year
  • One annual conference

The 2009 action research projects will explore the impact of local government reform in the North and new planning legislation in the South on cross-border planning; and the comparable experience in cross-border planning of local and regional authorities elsewhere in Europe. Other research areas to be covered in future years could include sustainable rural transport; mapping spatial indicators; understanding travel-to-work patterns; land and property markets; joint management of the environment, including waste management; the regeneration of marginalised areas; and comparative emergency planning.


This project – in which Centre will be partnered by the Institute of Public Health in Ireland – will consist of two linked research studies on modelling hospital service planning on a border region basis, and on the democratisation of health care.

The first study, which will build on a piece of initial desk research completed in late 2007, will examine the number, size, composition and possible locations of the hospitals that would be required in the future if the planning of acute services in the border region was on the basis of population needs rather than jurisdictional frontiers. It will work towards developing a prototype model of cross-border health service accessibility driven by geographical considerations around the distribution of patients (potential need and demand); the configuration of hospitals North and South (potential supply based on bed numbers and specialisms); and the transport network (modelling of accessibility based on travel time).

While population modelling is important for health service planning, it is less than useful if the needs and rights of the people who use those services are ignored. The second study will examine the role of community involvement in decision making in the planning of hospital services in the border regions of both jurisdictions.


As part of the integrative work of a cross-border observatory, the Centre will research the development of a pilot Impact Assessment Toolkit for practical, mutually beneficial cross-border cooperation in Ireland. Impact assessment is a continuous process to help the policy-maker fully think through and understand the consequences of possible and actual interventions. It has been used particularly in the health and environmental sectors in Ireland, North and South, but not until now in cross-border cooperation.

The Centre will develop this ‘toolkit’ to guide policy-makers through the process of planning and implementing a major cross-border project. This would consist of a number of stages: the early stages of identifying and defining the policy challenge; the identification of options; the consultation stage; the final proposal, focussing on costs and benefits; the implementation stage; and the review stage, when actual costs and benefits indicate whether the project is achieving its desired aims. This project will start in 2010.


This will be the second phase of the Border People (www.borderpeople.info) information website, to be developed in a continuing partnership with the North/South Ministerial Council. A new information officer largely devoted to this project started work in the Centre in early February 2009.

Since Border Ireland was launched to the public in late spring 2008, it was only starting to become properly known in Northern Ireland and the Southern border region by the summer of 2008, when its EU Peace funding expired. During a short, three month professional marketing campaign in April-June 2008, the number of people accessing the website grew dramatically.

Phase Two will allow for a much more systematic dissemination and marketing of information and public feedback on cross-border mobility issues, assisted by an active and enlarged User Group drawn from a wide range of citizens advice, employment advice, local authority, business and community organisations. Performance will be reviewed against agreed targets for information content, along with regular statistical website reports to evaluate demand and usage. An annual survey will test whether the interests of users are being matched and how well the various website features are working.

This website is a uniquely practical expression of cross-border movement, interaction and cooperation on the island of Ireland, and one that will bring concrete benefits to the citizens of both jurisdictions.

A project supported by INTERREG IVA Programme managed by the Special EU Programmes Body

Interreg IVA