North-South Ministerial Council: Discussion

I warmly welcome everybody. As a vote is expected in the Dáil later, the Minister has had a busy morning having attended another committee earlier and members are busy people we will try to conclude this meeting within an hour.

Are the minutes of the previous meeting of 9 September as circulated agreed? Agreed. The joint committee has received apologies from Lady Sylvia Hermon, MP, the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, Michelle Gildernew, MP, and Dr. Alasdair McDonnell, MP. I warmly welcome Mr. Mark Durkan, MP, MLA and Mr. Pat Doherty, MP, MLA. I also welcome to the meeting the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Micheál Martin. Comhghairdeas do mhuintir Chorcaí as ucht an bhua a bhí acu i bPáirc an Chrócaigh seachtain ó shin. Bhí beirt Aontachtóir as Condae an Dúin ann den chéad uair agus dúirt siad gurbh é an lá is fearr spóirt é a bhí acu riamh. Is scéal maith é sin.

I welcome Mr. Niall Burgess, director general, Mr. Kevin Conmy, deputy director, and Ms Sara McGrath, Mr. Robert Jackson and Mr. Niall Brady, First Secretaries, Anglo Irish division.

It is a great honour to welcome the Minister, Deputy Martin, to address the joint committee on the outcome of the 10th North-South Ministerial Council plenary which took place in Dublin on 5 July. I note that plenary covered a broad range of issues, including discussions on the fiscal challenges facing both jurisdictions, the measures being taken to promote economic recovery and co-operation on innovation and cancer research. Members of the joint committee will be interested to hear some detail on these discussions. Perhaps during follow up question and answers we will have an opportunity to discuss a number of other important developments in recent months, including the publication of the Saville report and developments on other legacy issues as well as broader institutional and security issues. I now invite the Minister to address the joint committee.

Is pribhléid mhór dom bheith i láthair anseo chun labhairt leis an choiste. Freagróidh mé ceisteanna chomh maith.

I thank the Chairman for his congratulations in respect of Cork's victory. What struck me about that event was that Croke Park is increasingly becoming a mecca for various representative groups from Northern Ireland to gather. A whole series of meetings took place around the margins of the Croke Park game. I met Mr. Owen Paterson, Secretary of State and I know there were other people there from various communities. Mr. Gerry Adams met the Taoiseach and I met Ms Margaret Ritchie. Obviously, County Down's participation was a factor in such a large Northern delegation at Croke Park. The degree to which more and more people from different backgrounds and traditions are coming to Croke Park is interesting. This is good as it illustrates that the Gaelic Athletic Association is becoming far more broad based and has outreached to a significant degree in the North.

We should take this opportunity to extend our congratulations to the Tyrone minors who defeated Cork.

I wish also to acknowledge that one of our members, Mr. Eddie McGrady, former MP for South Down has retired from politics since I last appeared before the joint committee. I pay tribute to his contribution to politics on this island throughout his career and I wish him well in the future.

This is my second appearance before the joint committee as Minister for Foreign Affairs. I take this opportunity to commend the committee on the breadth of work it has undertaken during the past three years. Since my last appearance before the joint committee, there have been several important developments in Northern Ireland. We have seen further steps towards fully implementing the Good Friday Agreement and the St. Andrews Agreement through the Hillsborough Agreementwhich was concluded in February this year. It provided the basis for a very significant step in the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, namely, the completion of the devolution of policing and justice powers. The appointment of Mr. David Ford, a locally accountable justice Minister was a further important landmark in consolidating the peace process. There are other elements to the Hillsborough Agreement including parading, the operation of the Executive and implementation of outstanding commitments from St. Andrews. These have progressed to varying degrees and, like many things of great value and importance, progress has not always come quickly or easily. However, I am confident that working together and with the support of both Governments the political leaders in the North will be able to implement all aspects of the Agreements.

As experience again showed this summer, the cost in human and community terms of the tensions and confrontation around a small number of parades remains too high, not to mention the policing and security costs. In the past 48 hours, it has become clear that the draft parades legislation that arose from the Hillsborough Agreement is stalled. As was agreed at Hillsborough, in the absence of agreement on new arrangements, the Parades Commission will continue in existence. I understand that the Secretary of State, Mr. Owen Paterson, will shortly begin the process of appointing a new Parades Commission. Much of the progress that has been made over the past ten years in reducing the number of contentious parades to a small handful was due to the conscientious and often thankless work of successive Parades Commissions. In the absence of cross-community agreement on new arrangements, it is important that the new Parades Commission is of a high quality and afforded the respect and authority it deserves in dealing with the remaining contentious parades. I pay tribute to all those volunteers on both sides of the community who worked and continue to work to reduce tension around parades.

