I welcome the three witnesses to the committee and compliment them on their excellent presentations. They comprehensively outlined the difficulties which face us but also the significant progress made on our island since the Good Friday Agreement. I come from a Border area, Bawnboy, west of Ballyconnell, near Fermanagh. I grew up with the customs posts and the permanent vehicle checkpoints on both sides of the Border. Psychologically, any of us who grew up in that environment never want to see any restrictions, within reason, on the movement of people on the island again. Psychologically, much damage has been done already by the decision of the British people in the referendum to decide to leave the EU.
I am reasonably familiar with Newry, a fine town which has the status of city. Along with my good friend and party colleague, Deputy Breathnach, we canvassed with Justin McNulty, MLA, for the "Remain" vote prior to the referendum. Dr. Conor Patterson used a quote from The Irish Times, "it is hard to imagine anything so pervasive and critical", which is accurate. He also mentioned in the context of the progress that has been made that we trade deftly. I have referred to the fact there is a seamless movement of people, goods and services on our island to this committee before. We have underestimated the progress made in commerce and socially since the Good Friday Agreement. There has been significant growth in trade between North and South. I think of Cavan-Monaghan, which I have the privilege of representing, and the movement North and South of people for jobs and goods and services.
Mr. Peter Conway spoke about the all-island dimension of the goods imported and exported through Warrenpoint Port. Products coming into the port are distributed North and South while products leaving the port come from the South as well as the North. This shows how the port is an all-island facility.
Take the example of our food processing companies. Lakeland Dairies, a company with which I am familiar in my constituency, has taken over agribusinesses north of the Border. It has manufacturing and processing sites on both sides of the Border. Its raw material, milk, travels North and South, depending on the time of year, where the needs are and the different processing plants. LacPatrick Dairies, the result of a merger between the Town of Monaghan Co-op and another major co-op north of the Border, Ballyrashane Co-op, is in a similar situation. Where are we going to be with regard to regulatory systems and requirements?
At the recent North-South Interparliamentary Association meeting at Stormont, I said the first people who would oppose the dumbing down of food standards will be farmers. Farmers on both sides of the Border work to highly demanding and exacting standards. That is why as an island we can sell food to 161 countries worldwide. Our farmers, both North and South, will want to continue to work to those standards. We hope there will be no variation in the standards in animal husbandry or food processing between North and South.
I had a spat with the Northern Ireland First Minister on the need for an all-island industrial promotion agency. We live in the real world. With this island's population, we are a small player worldwide. We need to be marketing our island as one unit, not to be building barriers between North and South. Mr. Michael Blaney referred to human resources. In my area, I see the movement of people from Enniskillen and Tyrone working in the insurance industry in Cavan. There is a pool of people available and there is no Border when their particular skills are needed. We hope impassable barriers will not be erected. I accept that there will be changes. If Britain leaves the EU, unfortunately, that decision will not be reversed.
Is there good co-ordination and co-operation between the various organisations in the North with their sister organisations in the South? The danger is if the different sectors North and South get into silo-thinking. Unfortunately, be it public administration or the private sector, too many issues are confined to silo-thinking. If we have silo-thinking, North and South, then we will compound the problem.
What is happening between Invest Northern Ireland and Enterprise Ireland? Over the years, different Northern Ireland firms have gone on trade missions with our industrial promotion agencies. That is the way it should be. I hope there is interaction and dialogue between representative organisations north of the Border with our promotional statutory agencies south of the Border. If that is not happening, we need to initiate it. Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland, and Bord Bia are competent organisations with good international standing. I am sure Invest Northern Ireland would have a similar standing.
The number of people travelling from North to South and vice versa is not captured in total because it is more impressive than we think. From the car registration plates in the school car parks, one can tell large numbers of teachers in my area live in Northern Ireland. A significant number of people working in our health service are from Northern Ireland and vice versa.
This committee should be discussing the potential to build on the Good Friday Agreement.
Unfortunately, that referendum decision has put a certain stop on what our aspirations should be. During the course of the previous Dáil, at this committee we would have been making the case for building on the potential of the Good Friday Agreement. During the previous Dáil we would have talked and had presentations at the committee about the need for all-island thinking and an all-island body on the provision of educational services and health services. It goes back to the South West Acute Hospital in Enniskillen, which should be providing specialist services for Sligo, south Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan as well as its own immediate hinterland. The educational services should be planned on an all-island basis. We were discussing that type of potential in the past and, hopefully, notwithstanding the considerable challenges that face us today, we can discuss that in the future as well.
Mr. Blaney mentioned the lack of co-operation between Departments, North and South. From my time in the then Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, there was significant co-operation between the Departments with responsibility for agriculture, North and South. In my time as Minister, we would have had veterinary surgeons from here working and attending public meetings in Northern Ireland as well. Significant collaboration took place. It is probably the Department that would be the best example of good co-operation and collaboration. To a certain extent, that probably was born from and given momentum by the fact that we had to fight disease on an all-island basis. A good job was done and there was never silo-thinking in respect of dealing with those particular issues. As Dr. Alasdair McDonnell stated, the presentations that were made are exemplary - they are both concise and powerful. More people would want to hear them. We need to have, and be influencing, those who will be making decisions as soon as possible. I am concerned about silo-thinking.