Challenges Facing Cross-Border Authorities: Irish Central Border Area Network

Before we begin, I remind members, witnesses and persons in the Public Gallery to turn off their mobile phones. Members are requested to ensure that for the duration of the meeting their mobile phone is turned off completely or switched to airplane, safe or flight mode, depending on their device. It is not sufficient for members just to put their phones on silent mode as that will maintain a level of interference with the broadcasting system.

We will now meet representatives of the Irish Central Border Area Network, ICBAN. They are most welcome here today, both those who are giving witness and those in the Public Gallery. From ICBAN, I welcome Mr. Shane Campbell, CEO of ICBAN, Councillor Paul Robinson, chair, Councillor Pat Treanor, Councillor Alex Baird, Mr Adrian McCreesh and Mr. Eoin Doyle. In addition to the witnesses from the panel, I also welcome members of the visiting delegation from various member councils who are in the Gallery.

The format of the meeting is that we will hear the opening statements before having a question and answer session with the members of the committee. The two members who have had to leave - Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan and Senator Frank Feighan - will be back.

I draw the attention of witnesses to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I invite Mr. Robinson and Mr. Campbell to make their opening statements.

Mr. Paul Robinson

I thank the Vice Chairman and committee members for inviting us to meet with them this afternoon. We very much appreciate the opportunity to engage with them on challenges and opportunities for the central Border region. We attend with a delegation of 15 representatives from eight member councils in our cross-Border partnership, which is evidence of the strong interest shown by each council in cross-Border co-operation. The other members of the panel will briefly introduce themselves following which the Irish Central Border Area Network, ICBAN chief executive, Mr. Shane Campbell, will make the opening statement.

Mr. Adrian McCreesh

My name is Adrian McCreesh. I am a director of Mid-Ulster Council and I am here as part of the ICBAN region.

Mr. Shane Campbell

I am Shane Campbell, chief executive of ICBAN.

Mr. Eoin Doyle

Eoin Doyle is my name. I am a director of service with Cavan County Council.

Mr. Pat Treanor

I am Councillor Pat Treanor from Monaghan County Council and I am joint treasurer of ICBAN.

Mr. Alex Baird

I am Alex Baird, a councillor in Fermanagh and Omagh Council and director of ICBAN.

We will move on to the witness' statements.

Mr. Shane Campbell

ICBAN is a local authority-led cross-Border development partnership which works in the area of the island known as the central Border region. The eight council members of the partnership are Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, Monaghan and Sligo, Armagh city, Banbridge and Craigavon, Fermanagh and Omagh, and Mid-Ulster.

The partnership has been advocating for common solutions to common cross-Border problems since 1995. The region, though largely rural, contains some larger urban centres. It is remote from national or regional capitals and, as a consequence, the area and its communities are regularly overlooked in terms of investment.

ICBAN's area of focus is on promoting and developing co-operation between member councils and their communities on matters of cross-Border and regional development. There has been a positive history of collaboration between the local authorities and their communities. This has been delivered in spite of often historic back-to-back development shortcomings. Instead, the ICBAN partnership works against this in joining up planning. A recent example has been a joint submission to the regional spatial and economic strategy of the Northern and Western Regional Assembly.

I will explain some of the challenges and issues being faced in the region. The need to foster cross-Border co-operation is now even more acute, given the challenges of Brexit. As a by-product of the Brexit process, the Border has been front and centre in discussions and media coverage. Indeed, the questions of the Border and co-operation have been elevated to levels not seen for many years.

With the implications of the UK referendum decision to exit the EU still to be finally determined, it is considered that the area of these islands likely to be most significantly impacted will be the central Border region. Even though the Border areas could eventually see some communities within the EU adjoining what will become areas then not within the EU, the issues in maintaining co-operation across the Border will remain. The central Border region councils have reaffirmed their commitment to co-operation despite what happens.

One notable issue is the important role that local authorities must play in the continued delivery of local services. While national governments and political attention will likely continue to be focused on Brexit for some time yet, the delivery of local services to citizens must continue. In the vacuum of a Northern Ireland Executive, local authorities in Northern Ireland continue to play a key role in the democratic functioning of government. Through engagements and joint delivery in community planning, for example, and its focus on the economic and social elements of well-being, the impact on local services could be minimised. Cross-government support to this developing key role would be welcomed.

In more than 20 years, the partnership has helped lever significant investment into the region and cross-Border projects between local authorities have had a positive impact on local communities. The significance of these investments on both sides of the Border cannot be underestimated and given the importance of the challenges in the times ahead, the continuation or replacement for such co-operation funds must be a key priority. It is vital that a high-level strategic focus is prioritised for the wider Border region by both Governments and involving the EU, where appropriate. It would be considered that while important EU programmes can only marginally make a difference to lives and the economy of the area, a much more intensive and encompassing intervention over and above any such EU cohesion funds will be necessary to help resolve long-standing issues which still challenge the fabric of Border life.

