CCBS Director gives evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee
Posted On: 22 Mar 2023
East-West North-South Northern Ireland
On Tuesday 21 March, Dr Anthony Soares, Director of the Centre for Cross Border Studies, spoke to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee of the House of Commons in an Oral Evidence session as part of their inquiry into the effectiveness of the institutions of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. Anthony was part of a panel which were called to take part in a special session held in the Parliament Buildings in Stormont, during the Committee’s visit to Northern Ireland. This Oral Evidence session follows a submission made by CCBS to the Inquiry, which you can read here.
During the session, the Committee and the panel discussed a range of topics including people’s knowledge of the Good Friday Agreement, reform of Stormont, and the institutions and the cooperation required to deliver on Strands Two and Three of the Agreement.
As discussion developed around a perceived lack of understanding about the Agreement amongst young people, Anthony stressed that while many young people may not know the Agreement in all its parts and how it is interlinked, this is not something that is limited to just young people. Many who are old enough to remember the passing of the Agreement and the time before it have also forgotten the importance of the institutions, including some politicians. He also encouraged people in Great Britain to see the Agreement not just as something for the island of Ireland but something that also includes them given the importance of East-West cooperation.
A centre piece of the Committee’s discussion with the panel focused on any potential reform of the institutions of Strand One of the Agreement. Anthony agreed that the position of those who are classified as ‘Other’ or not identifying themselves as either Nationalist or Unionist is something that needs to be addressed given that there are times when their votes seem to matter less in official proceedings. Another example of this being around the ongoing debate over the Stormont Brake which was negotiated as part of the Windsor Framework and the failed votes to appoint a First Minister. However, Anthony was keen to stress that this would have to be done with wide consultation, including with Civic Society, and with all parties involved committing to the Declaration of Support that is found at the beginning of the Good Friday Agreement. New arrangements must be found, not as a quick fix to resolve a crisis, but as a way of rebuilding trust between the parties and the electorate.
The Committee also discussed the cooperation required as part of Strands Two and Three of the Agreement, something which the Centre continues to advocate for as a central part of its work. Anthony highlighted the fact that the North South Ministerial Council has only met 31 times in the past 6 years, rather than the 27 times a year it ought to have done if the institutions of Strand One were functioning as they should. This highlights the interlinked nature of the institutions of the Agreement’s various Strands. He praised the work of the UK and Irish Governments in improving relations after a rocky few years and encouraged the British Government to continue to send high level delegations, including the Prime Minister, to the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference. He also suggested the UK Government should follow the Irish Government’s lead by recognising the importance of ‘border-proofing’ legislation to ensure it doesn’t lead to detrimental impacts on the island of Ireland. This is part of the Cabinet Handbook for the Irish Government and an approach from the UK Government that recognises the potential impact of new legislation could have in Northern Ireland would be welcome given the impact that divergence between Great Britain and Northern Ireland would have.
The Centre will continue to speak to the Committee and to other policymakers to ensure that our institutions can function as best they can and to promote cooperation on a North-South and East-West basis to maintain the benefits that were secured by the Good Friday Agreement.Watch the session