Taoiseach's keynote address on the next phase of the Government’s Shared Island initiative

Published on: 10 December 2021


I want to thank everyone for joining this online gathering, as we strive to stay connected, while managing this latest difficult phase of the pandemic, nationally, across Europe and globally.

 

Tá áthas orm an deis a thapú chun ceist rí-thábhachtach a phlé - conas is féidir linn comhroinnt oileán na hÉireann a fheabhsú?

 

I am very glad to have the opportunity to speak this afternoon on a question that matters profoundly - how we can better share the island of Ireland, today and into the future?

 

Our cherished island which - through its landscapes, cultures, and the continuing story of all of its people, at home and abroad - never ceases to inspire, to nourish, and to give hope.

 

An Ireland, North and South, of which we are each - across all communities and backgrounds - a connected part. We experience this island together; we change it together; and we prosper together.

 

It is important to keep these basic truths in view when we talk about sharing the island.

 

Because, of course, people across the island have different, equally legitimate constitutional aspirations for the future, and often different political perspectives today.

 

This week - when we mark the centenary of the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, and the signing of the Sunningdale Agreement in 1973 - we remember well that failure to resolve how we live here together has too often produced violence, suffering and alienation.

 

It was the reaching of another agreement, in Belfast in April 1998, and its resounding endorsement by the people of this island, North and South, that provided a better-founded and enduring basis for peace, prosperity and progress.

 

By accommodating the totality of our relationships in an agreed framework, upheld by the Irish and British Governments, as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement.

 

Providing a transformational, democratic, dynamic answer to the centuries-old question of how we share this land. Founded on partnership, equality, respect, and shared endeavour.

 

The long road of peace-building and current challenges - including on Brexit and dealing equitably with the legacy of the Troubles - can sometimes obscure just what has been achieved since 1998:

 

A generation has grown up and come of age, in peace.

 

Political, economic and community relationships have been progressively built up.

 

We have shown that we can work in our common interests, through the power-sharing, North/South and East/West institutions.

 

And, we have created the space to better know and understand each other across our political traditions and identities - unionist, loyalist, nationalist, republican and many more.

 

We have begun to reconcile.

 

But we must acknowledge also that 2021 has been a difficult year as we continue to grapple with the Covid pandemic, the outworkings of Brexit and dealing with the legacy of the past.

 

Issues around the Northern Ireland Protocol and its implementation have bedevilled politics in Northern Ireland, relationships North and South and on these islands.

The EU has sought to engage with the concerns of the people in Northern Ireland and has put forward a significant package to address those concerns.

 

Discussions are ongoing.

 

We want to see an agreed outcome that works in the best way possible for the people of Northern Ireland.

 

We all want to move beyond these issues confronting us on Brexit and the Protocol - to engage constructively and imaginatively on shared opportunities, and to address the challenges we collectively face in the period ahead.

 

We want to finally and definitively move beyond the divisions of our past. To build together, a truly shared future.

 

##Shared Island initiative

 

I launched our Shared Island initiative just over twelve months ago, here in Dublin Castle, setting out a broad, positive, inclusive agenda, founded on the Good Friday Agreement:

 

- To raise our ambition for what we achieve through all-island partnerships, with the Executive, the UK Government and across society;

 

- To deliver on cross-border investment commitments and develop a new generation of projects, focused on the major shared challenges for this island;

 

- And, to look to the future, in an open, practical, constructive way, that all political traditions can confidently engage with.

 

These goals were backed up with a major financial commitment through the Government’s Shared Island Fund.

 

And, I established a Shared Island unit in my Department to drive delivery of our priorities across Government.

 

In putting the focus on our shared future on this island, I was clear that there is no easy road. There isn’t a simplistic narrative. There is no pre-determined constitutional outcome.

 

There is mistrust as well as misconception. And there is enduring hurt and trauma for victims’ families and communities, that we need to acknowledge and comprehensively address.

 

 

But after two decades of peace, we do have more common ground and goodwill on this island than in the past. A deeper reconciliation, a better future for our children and grandchildren, can be achieved.

 

Through the Shared Island initiative, the Irish Government is working with ambition for a shared, reconciled future for all - by taking up the full potential of the Good Friday Agreement.

