Centre for Cross Border Studies Director Ruth Taillon was invited to speak at Féile an Phobail on Saturday 5th August in Belfast. Next year is the 20th anniversary of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. Since the Agreement was signed in 1998, cross-border, all-island and east-west co-operation has been evolving on many fronts: civic, public and business. However, the impending exit of the UK from the European Union means that the need for cooperation across all three strands of the Agreement has never been more important.
Ms Taillon began by giving a background of the Centre for Cross Border Studies and its non-partisan position before stating that ‘the shifting constitutional ground within and between these islands has highlighted the need for greater attention to the relationships.’ She then explained that with the UK’s decision to leave the EU, the island of Ireland faces being divided by a EU border and that ‘we are likely to see greater divergence in public policies and priorities on either side of the border.’ In her speech, Ms Taillon stressed that ‘securing the future of cooperation within, across and beyond these islands must be, in the first instance, a political priority ‘ as cross-border cooperation has helped to tackle the problems that have emerged from the conflict and that ‘it is essential that the ‘soft infrastructure’ that has been established under the Agreement to support cross-border cooperation – the statutory cross-border bodies and links at Departmental level – be supported in the first instance by the Irish and British Governments as guarantors of the Agreement and by the NI Executive and Assembly.
CCBS Director Taillon stressed that there needs to be political commitment from both sides of the border to developing cooperation and in this light welcomed Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s recent reassurance that the Irish Government will continue to act as co-guarantors of the Good Friday agreement, drawing attention to the Taoisech’s speech in Belfast were he highlighted that North-South cooperation is a key part of the agreement. Ms Taillon gave the example of the ‘All-Island Civic Dialogue’ which had taken place over the past number of months as an example of how citizens across society can be engaged and that the Centre for Cross Border Studies was happy to support this as a ‘format should be built upon to fulfil the objective of the Agreement for an independent all-island consultative forum.’ She also recognised the threat which Brexit posed to the Good Friday Agreement but also stated that it represents an opportunity fo both governments to ‘review the remits and operation of the Strand 2 and Strand 3 institutions.’
In her concluding remarks Ms Taillon explained the difficulties and challenges that we will be facing in order to maintain and build the relationships and on the lessons learned in the years since the Good Friday agreement.
Full speech available below.
The Centre for Cross Border Studies recently published a Briefing Paper which proposes ‘flexible and imaginative solutions’ and suggests ‘the 1998 Belfast/Good Friday Agreement should not be viewed simply as a problem to be overcome during the negotiations over the UK’s exit from the EU, but also as a potential “flexible and imaginative” solution to the maintenance of post-Brexit relations.‘