It is hereby recommended that consideration is given to developing an island-wide territorial cohesion policy, which would include a cross-Border infrastructure and investment plan or fund to replace any loss of common INTERREG and PEACE funds. However, there is little evidence yet of such a debate or consideration on either side of the Border, which is concerning.

Brexit is not the only significant challenge facing the area. There are pre-existing infrastructure deficits which existed before Brexit and still remain. There has been a lack of attention to the central Border region and in the national planning framework, NPF, which highlights supports for other regions including adjoining Border areas by comparison.

Brexit reinforces the importance of giving recognition to the central Border region. We hereby ask that the committee explicitly identifies and promotes the region as an area of national importance. We can explain the untapped potential of the area as an economic driver later. Such designation must be reinforced by a national commitment to address the identified strategic infrastructural shortcomings and redress historic under-investment. That would enable economic growth and help mitigate the impacts of any negative Brexit outworkings.

Component areas of such a policy have precedents for exploration. For example, in 2014, the Centre for Cross Border Studies published a scoping study into the creation of a cross-Border development zone, an initiative actively supported by our partnership. The objective would be to promote the economic development of the cross-Border zone on a co-ordinated basis, maximising the use of national resources and stimulating the use of local resources and expertise. There would be three component parts: spatial, structural and institutional. The spatial part examines three spatially defined areas, one being the central Border region.

Businesses need a modern, effective transport infrastructure through which they can get goods to market. While there have been improvements across the region, there remains important strategic projects which have not been sufficiently advanced and thus hinder regional growth and regeneration. The ways and means must be found to accelerate their delivery.

The wider area includes subregional pockets. Key industries include engineering, manufacturing, tourism and agrifood. In planning terms, it should be recognised that it is not just about connecting large urban areas. It is also about connecting centres of production with customers, workers and the supply chain. The spatial approaches we take must be reconsidered in terms of development.

There is a high dependency on travel by road in the region. In the absence of a rail network, strategic road corridors are key for access and movement. Both Governments must formally recommit to the long-planned A5-N2 Dublin to Derry dualling project, highlighting its priority nature and re-pledging what was originally agreed. Elsewhere, upgrades are needed to the N16-A4 from Sligo to Ballygawley, the east-west link to Dundalk, the N4 from Sligo to Carrick-on-Shannon, with an extension of the M3 to Cavan town. The A29 from Coleraine to Monaghan must also be highlighted as a key road corridor for North-South freight movement in agrifood, minerals, engineering and quarry products. We can explore later the challenges of these freight movements, the impacts they have and the challenges for the area.

There is evidence to suggest that the Border area has not received its fair share of infrastructure investment compared to other regions. For example, a review of Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, investment in road schemes suggests that spending per head on transport infrastructure is only approximately 45% that of other regions. If this disproportionate spending pattern continues, the Border area will fall further behind economically, amplifying the issue of a three-speed economy.

The lack of broadband connectivity is one of the most pressing and concerning issues for the councils. Improvements are critical to help maintain competitiveness and to realise economic and social ambitions. It is vital that the peripheral rural areas are not left until the end.

There are concerns about the pace of delivery of the national broadband plan, NBP. The ambitions were first promoted in 2012 and the delays will see that the latest delivery targets of 2022 will not be achieved.

Related to this, equally ambitious programmes must ensure that mobile telecommunications coverage is also effectively delivered.

There would not, however, appear to be any effective joint planning of these two platforms, and mobile connectivity is not even referenced in the NBP. Our small towns and villages could flourish again, because they would be effectively future-proofed. Such connectivity would enable many businesses to operate in rural areas instead. This would reduce congestion in Dublin, which is just one hour away. It would also offer the added attractiveness of idyllic locations, leisure and recreation, cheaper living and less crime.

Delivering on the NBP is critical. The communities and businesses in the Border region cannot wait another seven years. If the plan cannot be advanced further to delivery in its current format, as interested commentators we would encourage that an alternative solution is quickly realised. It is not too late for considerations to be given to North-South alignments given that the need and stage of development to enhance broadband is at a similar stage in Northern Ireland. It could be timely to examine potential all-Island solutions and synergies, in the same context as strategic approaches to all-island energy.

There is collective local authority support for opportunities to promote slow tourism markets, such as cycling and walking, and for utilising interlinked greenways across the Border area. A business case was developed by four councils for the Sligo to Enniskillen greenway. These are prospective areas of growth and aided by the requisite Government investment they can increase overnight occupancies and visitor spending.

The business case for the Ulster Canal highlights the many positive outcomes. It has been regularly referenced in cross-government agreements, including Project Ireland 2040. It could be delivered on a phased basis to minimise short-term demands on public funds. All the cross-Border councils directly involved promote the canal’s regeneration. This committee's highlighting of support for the phased development of the Ulster Canal and associated tourist amenities would be welcomed.