 

 

Building a Shared Island

This year, the Government has allocated €50m from our Shared Island Fund, and advanced four major cross-border projects. Proving what can be achieved through this initiative.

 

In April - the Government allocated over €13m for new phases of the Ulster Canal restoration, which are now underway. Blueways and greenways that will provide a connecting amenity for people in Cavan, Fermanagh, Monaghan and Armagh; and grow sustainable tourism in this wonderfully scenic region.

 

In June - the Government announced enabling resourcing from the Shared Island Fund to move ahead with the landmark Narrow Water Bridge project.

 

A project that has been talked about for decades - an iconic bridge to link the Mourne Mountains and Cooley peninsula, connecting communities across the border.

 

Led by Minister Darragh O’Brien and Minister Nichola Mallon, the Government and Executive are supporting cross-partnership in the region, to also develop greenways, walking trails and park amenities. Creating a unique cross-border natural heritage experience.

In July - I and Minister Simon Harris announced the Government’s major new North/South Research Programme, with €40million from the Shared Island Fund over the next five years.

 

The first call by the Higher Education Authority for the programme has just closed, with over 350 joint applications. Research teams, third-level institutions and hubs will deepen knowledge bases - across all disciplines - on an all-island partnership basis.

 

And, in September - the Government and Executive, led by Minister Eamon Ryan and Minister Nichola Mallon commenced the first ever all-island strategic rail review.

 

Looking in an integrated way at how we improve our rail infrastructure, including high and higher speed feasibilities; electrification; and, better connections for the North-West.

This joint work will inform how we invest together in rail in the decade ahead.

 

And this is only the beginning.

 

In October, as part of the revised National Development Plan, the Government extended the Shared Island Fund, doubling our resource commitment to at least €1billion out to 2030.

 

This unprecedented commitment by the Irish Government reflects the breadth of opportunity that we see in collaborative cross-border investment in the decade ahead.

 

And, with funding of over €1billion, the PEACE PLUS programme - delivered in partnership with the European Union, UK Government and the Executive - will complement the capital resourcing of our Shared Island Fund.

In total, under the revised National Development Plan, there is an all-island investment commitment of more than €3.5billion out to 2030.

 

And the Government has set out new investment priorities, across virtually all sectors, to deploy this resourcing, through all-island partnerships.

 

Our goal is to create a more sustainable, more connected, more prosperous island for all.

 

We are working intensively now across Government - and engaging with the Executive and UK Government; with Local Authorities and civil society - to deliver that vision.

 

Today, I am announcing our plan for the next phase of the Shared Island initiative. I want to see new projects and policies, delivering on the aims of the initiative, commencing in every Department of Government in 2022.

 

For a more sustainable island:

We are prioritising coordinated cross-border investment in Electric Vehicle charging networks. We will work with the Executive, and leverage the Shared Island Fund, to expand the roll out of rapid EV charging points in border regions.

 

We will also work to develop with the Executive and the UK Government a cross-border pilot project on green hydrogen for the road network. We stand ready to resource an agreed project through the Shared Island Fund.

 

Integrated routes will be essential for the viability of hydrogen for road transport on the island. So, in January, the Government will also commission research to look ahead to the regulatory and infrastructure frameworks we need to link up on a North/South basis.

 

And, as climate change is a fundamental challenge that we face together on this island, the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications, will next year make available funding for cross-border climate action partnerships and interventions.

 

For a more connected island:

We will forge ahead with the Ulster Canal and Narrow Water Bridge projects; with new cross-border greenways, including from Sligo to Enniskillen. And, we will plan for an island-wide greenway network to link the Atlantic coast with the Eastern seaboard.

 

We will also keep progressing all of our commitments under the New Decade, New Approach agreement - including to work with the Executive and UK Government to enhance connectivity on the island by road, rail and air.

 

The Government also recognises the vital role of cross-border partnership by Local Authorities in pursuing regional development in a more connected way. Taking account of the weaved geography, business and community life of border regions.

 

Each of the four main Local Authority networks agreed new strategic frameworks this year.

 

Increasing their ambition to work together across the border to support sustainable, inclusive development.

 

We want to champion this connected regional working.

 

So the Government will next year make available Shared Island development funding for Local Authorities.

 

To provide an impulse to initiate new joint investment projects, that will link funding streams from North and South, and better deliver regional development goals.

