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

Representatives from all the main political parties of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Houses of the Oireachtas gathered today (26 June 2015) in the Senate Chamber of Parliament Buildings, Stormont for the sixth plenary session of the North/South Inter-Parliamentary Association (NSIPA).

26 June 2015

The Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Mitchel McLaughlin MLA chaired the plenary session of the Association for the first time since taking office.  His Co-Chair, the Ceann Comhairle, Mr Seán Barrett TD welcomed Speaker McLaughlin to the role and looked forward to working with him to continue the constructive engagement carried out by the Association on a range of issues. 

The sixth plenary focused on the issue of human trafficking followed by two examples of cross-border cooperation within healthcare – paediatric congenital cardiac surgery and deep brain stimulation.

Human Trafficking

The first session was addressed by Ms Julie  Wilson,  Head  of  Operations Branch  and  Human  Trafficking  Team within the Protection  and Organised Crime Division of the Department of Justice, followed by Professor  Siobhán  Mullally,  Vice  President  of GRETA (Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings), University College Cork.  

Ms Wilson provided Members with a detailed update on the legislation which had recently come into force in Northern Ireland, underlining the complexity of tackling the issue because of the different elements of slavery, sexual exploitation and forced labour. Ms Wilson discussed the implementation of the legislation including an emphasis on identifying, protecting and supporting victims.  Members received a comprehensive briefing on the international legal framework and case law in relation to human trafficking from Professor Mullally, as well as a breakdown of recent figures in Europe.  Professor Mullally outlined proposals for the provision of greater assistance to victims and concluded by discussing the interaction between human trafficking and migration policy.  

Members agreed with the emphasis both speakers placed on putting victims at the heart of tackling this criminal activity.  Discussion centred on the need to differentiate between trafficking, smuggling and migration and the challenges facing the authorities in responding to these activities. There was agreement on the need to provide training for personnel, improve interagency co-operation and increase public awareness (including the ability to identify suspicious behaviour and report that activity to the appropriate authority).

Cross-border Cooperation on Healthcare

The second session focused on two case studies of north-south cooperation on healthcare.  The first address was from Mr Gavin Quigley MBChB FRCS, Consultant Neurosurgeon on Deep Brain Stimulation at Royal Victoria Hospital, followed by Ms Eilísh Hardiman, Chief Executive of the Children’s Hospital Group, St. James’s Hospital Campus, Dublin.

Mr Quigley began by explaining the process of Deep Brain Stimulation and the benefits it offers.  Mr Quigley went on to detail the practicalities of cross-border collaboration in this field and the advantages it offers to patients.  Ms Hardiman discussed the planned development of the All-Island Congenital Heart Disease Service over the next few years.  She outlined the provisions of the Service Level Agreements which were in place as well as the detail of the arrangements in place to support services in each jurisdiction.

Members agreed the presentations set out the benefits- and also some of the challenges - of cross-border co-operation in specialist areas of medicine and surgery. There was discussion on other possible areas of op-operation that could benefit patient outcomes and quality of life for people on the Island. The benefits of a participatory model (wherein the needs of patients and parents are met) in devising service level agreements was also noted. Resourcing remains key to future development and, while challenging, resourcing should not become a barrier to future development.

Conclusion

The Co-Chairs and Members of the Association conveyed their gratitude to the keynote speakers for their valuable contribution to the plenary session.  Both the Speaker and the Ceann Comhairle recognised the desire of Members of the Association to ensure that the value of the learning, shared experience and proposals made through the Association could be taken forward to the benefit of those living on both sides of the border.  They informed the Association that a new Sub-Committee would examine how the points raised in its debates could be pursued and promoted.  

It was agreed that the seventh Plenary of the Association would take place in the Houses of the Oireachtas on Friday, 6 November 2015 to consider the issues of Women in Public Life and Sport.