We have set out the key needs and challenges facing the central Border area. We appreciate the committee taking the interest and welcome representation and support within Government. It is a critical time for the area. There are new arising challenges but it could be argued that the Border area's weaknesses should have been more strategically addressed in the advent of peace and the end of conflict. Now is the time to address them.

As can be seen through our sizeable delegation today, this is a collective issue for all of the area's eight councils. We are not here asking for Government to solely resolve the issues but we seek overarching high-level interest and assistance to help us - the local authorities - to tackle these, through cross-government, cross-sectoral, cross-Border and cross-community engagement. We, for our part as a partnership of local authorities, are ready to play our role. When we engage government, we are often challenged that co-operation must happen locally first. There are many examples such as the UNESCO Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark between Cavan, Fermanagh and Omagh, and the referenced statement of common good on planning between four local authorities. This collective attendance today is also proof of the commitment by local government. Our local authorities bring resources and energies and we genuinely need the recognition and the support of central government to help realise the area's untapped potential.

Before I open up to the floor, I acknowledge the presence of Senator Diarmuid Wilson in the Gallery. I also welcome the visitors with the delegation.

Ms Michelle Gildernew

I thank Mr. Robinson and Mr. Campbell for their concise presentation. The witnesses are welcome and I am delighted to see them all here today.

Having grown up beside the Border between Aughnacloy and Culloden, I know all too well the challenges that have faced the region. It is worth remembering that when many of the Border roads were closed in the early 1970s, the final two Border roads to be reinstated were only reopened in 2010. This was a long time after the Good Friday Agreement and only a few years before the imminent Brexit. We do not know what the future is likely to hold for the region.

Mr. Campbell's presentation touched on a lot of the issues that are close to my heart such as rural roads, broadband, the greenways and the Ulster Canal. There is a lot in there. If we were able to bring about all of the things that Shane talked about then we would have a very dynamic region.

I am aware that this is outside of the witnesses' remit but I want to put it on the record today. We have a unique and special facility in the stroke unit in the South West Acute Hospital in Enniskillen. We have one of the best stroke units on these islands. Stroke patients are often treated with lysis therapy within ten minutes of coming into the hospital. Despite all the challenges in the region, we still can be world leaders in what we do.

The Border has Newry at one end and Derry at the other end. Our bit is the big section in the middle. Given the lack of infrastructure how does Mr. Campbell see the reality of Brexit affecting us in the future, and in the Border network trying to hold on to what it has achieved over the years to ensure we do not roll back from that?

I will take a second speaker. Mr. Baird has indicated. I apologise, Mr. Francie Molloy has indicated.

Mr. Francie Molloy

It is the beard that does it.

I am sorry, Mr. Molloy.

Mr. Francie Molloy

The witnesses are welcome and I thank them for attending. This is an important subject and it is timely to get their views on what is happening currently.

Looking at what has happened over the past while, there was talk of a commitment to the A5 road project for example, but, unfortunately, this week we have seen the lack of commitment from the Taoiseach on this. Once again it is being used as a political football. From the role that the witnesses play in the Border region, is there any indication from an EU angle of what can be achieved, particularly from the ICBAN? As a past member of the network, I am aware of the good work that has been done over the years in trying to build the infrastructure - and in some senses on a purely commercial basis - to try to utilise the Border area.

The other issue is the A29. Although it is not directly affected, if one looks at the map, there is no direct link North or South. It is a zigzag of roads back and forwards. Unfortunately, development has been east-west with very little North-South. That is an road we are going to need, especially from a cross-Border point of view.

The big one that has not been mentioned is the circumstances of the interconnector. From mid-Ulster's perspective, the interconnector is probably one of the most crucial issues. We need it to be in place as quickly as possible. Everybody knows and appreciates the work of the engineering sector and the job creation by the sector in mid-Ulster and right across the west. This is currently being curtailed because businesses cannot expand further. I was at a recent meeting at The Rock in Pomeroy where three companies were trying to divide up the electricity supply between them. They had 900 kW between them and each one of them was looking at it all, but it could not be got. They were working with generators in a makeshift situation. If we are serious about expanding west of the Bann - which we have complained about for so long - then we need the interconnnector to be in place. Areas such as Cookstown, Magherafelt and west of the Bann could have no supply in 2020 if we do not get that connection. This is one area where we need to refocus to see what can be done to get that in place as quickly as possible.

I thank Mr. Molloy. The words of the Tánaiste were that the A5 was being postponed. This was reiterated by the Taoiseach in the Dáil earlier. Would the witnesses like to avail of the opportunity to respond to those two contributions?

Mr. Shane Campbell

I will respond first and others may join in. I may not touch on all of the points but I will cover Brexit and transport. The others and I may also address the issue of the interconnector, and they may also come in on Brexit and transport. I will pick up on a couple of the points that were made. If there is time, I will also present some other information to the committee.