Sir Reg Empey has recently stepped down as the head of his party and I take this opportunity to pay tribute to him. As Deputy Leader and Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party Mr. Reg Empey has made a huge contribution to peace on this island and can be justly proud of his work as one of the architects of the Good Friday Agreement. I look forward to continuing to work with him as he continues his career in public life. I also congratulate his successor Mr. Tom Elliott and look forward to meeting and working with him in the near future.

I will focus my remarks today on the North-South agenda and on the work of the North-South Ministerial Council, including the most recent plenary, which was hosted by the Taoiseach at Farmleigh on 5 July last. The plenary at Farmleigh on 5 July 2010 saw constructive discussion between Ministers, North and South, on a range of pressing issues, including a thorough, wide-ranging and free-flowing discussion, with a particular focus on economic issues. To facilitate this, we tabled two discussion papers on shared fiscal challenges and innovation.

Ministers had an opportunity to consider the next phase of fiscal consolidation in each jurisdiction and the potential to achieve savings on a North-South basis by eliminating areas of duplicated expenditure and achieving economies of scale. Other shared fiscal challenges discussed included the appointment of an advisory committee on Northern Ireland to NAMA, the impact of the banks' recapitalisation on lending in the North and the future of the PEACE and INTERREG programmes.

Ministers also had an opportunity to discuss innovation. A key finding of the innovation task force earlier this year was the potential to expand North-South co-operation as a step towards developing the island into a leading region for research and innovation by developing valuable synergies. The Government committed in excess of €21 million to funding for North-South research collaborations during 2008 and 2009, while strong cross-Border linkages have also been developed through the US-Ireland research and development partnership and under the EU's Seventh Framework Programme.

We engaged with Northern Ireland Ministers in a discussion as to how economic agencies North and South might co-operate jointly to promote the innovation island and agreed a series of joint actions which would see InterTradeIreland taking a lead role in promoting an all-island ecosystem for innovation.

Both administrations stand to gain by promoting this island as a centre of excellence for innovation and cutting-edge research. In connection with this, there are plans for the EU Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, to visit Northern Ireland to attend the trade and business development sectorial meeting in November.

We also considered progress in North-South co-operation since the ninth plenary meeting in December 2009. This included the close co-operation between relevant authorities North and South, including the agreement to an all-island animal health and welfare strategy and the joint enforcement to target shipments of waste. There has been continued co-operation in areas like child protection, including the innovative North-South child protection website.

Note was taken of the introduction on 28 January 2010 of the mutual recognition of driver disqualifications between Ireland and the United Kingdom and the continuing work on the longer term objective of mutual recognition of penalty points. Work continues on a co-ordinated approach to reducing permitted alcohol blood levels in both jurisdictions. Taken together, these measures will contribute greatly to enhanced road safety on the island.

On infrastructural issues, we noted that progress continues on the upgraded A5 road to Derry and Letterkenny and recognised the importance of this to the further development of the north west. It is hoped this project, along with the A8 Belfast to Larne upgrade, will make rapid progress. Another flagship infrastructure project, the final link in the Dublin to Belfast road corridor, was opened by the Taoiseach and the Deputy First Minister on 29 July 2010.

Even in these difficult economic times, we are committed to delivering on our roads investment package and building the all-island infrastructure which will allow our economy to return to a path of sustainable and enduring growth. Northern Ministers appreciated the assurances we were able to offer in this respect.

At the plenary, we also considered progress with the St. Andrews Agreement review of North-South bodies and areas of co-operation, the North-South consultative forum and the North-South parliamentary forum. On the review agreed at St. Andrews, we took note that the recommendations of the panel of experts and advisers would be forwarded to relevant Ministers for their views. These recommendations were on the first term of reference of the review, the efficiency and value for money of existing North-South implementation bodies and Tourism Ireland.

The report provided positive assessments of all the bodies concerned in this regard. Views are also in the process of being sought for the second and third terms of reference, namely to examine objectively the case for additional bodies and areas of co-operation in the North-South Ministerial Council where mutual benefit would be derived and input into the work on the identification of a suitable substitute for the proposed lights agency of the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission. I hope that following receipt of these views, the review group will be in a position to conclude its work.