 

We will also do more to connect people. To broaden civic connections across the different communities of this island. So that we have more opportunities to understand each other, not in the abstract, but in fact.

 

The Minister for Foreign Affairs will next year make available pilot funding to support greater civil society engagement on the island. Complementing the vital work supported through the Reconciliation Fund, which has been doubled in recent years.

This summer I had an opportunity in Cork to meet with Fighting Words - a unique organisation enabling young people to tell their own stories. It is about using creative writing and storytelling to strengthen our children and teenagers to be resilient, creative and shapers of their own lives.

 

With support from the Creative Ireland programme, Fighting Words has established centres in Coleraine, Belfast and Derry, fostering young people’s engagement North and South.

 

I am keen that culture be a key pillar in this Shared Island Initiative.

 

Through the Creative Ireland programme next year, the Government will continue to support artistic and cultural exchange across the island, and take specific account of shared island themes, in looking to a successor programme for 2023 and beyond.

Our shared future will depend on our ability to be creative and inventive, to solve problems, to work collaboratively and experimentally.

 

And, to support a more prosperous island:

We will work for the development of third-level education in the North West region in a more integrated and sustainable way. Next year, prioritising Shared Island funding for Ulster University Magee Campus in Derry, working with Letterkenny Institute of Technology and other institutions in the region.

 

The Minister for Further and Higher Education, also plans to commission work on how collectively we could do better on student mobility. So that more young people take up the option to go North or come South to study, and indeed do so more broadly across these islands. Gaining a broader view and making friendships as they go.

 

Next year, we also want to move ahead with new all-island research centres. Resourced through our Shared Island Fund and with the Executive and UK Government. In areas of shared priority for both jurisdictions, such as Climate, Cybersecurity and Precision Medicine.

 

The world-leading research that can be conducted in these and other sectors, by bringing together the capacity of universities, research institutes and industry, North and South, goes beyond what either jurisdiction can achieve on its own.

 

ESRI Shared Island research published this week evidences that the most impactful common action we could take on the island to enhance attractiveness to high-value FDI - and the good jobs this creates - is to increase our public investment in R&D.

 

And, we are prioritising a joint investment next year in a new cross-border innovation hub. This will enhance entrepreneurial and technological capacity to create new jobs for young people to live and prosper in the beautiful North West.

 

I and the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise Trade and Employment also see scope to expand support for enterprise development throughout the border corridor.

 

So, through the Regional Enterprise Development Funds, the Government will provide additional resourcing to support business growth on a more collaborative cross-border basis, including through entrepreneurship links, clustering and innovation diffusion.

 

This is a suite of Shared Island investments and projects that we will work to deliver throughout next year, working through partnerships on this island and across these islands.

 

It is a programme for investment and cooperation - on shared environmental, economic and social concerns - that everyone can get behind. There is only gain.

 

We have spent a lot of time over the last five years dealing with challenges in political relationships - in Northern Ireland; North/South; and between the European Union and United Kingdom.

 

We must keep striving sincerely for resolutions to current issues - including on Brexit and dealing with the legacy of the Troubles - honouring agreements already reached.

 

We do now also need to give more time and energy to realising the opportunities in our political, economic and societal relationships, across these islands.

 

I will continue to work with Prime Minister Johnson, and with the First and deputy First Minister and each of the political party leaders in Northern Ireland, to develop all dimensions of our bilateral UK and our North/South relationships.

 

 

Research programme

 

Informing our ambitious shared island agenda is a wide-ranging research programme.

 

This is looking positively and practically to the years ahead, scoping out how we can deepen cooperation and understanding, underpinned by the Good Friday Agreement.

 

We are working with the National Economic and Social Council, the Economic and Social Research Institute, and other partners, to produce a stream of high-quality work.

 

Focused on the opportunities, and challenges, of taking our shared island to the next level. Looking both North/South and East/West.

 

In October, following a public consultation, the National Economic and Social Council made recommendations on how we could better cooperate on climate and biodiversity issues.

 

The Council will shortly provide a comprehensive report to Government, bringing a shared island perspective to a range of common, connected concerns for the island. Including on social enterprise, mental health, tackling poverty, and sustainable regional development.