The issue is not about what will be the impact of Brexit: it is already impacting. We carried out a study last year with Queen's University Belfast. It was a project through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade reconciliation fund and we engaged with 600 people and businesses across the Border region.

Three quarters of those people and businesses expressed the opinion that Brexit is already impacting upon them. That impact occurs in many ways, including confidence, uncertainties, businesses putting off job expansions and young people rethinking their education choices and study locations. We have also come across many case studies examining the impact of Brexit on investment in the region. There are, then, many concerns about Brexit. We will all be concerned until we find out what the final direction of travel will be on this matter.

ICBAN, as a cross-Border group, is representative of the different political interests on both sides of the Border. We recognised, and the board took the mature attitude, that it was not going to be a network about rehashing arguments on issues such as remaining in or leaving the EU. Brexit, however, is a pressing issue on which we as a board have to make collective decisions. The collective decision and policy reached by the board was to work together, regardless of different opinions on issues, to withstand any negative consequences arising from Brexit impacting on the Border region. We have gathered and shared stories to which I have referred and presented them to MPs, Deputies, MLAs and Senators. Concerns about those issues are being expressed by people across the region. We are delighted they have been reviewed at the highest levels by the Irish Government, the United Kingdom Government and the negotiating team in Brussels.

Turning to transport, I would like to highlight some issues in the region. The A5-N2 road from Dublin to Derry and the A29 road from Coleraine to Monaghan are among seven key roads in our area. I will share a map illustrating my point with the committee. There are 45 million vehicle crossings annually and 11% of those involve light or heavy goods vehicles. Similar numbers cross from North to South. In the Border region, it is possible to estimate that each year there are between 4.5 million and 5 million freight crossings of the Border.

The key Border crossings can be seen from the map we have shared with the committee. Our area includes the Border crossings labelled D, E, F, G, H, I and J on the map. They span the central Border region and that is the geography of the area. The north west and the east are also shown separately on the same map. When we add up the percentage of the total number of goods vehicle crossings of the Border using these routes, give or take perhaps one or two percentage points, some 35% of crossings happen in the central Border region. One third of goods vehicle crossings take place in the north west, one third take place in the east and the remaining third are in the central Border region. That is mainly along the A5-N2 and A29 roads, which is our key industrial belt from mid and east Antrim right down through mid-Ulster and into Monaghan and Cavan. It is an area overlooked in Government policy. There was scant mention in the NPF of the region we inhabit. The north-west city region is profiled yet it has the same number of freight movements. The eastern corridor is also profiled and that is significant because of the Belfast to Dublin link through Newry and Dundalk.

I am not making an argument for the central Border region versus the north west or the east regions. Instead, I am highlighting that Government policy for the entire region, on both sides of the Border, has not been considered collectively. Taking into account just this one economic indicator of freight movement and travel, if we do not address the issues faced by the central Border region, we will not be effectively balancing development across the area. We might well all be sitting here again in another 20 years wondering what we are going to do about the Border.

The central Border region area is as important as any other. We may have seven routes overall, with two or three in the east and two or three in the north west, but when we examine our central Border region, it is as economically important. We could even argue that much of the traffic that should come through our area is not coming through because the roads are deficient compared with other areas. That is the collective case that must be made for these eight county areas to be considered as part of Government policy. To date, that has been missing. I will leave it at that to let others in.

I call Mr. Treanor.

Mr. Pat Treanor

I agree fully with Mr. Campbell’s comments about concerns surrounding Brexit and the alarming prospect it raises for our community. I live in and represent a community which is about a mile from the Border. Until recently, people did not want to even engage with the issue of Brexit because it was such a hurtful experience remembering what happened in the past. We ask this committee to ensure that all of the elements in the Good Friday Agreement are used to try to defend our rural Border communities, including the reference to a Border poll. All possible solutions to the Brexit issue as it affects the Border should be investigated.

This issue has been the subject of much media attention. Members of our local community have appeared on many programmes and taken part in many interviews. They have explained the statistics and that in the recent past local businesses have withdrawn or withheld further investment and development because of uncertainty. Assistance, therefore, is needed in that area. While we welcome the focus on investment and development in the eastern and north west parts of the Border region, we feel that we are, in many ways, overlooked in ways similar to rural Ireland. Communities on both sides of the Border in the central region have suffered neglect over many years. We need some focus on our area as well.

Ms Gildernew's question on the health issue is vital. ICBAN, with the help of bodies such as the Centre for Cross Border Studies based in Armagh, has undertaken reports on the positioning of emergency hospitals, etc. We have been developing responses to emergencies, including enabling the ambulance services to travel across the Border. The fire brigades have also advanced greatly in co-ordinating and dealing with emergencies such as fires and road traffic collisions in a cross-Border context in our region. We are approaching the point where people are ignoring the Border and just delivering the services which all of the people of the region deserve.