The establishment of the North-South consultative forum has been discussed at all plenary meetings since May 2007. We have already submitted our ideas to the Executive on the role a North-South consultative forum might play in advising on social, economic and cultural issues with a cross-Border dimension.

In the interim, the first North-South consultative conference, facilitated by the Department of the Taoiseach, took place in Farmleigh in Dublin on 15 October last when representatives of the social partners and interested organisations, North and South, were brought together to explore relevant social, cultural and economic issues that have a North-South and cross-Border dimension.

The second North-South consultative conference took place on 24 May last and was addressed by Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister, Mr. Martin McGuinness. The event focused on sport and young people and the role that innovation can play in economic recovery on the island. The event was well attended by a broad range of participants from these sectors and from the social partners and cross-Border groups. It is intended to hold a further such event in the coming months.

The North-South parliamentary forum is primarily a matter for the Oireachtas and the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Ceann Comhairle and the Speaker of the Assembly continue to work together supported by their working groups to progress this issue. I am heartened to learn that a North-South parliamentary forum conference will be held in October in County Down. Members will agree there is significant value in parliamentarians North and South coming together to debate and discuss issues of relevance to all our constituents. Once established I hope a North-South parliamentary forum will provide a substantive, representative and cost effective platform for this important engagement between the Assembly and Oireachtas.

North-South co-operation in all its aspects is vital to the future development of the island of Ireland. This is not a political statement but a practical one. As a small island it is crucial that we co-operate to compete in a globalised world. I hope this briefing emphasises that this is happening. Ministers and Departments are in frequent contact taking forward work across a broad range of areas. While much of this work is necessarily quiet, detailed and technical, it is no less important for that. It is real-world stuff, the kind of practical, strategic co-operation which will in the long run make a significant difference to the real lives of those we represent, North and South. This is particularly true in this time of serious pressure on public spending in both jurisdictions. We can and should work together to maintain and improve public services for our citizens.

Every elected representative, North and South, wants to increase investment and tourism on the island. We need to recognise that what benefits one, benefits all. In this regard, I am looking forward to joining with the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister and the UK Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. Owen Paterson, at the Northern Ireland investment conference in Washington DC organised by US economic envoy, Mr. Declan Kelly.

One issue which must be tackled head on in the months and years to come is the continuing scourge of sectarianism and division, the need to promote reconciliation on a cross-community and, indeed, on a North-South and East-West basis.

The parades-related violence in July is a reminder there is still work to be done at community level to overcome fear and mistrust and to promote mutual respect and tolerance. We must ensure the benefits of peace reach into every neighbourhood.

In that regard, my Department's reconciliation and anti-sectarianism funds are helping communities across the island of Ireland to build sustainable relationships based on mutual understanding and respect. These funds are making a real contribution to improving good relations and helping in modest ways to lay the foundations for a genuinely shared future for all the people of this island.

As we look to the brighter future that the Good Friday Agreement helped create for people across this island, we must also remember the painful past that many people still carry with them. The families who lost loved ones on Bloody Sunday, those who were injured on that terrible day and the city of Derry itself, came together on 15 June and witnessed the end of a long campaign for the truth to be set free.

In the time before the publication of the Saville report, family members of the deceased raised concerns about the publication process with this committee. The clear message from this committee reinforced the message from successive Governments and all parties in the Oireachtas to our counterparts across the water that the report, and the issue it was to address, were of historical significance to all the people we represent. As the committee heard earlier this month from the family members in question, the Saville report and the apology from the UK Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, were momentous for them, for the city of Derry and for their many supporters throughout the island of Ireland and across the globe.

There is a threat posed by so-called dissident republicans. Last week, the British Government raised the threat level in Great Britain arising from these groups, the threat level already being at the highest level in Northern Ireland. The two Governments and our police forces are doing everything they can to deal with this threat. The Garda Commissioner, Fachtna Murphy, also made this clear on Tuesday. I also want to make absolutely clear that those who seek to sow discord and engender hatred are simply unqualified partitionists who can lay no claim to the noble ideals of republicanism. Violent acts serve only to separate the people of this island; Catholic from Protestant, Unionist from Nationalist and indeed Northerner from Southerner. The path to unity cannot be built on such divisions. The only way that Irish unity, a goal shared by the majority of people on this island, can be achieved is through peace, reconciliation and consent. The people of Ireland endorsed this reality when they voted overwhelmingly to endorse the Good Friday Agreement. Those who do not have the stomach or the patience for the long haul should leave it to those of us who do. There is resolute determination across these islands that these misguided groups will not and should not undermine the peace process and our collective will and determination to live in peace and mutual respect. I call on them to cease and to desist from all violence.