This week, the ESRI released its first Shared Island reports - on Services and on Foreign Direct Investment. To be followed in the New Year by publications on Health and Education systems and outcomes.

 

This research is shedding new light on economy and public services on the island; and the potential for the Government and Executive to enhance the island for everyone, by working in joint and coordinated ways.

 

And today, the Government is announcing more than a dozen research awards, with the Irish Research Council and the Standing Conference on Teacher Education North/South.

 

These are all engaged research projects, that connect with communities and stakeholders.

 

They will bring forward practical insights and suggestions on a shared island basis next year.

In areas extending across culture, science, education, law, equality and community relations.

 

We will continue and deepen our ground-breaking Shared Island research programme next year.

 

To support a flourishing of thinking, and a better evidence base for political, civic and community discussion about how we live together well on this island, into the future.

 

 

Shared Island dialogue

 

Inclusive civic dialogue is a crucial dimension of our Shared Island initiative, and I would like to conclude with a few words on that.

 

Last October, I launched the Shared Island Dialogue series, to foster civic discussion with all communities and political traditions on the island on a shared future.

I emphasised the value of bringing together as broad a range of experience as possible.

 

Including from underrepresented groups in the Peace Process - in particular, women; young people; and, ethnic minority and new communities who today comprise 15% of the island’s population.

 

We need to engage all parts of society on how we shape the future.

 

Not just because it affects us all, but to get a more complete view of our interests, commonalities and points of view, North and South.

 

With a wider agenda, there is more scope for common ground.

 

With broader participation, we see that difference on this island is not unique to allegiance, creed or place. And neither is agreement.

 

Over the last 12 months, through the online Shared Island Dialogue series the Government has listened to people’s ideas, questions, concerns and hopes for the future.

 

Across a range of areas - from healthcare, education, the economy and environment; to equality, civil society and the priorities of young people, women and minority communities.

 

More than 1,000 civic representatives and organisations from across all regions and communities on this island have participated.

 

 

And exciting partnerships have resulted, including an all-island women’s forum; new youth dialogues; and, a major shared island practices project in civil society, launched on Monday.

 

Today, my Department has published a report on the first year of the Dialogue series.

 

I commend it to you as a snapshot of our shared island society - diverse, dynamic, hopeful and ready to write a new chapter of reconciliation on this island.

 

The discussions that I and my Government colleagues have participated in through the Shared Island Dialogue series so far, have been nothing short of inspiring:

 

- Affirming just how much common ground and readiness to work together there is, across communities and political traditions, while not shying away from hard questions;

- Elaborating common concerns around climate, healthcare, good jobs and the impacts of the pandemic. And also shared values - equality; respect; solidarity; engagement;

 

- Identifying how, through cooperation, we can deliver better outcomes for both jurisdictions. Insights that have directly informed our National Development Plan priorities;

 

And;

 

- Recognising that reconciliation between communities and political traditions will not just happen. Nor will we talk it into being.

 

We have to keep building relationships, through meaningful interaction, across all aspects of life on this island.

 

And, we need to prioritise this more in civic and political life the South. To see that reconciliation is not a detached process or a regional concern, but a whole of society task.

 

It is a fundamental interest for our common future on the island of Ireland.

 

The Government will continue and develop the Shared Island Dialogue series next year.

 

- With discussions on sectoral issues as well as broader societal concerns. Including on culture and identity issues, and how we can truly understand each other across diverse communities and traditions;

 

- We will convene in-person events when possible. And, I want to see a strong regional dimension - these are conversations that need to happen around the island;

 

- We will work with, and listen to, the full diversity of civil society to broaden and deepen the conversation;

 

- And, encourage and invite political representatives across all traditions to contribute to this open, positive, practical civic dialogue on a shared future, founded on the Good Friday Agreement.

 

 

Concluding Remarks

On Tuesday, to mark the 100th anniversary of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, I visited the fascinating National Archives exhibition on the Treaty - a key moment in modern Irish history and in shaping the State.

 

In our commemorations we have shown our respect for the complexity of the past and willingness to seek new perspectives.

 

As we look back to remember and understand the past -

 

We must also look forward to envision and plan for the future.

 

That is our task today.

 

To build solid, inclusive foundations for our shared future, working with all communities and traditions on the island.

 

Thank you.

 

ENDS

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