The energy interconnector is a similar issue. Mr. Campbell mentioned in his presentation the importance of the all-Ireland energy strategy. Mr. Molloy also referred to the 400 kV interconnector being developed between County Meath and County Tyrone. It goes through the eastern part of County Monaghan, and, as the committee will probably be aware, EirGrid and SONI have turned that into a very controversial project. There is major opposition locally to it being constructed as an overhead project with approximately 300 pylons positioned along the path of the interconnector. I have been at public meetings with landowners. Those meetings sometimes include 300 to 400 people very determined that they will not allow the construction of that project over land. It is fully accepted that the interconnector is needed and that the all-Ireland energy strategy is a good one, which protects and delivers for us all. I appeal to the committee to bring to bear any authority or influence it may have to try to force EirGrid to consult and listen to the local communities. Constructing the energy interconnector underground is possible. We have been to Europe and to Brussels, and investigated a similar project between Belgium and Germany. We heard from Elia, the company responsible for that project, that there is a possibility of putting such an endeavour underground. What we been learned from that project is that public confidence is the first requirement of successful infrastructure construction anywhere in Ireland and particularly in the Border region. Public confidence is vital.

I call Mr. Mr. McCreesh. Most of the other members also want to contribute, so I am conscious of time.

Mr. Adrian McCreesh

I will be brief. I want to pick up on a number of comments made by Ms Gildernew and Mr. Molloy regarding potential investment and the impact of that investment within our region.

I am reminded as I look around that we, as a group, represent nine of the Thirty-two Counties of Ireland, North and South. This equates to approximately one fifth of the entire land mass of the island, a sizeable fraction, and one tenth of the entire population. When we refer to the central region, we are talking about a significant element of this island, North and South. I say this because many of us are of the view - as a practitioner in economic regeneration for 29 years, I am of this view - that all we have ever asked for in our part of the world is a level playing field. We have never asked for a handout; we have always asked for a leg up in order to ensure a level playing field. My ask today is exactly this because I genuinely know what we could do if we had decent roads, decent technology and decent access to investment and labour and skills development, as other areas have enjoyed over the past ten, 15 or 20 years.

I say this for two other reasons. Our part of the world has particular characteristics. We do not have public sector investment. We do not have the luxury of relying on significant public sector jobs. What have we done then? We have created our own jobs. Our people are the entrepreneurs of this island. We are the enterprise capital of this island. We are the ones who have created the greatest, biggest, boldest and broadest exporters on this island despite the lack of investment, North and South, that we have experienced. As a result, our ask is very simple: in any regional economic strategy, we urge a focus on where the entrepreneurship is and some focus on the creativity and the enterprises. Then we will demonstrate, by way of delivery, what we can do with a level playing field. In spite of poor roads, poor broadband and all the other deficiencies, we are very proud people. We boast a significant element of civic and economic pride throughout Tyrone, Derry, Monaghan and Fermanagh. We have pride in our families and our communities, and this is what keeps us going through the bad years and into the good years. We also say this: we do not want repeats upon repeats of emigration and losing our young people again and again. This is an opportunity through this strategy on the southern side of the Border to make a substantive investment in the central Border region. We ask and expect that this will be forthcoming, not just because we deserve it, but also because we will significantly return on the investment - fivefold, tenfold or perhaps more.

Two more of our guests have indicated. They should feel free, if they leave something out, to come back in when the other speakers have contributed. I will take Mr. Doyle and then Mr. Baird before reverting to Deputy McLoughlin.

Mr. Eoin Doyle

I will make two very brief points. First, I want to impress upon everyone the strength of the collaborative offering here today. There are local authorities North and South that are very familiar with one another and have an excellent track record of delivery and a desire to work together. This is evident not only through ICBAN, but also through our regional assembly and offerings such as the European social entrepreneurship funds, EuSEF, partnership, which was piloted by my colleagues in Leitrim County Council. There are local authorities that are ignoring county boundaries, looking at the regional whole and delivering where they are given the opportunity. As my colleague stated, we are only looking for the opportunity to play on the same field.

I will make just one other point, which I think the members would want me to make. We have had for many years a PEACE investment programme in the Border counties. It is different from the way in which local authorities work in other parts of the country but is an integral part of the way we work. It involves soft workings between communities in conflict areas, communities that have not met one another in generations and that are now working on community and enterprise projects. It is a hugely important part of the success story since the Good Friday Agreement, and we strongly encourage Members of the Oireachtas to emphasise the importance of peace work and the PEACE programme to local authorities in the years to come.

Mr. Alex Baird

Fair fa' ye, and I hope the Vice Chairman accepts that Ulster Scots greeting in the spirit it is given. Ms Gildernew mentioned the Border roads. I will offer just a point of information. Lately, only two roads have reopened. Before I went into politics, I was a civil servant working for the Northern Ireland Office and my title was "civil representative". In the words of Michael Caine, not a lot of people know this, but my role at the stage after the Good Friday Agreement was to work with the roads service to ensure all the Border roads were reopened, so I am only too well aware of the difficulties that were caused by the closure of the Border roads, and none of us wants to go back to that situation again. I am surprised that the two to which Michelle referred took so long but I think there was a bridge involved. I just wanted to get that information in.