On a final note, members of the committee will wish to be aware that the next North-South Ministerial Council plenary is scheduled to take place before the end of this year. I am not at present in a position to confirm a date, but I would be happy to meet members again as soon as possible afterwards and brief them on its outcome.

I am very grateful for your attention and I am pleased to answer any questions on the North-South agenda and other Northern Ireland-related issues which may be of interest or concern to members of this committee.

I appreciate being allowed speak first because I have to speak in the Chamber. I welcome the Minister and his team and thank him for his frank comments on the situation regarding North-South relationships. My colleagues and I were sorry we were unable to be present for the debate on the Saville report at the last meeting. We had a clash of meetings and there was nothing we could do. I wish to pay tribute to the Minister, Deputy Martin, and his team and to Owen Paterson and his team, on the manner in which the publication of the Saville report was handled. As the Minister said in his opening remarks, it was a unique and wonderful experience to see what happened in Derry on that day and the reaction to the Prime Minister's comments. Everything may not have been perfect but it was a major step forward and this was recognised by all.

On the issue of cross-Border involvement, I wish to make a comment about tourism which is being promoted on an all-island basis. However, there is still the difficulty with the Border region. It has an infrastructure of excellent hotels but it is not getting the publicity and the difficulty remains that people are not used to coming to the Border region. They go to Galway or perhaps to Donegal but they are far more likely to go south, even though we have a lot to offer. There needs to be a greater effort made between the two cross-Border organisations to ensure that this element is promoted. There is a significant economic benefit to be gained from tourism.

InterTradeIreland is equally important and every effort that can be made to create and maintain jobs in the region should be made. I have always believed that if we can give jobs to young people, it provokes a better reaction than having them involved in something else that is much more dangerous. The Minister referred to this point in his opening remarks when he referred to the danger posed by dissidents. Some young people are becoming involved with dissidents even though they have no connection or relationship with what happened in the past. I am very frightened about this development. We need to ensure it is dealt with. When people have idle hands, they are much more likely to get into that type of activity. All of us around this table have now accepted the democratic way forward and we want to ensure that this is the way to deal with all the problems which undeniably still exist.

The Minister mentioned the road from Derry to Aughnacloy. I remind the Minister that there is a link between Aughnacloy and Clontibret and that needs to be dealt with. As a member of the Government I ask him to keep that in mind as it is essential this is dealt with in a constructive and proper fashion.

I welcome the work being done on the Ulster Canal and the fact that commitments are in place to deal with the stretch from Belturbet to Clones. I understand discussions are ongoing to deal with part of the canal from Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland. I know we are in difficult times but I would hope that a future agenda would include it as an overall project which is essential if it is to work.

I refer to the need for an all-Ireland animal health structure. This is under discussion and it is not directly within the remit of the committee but there is brucellosis in parts of Northern Ireland which could affect our clear status in the South. The only way to deal with this is on an all-Ireland basis.

The Minister mentioned the funding of reconciliation and anti-sectarian groups. In the past week I had the pleasure of meeting two groups from very different backgrounds in County Fermanagh. Funding these groups produces significant results. People are getting together and are reconciling with each other after horrendous happenings. It is good to see it, not only among the older groups but also in the case of a group of 650 young people in Enniskillen who came together for learning and sport. Above all else, they are learning to live together. We cannot over-emphasise this development. We might be inclined to think the past difficulties are all over and can be forgotten but that is not the case. I am worried by the fact that European funds may be drying up. We need to continue to foster and encourage such groups to continue to meet and work together and to help them get used to coming South, as many are, to see we do not all have horns, that we can live and work together and build a brighter and better all-island future.

I thank the Minister for his work. While I will certainly retain the right to criticise him in other areas, I know we both want as much as possible to ensure that reconciliation is brought forward and the dissidents are dealt with in a constructive manner. It does not need to be in an aggressive manner but we understand where they are coming from and we must ensure they are not allowed to create the damage that was done in Omagh and elsewhere in the past. I also welcome our colleagues from Northern Ireland.

