Written Answers. - North-South Projects.

John Bruton

Question:

15 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the number of staff in his Department involved in making the technical and operational assessment to participate in North-South co-operation projects; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19130/98]

John Bruton

Question:

23 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his Department has made a technical and operational assessment of the way in which it can participate in North-South co-operation projects; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17562/98]

Enda Kenny

Question:

66 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on setting up an all Ireland council for the arts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19873/98]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 15, 23 and 66 together.

The Department of Foreign Affairs is actively involved in the implementation of the British-Irish Agreement, including its North-South dimension. An inter-departmental committee on the implementation of the Agreement is chaired by a senior officer of the Department. Four departmental officials are working full-time on the North-South aspects, in close co-operation — operation with officials of the Department of the Taoiseach. Together, and in conjunction with officials from the Department of Finance and of the Office of the Attorney General, they are co-ordinating at official level preparations across the range of Government Departments.

The House will appreciate, given the sensitivity of the discussions in which the Government is engaged with the Northern parties on the identification of initial areas for North-South co-operation — operation and implementation, that I am not in a position to comment in detail on individual possibilities. As the Taoiseach has said, we wish to see Implementation Bodies established in substantial and meaningful areas, particularly in economic sectors. In addition, the North-South Ministerial Council itself will provide a vehicle for systematic and structured co-operation — operation across the whole range of our shared interests and concerns.
With specific reference to the matters mentioned in the two questions, I can confirm that, in the view of the Government, the arts, in which there is already a good level of co-operation between North and South, is one of many areas where there is substantial scope for mutually beneficial future co-operation. While foreign policy and international relations are not among the matters to be devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly, and so will not fall to be considered by the North-South Ministerial Council, my Department, given its North-South and Anglo-Irish responsibilities, will be closely involved in the process of North-South operation and in the development of the new North-South institutions.