All our guests and representatives from the nine areas we are talking about are very welcome. As a Deputy representing the constituency of Sligo-Leitrim and a former councillor in that area, I am very well familiar with and very aware of the deficiencies we have had in the area. Our guests are highlighting issues in both the North and the South. It is wonderful to have them here because it is an opportunity to engage with them and their colleagues on the local authorities and talk about issues, particularly infrastructure. I see the divide between the east and the west, particularly the north-west, the investment and what has taken place in recent years. I have always said we do not have any such investment in our area, unfortunately. A very fine announcement was made to me last week on the N4, that is, the road between Sligo and Carrick-on-Shannon. There is to be an upgrade costing €121 million which will start very shortly. There are, however, many other areas within our constituencies that lack funding and the initiative to get moving. Infrastructural investment other than roads and so on was mentioned. Our guests have been before the committee before and members have listened to their concerns, and there are major concerns in the areas raised. Not only road infrastructure, but also broadband was highlighted. Broadband is a major issue for businesses and indeed everyone living in the areas affected. This must be dealt with. Greenways offer huge tourism potential. Reference was made to the Sligo-Enniskillen road through Manorhamilton, the greenway in my area and cycling and walking. These are the ways forward. Mr. McCreesh is right that we need not only investment, but also clarity as to where this funding can be made available, particularly with a no-deal Brexit. We have spoken about the lack of INTERREG funding at some of our recent meetings. That is an issue. I refer also to the economic development of our area. We are talking about the Border areas. They are vitally important. I speak to haulage contractors who are very concerned, and have been for many years, but are more concerned now with the possible prospect of a no-deal Brexit happening very shortly. I would appreciate if our guests could comment on some of these issues.

I will take Deputy Brendan Smith and then Senator Craughwell before going back to our guests.

Like others, I welcome the delegation. I compliment Mr. Campbell on the quality of his contribution. It covered a broad sweep of the various activities in the Border region. It was very comprehensive and welcome. I also compliment him on the publications he has produced in recent years in conjunction with Katy Hayward of Queen's University. Deputies Breathnach and McLoughlin and I, as members of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, had Dr. Hayward giving evidence to us at the assembly's committee meetings. As Chairman of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence - Mr. Doyle and Mr. Traynor would be aware of this - I brought parliamentary delegations from abroad to Cavan and Monaghan, including the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons. In the presentations that were made to Monaghan County Council and Cavan County Council, we drew widely on ICBAN's publications.

I compliment ICBAN on them. At the time, I passed on our thanks to Councillor Paddy O'Rourke, who chaired ICBAN, for the quality of the publications. Mention was made of the delivery of health services and Deputy Breathnach, as then chairman of the North Eastern Health Board, was instrumental in bringing about Cooperation and Working Together, CAWT, when an agreement was signed in Ballyconnell in July 1992. That initiative has worked well and we would like to see it expanded.

With regard to waterways, the potential of the Ulster Canal was quite rightly mentioned. I would also like to see the Erne system made navigable from Belturbet, Killykeen and Killeshandra, building on the Shannon-Erne Waterway, formerly known as the Ballinamore and Ballyconnell Canal, as Mr. O'Rourke knows so well. We both live adjacent to the area. It has been phenomenally successful. Waterways Ireland came before the committee, as did the Loughs Agency. Obviously they have limited budgets and do not have a budget for the capital investment required never mind rolling out new products or enhancing products for maintenance due to the usage of the waterways. There is huge pressure on the capital budgets . We must keep pointing out the potential of the waterways system in our area to grow considerably. I know very well that in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the restoration of the Ballinamore and Ballyconnell Canal was mooted, many cynics in many political parties and organisations said it would never work. It proved to be phenomenally successful, as will be the Ulster Canal when it is restored.

With regard to the A5 and N2, prior to Brexit, Transport Infrastructure Ireland and officials from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport came before the committee on a number of occasions. The committee was very concerned that the project was not moving along and that a commitment had not been given on the necessary preparatory planning and design work, particularly on the N2 in County Monaghan. It has moved on somewhat but it was disappointing to learn this week that the particular funding allocation may not be available. We sincerely hope it will be because it is so important for the north west of the country.