I welcome the Minister and I acknowledge the significant work happening in the North-South Ministerial Council. However, more important, I welcome the fact we are now beginning to talk about it because it happened as par for the course in the other jurisdiction.

One of the most important statements made by the Minister is that co-operation is not a political statement but a practical one. From where I live, we are looking for that practical solution in every aspect of life. Issues around health and co-operation are practical important matters where I live. When I go abroad it is impossible to explain to people that I am from north of the North so I am interested to know whether I am a Northerner or a Southerner in the context of the Minister's speech. Whether I am a Northerner or a Southerner, people do not know there is a place north of the North.

It is all the north to the Senator.

I am one of those confused breeds that exist, unfortunately, in Ulster. However, I am happy to be an Ulster person.

With regard to contentious parades, sectarianism, dissident violence and the Saville report, we had very a interesting interaction among committee members. We all expressed our sentiments at that time. Are we doing enough to look at how we deal with the younger generation in terms of the policies we are presenting? How do we propose to deal with the many commemorations that will be taking place? I do not want to start naming them. One of the obvious commemorations will take place in 2016. There will be many others before that. There may be others after that as well. I have raised this issue on several occasions, but I have not received a comprehensive response to it. My grandfather spent time at Ballykinlar internment camp. That facility was used as a training ground for some of the troops who went to the Somme in 1916. I believe it is about to be handed back to the Northern Ireland Executive. Are enough initiatives and projects in place to try to sell this historical message? For me, this place has an iconic status as an internment camp. For other people in Ulster, it has iconic status as a training ground for the soldiers who went to the Somme. We are familiar with the subsequent history in that respect.

I have compiled a report for the Council of Europe on how history should be taught in areas of recent conflict. A great deal of the oral history that unites us is not being taught at all. The recent change in the history syllabus in Northern Ireland is helping in that regard. Many initiatives could take place on the ground. They would be interesting from an historic and a tourism perspective. Has any initiative been introduced to deal with that? This also links into the question of contentious parades. We have to start understanding why a parade is contentious to one side but not to another. We have to explain the whole concept of sectarianism. Although it is easier to keep the two sides separate and not to let them get to know each other, that perpetuates the circumstances in which people become dissidents. I am concerned that we are not doing enough to make people under the age of 25 aware of our commonality, as opposed to our difference. Until we do more on that front, we will facilitate the older dissidents who want to use and abuse the younger people who are coming through and take advantage of their lack of knowledge of the other side. Therefore, we need more projects.

I thank the Minister for his ongoing statements to the effect that the redevelopment of the A5-N2 road will happen. One of the most disappointing aspects of the departure of Reg Empey, who is a decent and honourable man, is that doubt has been expressed about the project. As I do not know Tom Elliott, all I can do is base my comments on what he has said so far. Anyone who cannot see the great importance of this access route for the entire north west must be quite parochial. It will help the economy of the region, for example, in the tourism sector. It will make it easier for Mr. Elliott's constituents, and those in the neighbouring areas, to get around the island. It will increase the potential for business to be attracted to the area. I hope Mr. Elliott's new position as leader of the Ulster Unionist Party will broaden his mind and help him to realise that co-operation is a practical statement rather than a political one.

I would like to add my voice to those who will speak about the Derry PSO route. We do not have a road network of the same standard as the networks in many other parts of the island. We do not have a direct Dublin-Derry railway service, for no reason other than it has not been decided to develop such a service. There is a railway line between Dublin and Derry, via Belfast. All that is needed is for someone to decide to upgrade the service on the line. It is a practical question of making it happen. When people ask me why Derry needs road, rail and air connections to Dublin, I respond by pointing out that every other city has such services. The bottom line is that we are equal to everybody else. We had to battle with Belfast City Airport and Belfast International Airport to get the Derry PSO route. We won that battle and the route is now being used. It is an important piece of infrastructure. When the PSOs are being reviewed, consideration should be given to the cross-Border dimension of this PSO. In addition, Derry is to be a city of culture and will host a clipper stopover and a north-west Milwaukee Fest in the next few years. We have to retain maximum access to the area. We are very far behind when it comes to tourism and economic development. I know the Minister is our friend as we try to develop and maintain these links.

