Joint Communiqué from the Fifth Plenary of the North/South Inter-Parliamentary Association

The North/South Inter-Parliamentary Association (NSIPA) which comprises representatives from all the main political parties of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Houses of the Oireachtas, today held its fifth Plenary in the Seanad Chamber, Leinster House.

The meeting was jointly chaired by the Ceann Comhairle, Mr Seán Barrett, TD and the Acting Deputy Chairs, Mr Peter Weir, MLA and Ms Caitríona Ruane, MLA of the Northern Ireland Assembly.  The Association heard from a number of keynote speakers on the subjects of Tourism and Education. 

The first session was addressed by Mr Niall Gibbons, Chief Executive, Tourism Ireland and Ms Kathryn Thomson, Chief Operating Officer, NI Tourist Board. Mr Gibbons noted the strong growth of overseas tourism in 2014 and informed the Association of the positive outlook for 2015. Tourism Ireland’s new marketing programmes will target 200 million potential visitors in 22 markets across the world. The main promotional themes for 2015 will include the Wild Atlantic Way, the Causeway Coastal Route, Yeats 150, the Gobbins Coastal Walk, Irish Design 2015 and the Irish Open. The new British-Irish Visa scheme for China and India, was highlighted as significant positive development. Mr Gibbons informed the Association that overseas tourism delivers over €3.9/£3.3 billion a year for the economies of the island of Ireland and supports over 200,000 jobs.
Mr Gibbons was followed by Ms Kathryn Thomson who noted that the Northern Ireland tourism sector was growing all the time and that the long-term aim was to develop a sustainable and vibrant tourism sector. She outlined some of the differences between the tourism sector in the North and the South, observing that the tourism sector in the South is relatively more mature. She noted the benefits that accrued, both North and South, from marketing the island of Ireland jointly.  With regard to a development strategy for the sector, Ms Thomson emphasised the need for a strong policy framework, lowering entry barriers, increasing competitiveness and encouraging the innovative use of technology. In addition, the potential of sports tourism for the island was noted.
The Association noted the vital importance of tourism to the economies of the island, North and South and commended the two Tourism bodies for their excellent and positive presentations. The Association agreed that it was important to sustain and grow this vibrant sector, both North and South, and internationally.
The second session on Education commenced with an address by Mr Denis Cummins, President of Dundalk Institute of Technology who addressed the Association on the issue of student mobility. He noted that the number of students from Northern Ireland at the Dundalk Institute of Technology was very low despite the Institute’s proximity to the North. He also noted some of the barriers that existed around student mobility, focusing on how examination results were scored and a lack of information on educational opportunities available in the South. Mr Cummins suggested that a high profile public information campaign, the use of scholarships and a revised system for scoring examinations could assist in increasing student mobility across the island.

Mr Cummins was followed by Gerry Devlin, Senior Education Officer at the General Teaching Council for Northern Ireland. Mr Cummins was accompanied by Ms Helen Jackson and Mr Ned Cohen also from the General Teaching Council for Northern Ireland. The General Teaching Council for Northern Ireland outlined the recognition of qualifications process in Northern Ireland. It was noted that there is an EU directive that covers qualification recognition with regard to teacher qualifications from the South. The competent authority in the South for qualification recognition is the Teaching Council of Ireland.

The Association agreed that increased mobility within the student population would bear dividends for all citizens on the island and that it was important that student mobility across the island be encouraged and promoted. In relation to the presentation from the General Teaching Council for Northern Ireland, the Association noted the six-stage presentation process and the objectives of that process.

The Joint Chairs and Members of the Association conveyed their gratitude to the keynote speakers for their valuable contribution to the plenary session. It was agreed that the sixth Plenary of the Association would take place in Stormont on Friday, 22 May 2015.