The witnesses quite rightly pointed out an issue we have been raising with regard to Brexit. Individual committee members have been raising here and in discussions in the Dáil the very high dependence of the local economies, especially in Cavan, Monaghan, Fermanagh, Tyrone and Leitrim, on the agrifood sector, construction products and engineering. They are the three sectors that are more highly dependent on the British market than elsewhere. Some of the sectors have been impacted already by Brexit. Any fluctuation in sterling or any weakness could cause immediate difficulty. Our key sectors are those that are most vulnerable to the adverse impacts of Brexit, and this must be a source of concern. Other colleagues and I have argued with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport in particular that if we are trying to help industry and business in the region remain competitive, we must invest in infrastructure. Upgrading infrastructure can reduce costs somewhat, but if we do not have modern infrastructure, it will be an extra impediment and cost to business. It is a message we would heartily endorse with regard to the presentation that has been made.

Island-wide territorial cohesion policy has been mentioned. As we all know, European funding such as the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, is for post 2020, but the overall budget for the European Union is in multi-annual cycles. Perhaps the witnesses will draw up proposals we could use to help advocate for specific Cohesion Fund payments. We remember the debate in the State about Objective 1 status. The huge growth in the economy in the 1990s and the early 2000s changed the status of some of our regions. We should be making a very strong demand for the Border region, North and South, getting specific cohesion funding because of the challenges it will face as a result of Brexit. It is a very important area. Perhaps more work can be undertaken by the witnesses on how we can push the Governments here and elsewhere to support specific proposals to draw down Cohesion funding. Some of the countries that acceded to the European Union in the mid-2000s and subsequently had significant infrastructure upgrades through Cohesion funding. We should argue that we are a special case. It is very important in this respect.

I compliment the witnesses, whom I know have done very good work on broadband infrastructure and mobile telephony in the area. All of us can readily agree with and support the witnesses on what they have told us today. I thank all of the witnesses who have contributed to the meeting.

I thank the witnesses for their presentation. It is refreshing to hear that local authorities are working together across the Border. It is wonderful to hear. They have touched on many issues. Local services were mentioned. The areas in which I am specifically interested with regard to the impending doom and gloom of Brexit are mental health and addiction services. From the perspective of the witnesses, what is it like with regard to mental health? Are mental health services and addiction services being impacted upon? How do the local authorities see this opening up? I am sure the INTERREG funding will impact on this also.

Are the witnesses concerned about the Good Friday Agreement? From our perspective, how do the witnesses feel the committee can support them? What I would like to see happening today is the committee supporting the witnesses in the great work they are all doing. The fact they are all working together is powerful.

As a member of the Committee on European Union Affairs, I have been most impressed by the feedback we get from Europe and Members of the European Parliament who have visited the Border area and who have been briefed, in some cases, by local authority members. No matter how far east I have gone, I have found nobody in Europe who is not aware of the Irish Border and the issues surrounding it. The witnesses are to be complimented on this.

Cross-Border development has been mentioned and, I am afraid, this is where I come with a rather negative view of the world. My fear is that Brexit, whether it is a crash out or negotiated, will change forever the relationships that exist in the Border region. If we were to look for a solution to the Irish problem, perhaps we should step out of London and Brussels and come back to the witnesses and let them find a solution because they would have one in jig time.

Some time ago, Senator Black brought us to Cushendall where we met a haulier who will relocate to the Republic if there is a negative impact from Brexit on his business. What fears do the witnesses have with regard to businesses relocating out of Northern Ireland into the Republic or elsewhere in Europe to maintain their businesses?

The mismatch of funding bothers me. After Brexit, European funding will be guaranteed to the southern side and the Irish Government will continue to push for financial support for various projects along the Border. There is a possibility the UK will not provide equal funding. We will finish up with a mismatch and a poor relation on the other side of the Border.

Years ago, one knew one was in Northern Ireland because one would be driving on the best roads in the country. Now one knows one is in Northern Ireland because one is obliged to drive on the worst roads in the country. Somebody mentioned the central area of the Border region. I would drive to Sligo rather than try to cut across the Border. The mismatch of funding concerns me greatly. Have our guests considered local authorities on the other side of the Border? If they lose businesses, they will lose rates, funding, taxation, etc. That is a concern.

Have our guests had an opportunity to make a similar presentation to Members of the Westminster Parliament? I know the House of Lords has been fairly active, but have they had an opportunity to speak to MPs apart from those present at this meeting? I will leave it at that.

I wish to apologise. I had to leave to go to the Chamber. I read the papers our guests submitted beforehand, but I will not ask a question for fear it has been asked already. I will listen to the replies here.

Mr. Adrian McCreesh

The committee will understand if I stay away from the political side of Brexit and leave that to my colleagues. I wish to make two comments in reply to Deputy McLoughlin and to some of the issues that Deputy Brendan Smith touched on regarding the economic impact, what we can do to shape the economic future and the role European investment can play in that.