I would like someone to give me a further briefing about the review of the Foyle Commission. I would agree that it needs a massive shake-up, expansion and reconfiguration. A single agency should be in charge of all aspects of Lough Foyle. I refer to the bed of the Foyle, the surface of the Foyle, flying over the Foyle and planning on either side of the Foyle. There is massive potential for a single agency to look after the Foyle. I am not sure the current agency is in a position to do that, or is the right grouping to do it. If a review is to take place, I would be happy to be given some indication of its limits.

I wish to raise the connected issues of the American conference, the concept of innovation and the visit of Máire Geoghegan-Quinn to the North for the trade and business development sectoral meeting. I would like to think that the links between Letterkenny Institute of Technology and Magee College will continue. The members of this committee could make a political statement by going to the American conference. I do not know if that is what all members want. If people in the north, south, east and west are working together, just as this committee is, such a political statement may be worth making at the American conference. I suggest that we explore whether it would be of any advantage for us to go to the conference. It might assist the bedding down of the political situation. I expect that the Americans are in favour of helping us, as they have over the decades. We should explore the possibility of making a political statement by going there.

I would like to conclude by making a simple point about road safety. I believe every traffic island on either side of the Border is dangerous. I suggest that reflective bands should be placed around the cement bases of such islands. How can such a simple idea be developed across the two jurisdictions? I cannot get anyone in the Republic to take responsibility for it.

What does the Senator mean?

I am talking about putting reflective bands around the cement bases of traffic islands. It is often the case that there is no lighting at such locations.

What about the Road Safety Authority?

I have tried everybody, but they are washing their hands of responsibility for it. It goes around in circles.

Like a roundabout.

There are many examples of such practical suggestions. I suggest that a single entity should be responsible for road safety, for example.

Mr. Pat Doherty MP, MLA

I thank the Minister for his statement. I would like to pick up on a few aspects of it. I appreciate the continued commitment to the A5-N2 road, which links with Derry and Letterkenny. It is the type of thing the north west needs. Like Senator Keaveney, I am aware that the new leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, Tom Elliott, has spoken against the development of the route. If I was speaking to the committee privately, I could say why he has done so. It is a wrong approach. This road is needed as part of the ongoing infrastructural development in the north west.

I appreciate the Minister's reference to the "scourge" of sectarianism, which is exactly what it is. It has to be tackled in an ongoing and thorough way. I note his comments on Irish reunification, which is the big horizon that is ahead of us all. I would like to respond to the Minister's remarks about reconciliation. Having lived and worked through the entire peace and political processes, my clear view is that the issue of reconciliation is now the single biggest issue to be tackled. It deserves the same energy, commitment and resources that we put into in the peace process and the developing political process. By solving the question of reconciliation, we will solve many of the other issues relating to reunification and sectarianism. I urge all of us to make a great effort, in a collective and all-party way, to focus on that issue. There are serious concerns among the members of the Unionist community about what lies ahead for their culture and tradition. As the strong party, or as the confident group, we need to focus on that issue and to give the Unionist people assurances about what the future holds for them.

A full report on each meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council and the ministerial sectoral meetings is furnished to the Assembly and at least half an hour is set aside for questions and answers. That creates a great awareness of their very existence and the work they do. I am not so sure the Dáil and Seanad give the same time to each meeting to create the same awareness in the South about the ongoing useful work. I invite the Minister to comment on that. I would also like an update on potential additional areas of implementation and co-operation. The question of the North-South Parliamentary Forum and the conference leading to it is an issue of current discussion. I will not comment on it but, broadly speaking, it is moving in the right direction with one or two slight hiccups.

The Minister referred to the families of victims of Bloody Sunday. They were guests at the previous committee meeting. I propose that we send a congratulatory letter to them on their selection as recipients of a people of the year award on the very weekend following their presence with us. That would be appropriate and it certainly would be appreciated.

