The Centre for Cross Border Studies met with the Committee for the Executive Office to discuss the commitments in the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol and the Trade and Co-operation Agreement in relation to civic engagement and the opportunities for establishing mechanisms for such engagement.
The session focused on the need for structured, regular, and transparent engagement between civic society here and representatives of regional, national or EU bodies. The Centre gave an analysis of the latest proposals to reform the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol from the European Commisson and the UK Government as well as some further proposals for improved engagement.
It outlined that although meetings between civic society and the parties responsible for the implementation of the Protocol are a positive step, in order for them to become mutually beneficial to all concerned, and to avoid them resulting in frustration, unrealistic expectations, or undermining trust, they must become part of a meaningful and transparent structure. This implies the introduction of a number of measures, including:
- The identification of contact points for civic society organisations within the UK-EU Joint Committee and the Specialised Committee on the Protocol.
- The establishment of an outline schedule of meetings between representatives of civic society and the Joint Committee and Specialised Committee
- Consideration as to the potential benefits of timetabling meetings with the Joint Consultative Working Group
- Agreed and publically available agendas for meetings between representatives of civic society and the Joint and Specialised Committees
- The publication of the principal issues discussed after each meeting.
Among the points raised was that no proper monitoring of the maintenance of conditions for North-South cooperation under the Protocol can take place without engagement with civic society from both jurisdictions.
It was also pointed out that regarding the lack of protection to East-West cooperation under the Protocol, it is crucial that UK Government fully supports East-West channels of civic society cooperation and engagement through the mechanisms being established under the Trade and Cooperation Agreement.