I wish to raise the issue of the feasibility report on North-South co-operation in health jointly commissioned by the health Minister north of the Border and the Minister for Health and Children. I do not propose to go over the whole issue again as we have discussed it in the private session. Suffice to say that the committee was unanimous on a report that had been commissioned to address one of the real practical areas for co-operation that has a dividend for everyone, as we all need access to the best possible health and social service care systems that this island can produce. Among the 37 recommendations, ten of them were designated as of immediate priority because they will impact speedily on the quality of access and delivery of health and social service care North and South. The report has not been published. We are dependent on leaks. The report was produced in 2009 and presented to both Ministers. The decision has been taken not to proceed with its publication even though in reply to a parliamentary question to me yesterday the Minister for Health and Children indicated her support for the 37 recommendations in the report, which will now not proceed. A decision has been made to seek further information from the Minister for Health and Children. I hope we will take further steps to try to bring out the information and for the report to be published and ultimately implemented, which is the critical point.

The reason I raise the issue with the Minister is that many of the points he reflects in his presentation are the positives, but there are things happening that are not helpful. Some players are reluctant to facilitate moving towards even moderate North-South co-operation on issues that should not present any difficulty for their respective electorates. It does not matter what tradition any of us come from, quality health care must surely be a common denominator to each and every one of us. Will the Minister use his good offices to inquire into the situation I have raised with him on the North-South feasibility report on co-operation in health? Will he exercise his role as Minister for Foreign Affairs as a colleague of the Minister for Health and Children in his engagements in a North-South way to inject a little realism into the debate so that a change in the decision already reached by the two Ministers can be brought about as early as possible? That is in everyone's interests.

I will not repeat any of the points made by other members. I refer to young people south of the Border attending third level institutions north of the Border. Vehicle registration tax is an issue that arises. Students from south of the border and further afield who access college north of the border are not permitted to purchase, tax and insure a vehicle north of the Border and retain it as a northern registered vehicle and still make their way home at weekends even though they are living for a greater part of the year north of the Border than they are in their home domicile. Current legislation — it has an EU base to it — applies to others who are out of the jurisdiction for more than 186 days in the year, but apparently there is a particular clause that excludes students. Many students from my constituency, because of their respective community background will find themselves in areas in Belfast and other places, their natural gravitation to college and their community of comfort, where southern registered vehicles are immediately an issue in relation not only to the vehicle's targeting but even the safety of the driver. Yet, such students are being penalised and being forced to re-register in the South, to the point where a number have now had to pay significant fines to have their cars returned having had them seized by customs officers of the Revenue Commissioners in this jurisdiction. It is an untenable situation. I urge the Minister to look into it. As legislators we cannot place our citizens in positions of danger which is the reality sadly even today in some of these locations and communities although we would all wish it were otherwise. This is a very serious matter. It is not a small issue. It needs to be revisited.

I concur with the Minister on the hopes he expressed on the potential of the long promised North-South Parliamentary Forum once established. I share his view of its potential and join him in urging its earliest possible coming into being.

My last question to the Minister relates to the investment conference in Washington which I note he intends attending. I understand the focus of the conference is quite particular to the six northern counties to the north east of Ireland. I attended the Washington conference for trade and investment many years ago which was overseen by the then Assistant Secretary of State for Commerce, Mr. Chuck Meissner, who was the deputy to Mr. Ron Brown, the Secretary of State for Commerce. They were both tragically killed in an aeroplane crash later that year. On that occasion the focus was not just on the six northern counties but on the six southern Border counties as well. The conference also had an all-island dimension. That does not appear to be the case in this instance. What of the six southern Border counties? What of shared cross-Border economic initiatives? Does the Minister see any scope or potential from the conference? Are any other initiatives planned that would revisit many of the fine ideas that were discussed at the earlier conference and, sadly, because of the loss in the first instance of the energy that both Brown and Meissner demonstrated, did not come to pass? We in that part of this island were all at a loss as a result.

Mr. Mark Durkan, MP, MLA

I welcome the presence of the Minister today. He has obviously underlined the importance of the Saville report for the Bloody Sunday families and the people of Derry and further afield. Many of us at the previous meeting, which representatives of the families attended, acknowledged the very good work of the Minister, his ministerial predecessors and officials over a very long period in regard to engagement with the British Government and others. The families paid specific tribute to Ministers, the Department, the Taoiseach and previous taoisigh. That needs to be underlined here. I am conscious that as we face full debates in Westminster on the report, the embassy is still having good diligent contact with people and conditioning them to ensure the debates will take place in as serious and seemly a spirit as possible.

The Minister referred to the North-South review that stems from the St. Andrews Agreement. He stated that work on the first part provides a positive assessment of the existing parts but that work on parts two and three is now taking place. We seem to be only gathering views on the second and third parts under the terms of reference. The review emerged from an agreement reached nearly four years ago, yet we are only now gathering views from Departments on the terms of reference for parts two and three. I can recall expressing grave concerns four years ago that the review would end up as a very slow, distended affair. We are not even getting particular publications. We are being told the value is being confirmed but we do not have this report, just as we do not have the feasibility report on health. Why not? What is the problem with publishing exactly what it said about the existing bodies?

At the time, those of us who had misgivings were promised that parts one, two and three would not be dealt with sequentially and that they would be dealt with concurrently and that all would be positive. The work is being done on a slow, sequential basis and that worries some of us. As was indicated in the plenary discussion, if Ministers at the North-South Ministerial Council are serious when talking about how to deal with some of the fiscal challenges, have more compatible responses to the current circumstances, generate opportunities for recovery and determine how to achieve economies of scale, why does this not complement the exercise that is meant to be represented by the review in all of its parts? Surely those discussions should be rhyming but they do not seem to be at present. If the Minister can give us more assurance on these areas, I would welcome it.

I am very worried that parts two and three of the review will be conducted only according to whatever limited submissions return from Departments as screened by their Ministers. I fear that, instead of having a free-ranging, radical, positive public policy outriding review, there will be an itsy-bitsy, very limited, long and drawn out one.

I am glad there has been such a positive assessment of the existing bodies. However, one point many of us make to our colleagues, particularly those in the North, is that the bodies would be even more effective, productive and cost-effective if they were freed from some of their fairly restrictive remits and allowed to be a bit more proactive. One reason InterTradeIreland stands out so well among many of the bodies is that, because it is facing the market and different sectors and able to pick up different problems, report on and develop ideas and make connections, it is able to be more creative. It can give people in different sectors things that are of value to them and it can enhance and complement their work. Other bodies could be similarly enabled to be a little more expansive and creative and, therefore, productive in everyone's interest.

I note what the Minister said on discussions on banking issues. I hope that, in dealing with the issues, particular attention will be paid to the peculiar dynamics of banking in Border areas. Real sensitivity is being shown by the Irish Government in dealing with the northern dimension of Irish banks. In the North, we used always say of the banks that there are basically four in the band and they all play the one tune, but that has all changed now. However, particular problems arise in Border areas owing to some of the complexities and uncertainties in the banking sector. Even beyond the Border areas, such as in some of the wider rural areas of the North, there is a need to appreciate these complexities. I am not sure that is fully reflected, even in some of the advisory panels that exist at present.

I welcome fully what the Minister said on innovation. Given his ministerial pedigree, it is very familiar territory for him. He speaks very confidently and authoritatively on it. The Minister stated that InterTradeIreland is considering ways of encouraging an ecosystem for innovation on the island and he referred to the idea of building up Ireland as an island of innovation. If we could create an open faculty for innovation on this island, it would be desirable. People involved in research and development and innovators who are commercially minded and marketing practitioners could be part of this open faculty for innovation. The faculty should not be confined to one college or another, or to the universities or this island. Many people from this island who are working in academia and commerce worldwide but who want to give something back and contribute could also be members of the open faculty. People could have particular attachments here. The faculty could work in such a way that it would enthuse people. Firms and offices would carry the mark of the open faculty for innovation, thus incentivising people to take the idea forward in a way that moves and motivates people.

As with other speakers, I welcome the Minister's confirmation of the Government's commitment on the road to the north west. I join Senator Keaveney in underlining the importance of the PSO for the airlink. I am puzzled why, at the level of the North-South Ministerial Council, we still do not have the North West Gateway Initiative.

We have a timing issue because there is a vote in the Dáil.

I will allow Mr. Durkan to conclude and then I will decide what to do.

Mr. Mark Durkan, MP, MLA

I do not want to put anybody under pressure over a vote.

I suggest that the Minister respond to the points that have been raised.

I will not have time.

In written form.

Is it possible to come back after the vote?

We cannot do that. If it is agreeable to the committee and to those who have contributed, I suggest that due to the pressures we are all under, the Minister send us a written response and that we adjourn the meeting and continue the discussions over lunch. We will then go to our informal meeting at 2.30 p.m. I ask other speakers to excuse us today and we will give them priority on the next day. Is that agreed?

I will see the delegates and members at lunch immediately after the vote.

The joint committee adjourned at 12.50 p.m. sine die.