I do not want to be negative. I, too, have been involved in developing, acquiring and securing European funding and trying to get it invested in economic regeneration activity through local government, in both an urban and a rural setting. I have been extremely grateful for that opportunity and that experience. It has had a wonderful impact on my part of the world in east Tyrone and south Derry. That being said, there is a big difference between cross-Border activity and Border-specific activity. I want this to be as positive as I can make it but I am going to be critical here. It grates when people talk about cross-Border activity and investment such as INTERREG funds and so on. In 2015, elected members of my local authority and I spent a lot of time preparing a very comprehensive response to the previous INTERREG programme and the forthcoming INTERREG programme running from 2015 to 2019. While we welcomed the investment and the hundreds of millions of pounds that came through the INTERREG programme, we warned the European Commission that in no way, shape or form does it attempt to address urban plight, urban deprivation or urban or rural dilapidation. Innovation and research and development at academic level are wonderful for universities and academic institutions, which have availed fantastically of INTERREG programmes. However, I would make a very simple point. I invite anyone to go to the Border and walk through Newtownbutler, Lisnaskea, Emyvale, Carrick-on-Shannon or Aughnacloy and show me the benefit of the millions of pounds of INTERREG funding. I invite anyone to look at the empty shops, the empty buildings, the dilapidation and the dereliction. There is a raft of work to be done in Border towns and villages, in both urban and rural areas. We are probably only going to get a few chances to get it right in our entire careers. I am here to say that I welcome cross-Border co-operation and I also welcome everything Deputies Brendan Smith and McLoughlin just stated. However, I remind the committee that INTERREG funds going into academic institutions in Belfast do not address rural and urban deprivation, decline and emigration in the multiple Border towns where, quite frankly, communities will say when asked that they saw no discernible benefit.

Our ask is very simple. A regional and spatial strategy is being developed. If we are talking about cross-Border issues, let us make them Border-specific, not exclusively but inclusively. Let us really go into Monaghan, Cavan, Leitrim, Tyrone and Fermanagh. Let us get down and dirty in Border regions and towns and ask what the issues are, what the problems are and what needs to be done to deal with them. If we do that, I might be here with a more positive demeanour in seven years.

Mr. Pat Treanor

I wish to respond to Senator Black's comments on mental health services. Like every other region, ours suffers from a lack of investment. Through the public participation networks at local councils and social inclusion policies, we are starting to deal with people who have been excluded for all kinds of different reasons. There is a particular understanding that some of them are not involved in citizenship in everyday life because of mental issues. Again, there is not nearly enough focus on it.

That brings me to the questions about relationships under the Good Friday Agreement and people's concerns. There are other aspects of the Good Friday Agreement, particularly those relating to the implementation bodies. There are other articles and sections of it that deal with civic participation, the civic forum and the feed-in from community groups. After the Good Friday Agreement there was a great rush of community groups on both sides of the Border meeting to deal with common issues. However, two things happened very quickly. First, they ran into jurisdictional legal differences. Second, funding for their involvement was cut by about 40%. There is frustration there, but also a willingness to get engaged again and stay involved.

There is another aspect of the Good Friday Agreement. When we talk about all the economic developments and progress that has been made, the other aspect around reconciliation and peace-building that is not as measurable is the fact that we as councils are working together on the issues that affect us. Trying to address the problems helps to create trust, respect and appreciation for where other people are coming from. That feeds into the outcome of the Good Friday Agreement. Confidence is low at times, because we are 20 years on and the Good Friday Agreement really raised people's hopes and expectations. We need to do more work. Confidence does drop at times. The work the committee is doing is vitally important for all of us and for the country, particularly for building relationships.

We are here to represent ICBAN. It is notable that Mr. Baird of the Ulster Unionist Party, Mr. Robinson of the Democratic Unionist Party and I, a representative of Sinn Féin, work together on all of these issues. Sometimes, watching the TV news at night, one would not think that is possible, but it is. We have grown to know, respect and appreciate each other's point of view.

Mr. Eoin Doyle

I wish to make three brief points. I emphasise how proactive this partnership is being in getting the message out to Westminster and to the decision makers. In recent times, primarily through the offices of Deputy Brendan Smith, as Chairman of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence, very high-level delegations from Westminster have visited the Cavan-Monaghan region. They have stayed in Cavan and they have met with people and businesses on the ground. Likewise, we have had very high delegations from the French Parliament and the German ambassador. Next week, the Maltese Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Promotion and the Maltese ambassador will be visiting the region. The message we want to send is that we are being pro-active in selling the needs of the region beyond these Houses, wherever we feel it would be productive.

In regard to relocation, there is very strong evidence that businesses are not in a position to expand or to radically change their business models. Our principal worry is that the withdrawal of markets or the creation of obstacles to markets may pull the rug from under businesses that are currently very strong.

Finally, I emphasise again the strength of the relations within the local authorities and communities at present. That is a testament to the Good Friday Agreement and what it has achieved for the country. It behoves us all to ensure that is not undermined in the future.

In terms of broadband and its importance, the announcement by Eir this week of investment into those towns and areas with more than 1,000 homes is to be welcomed. It is great to see that happening; it will impact on our region. However, the hard to reach areas are still missing out. I am referring to rural areas not covered by this delegation. We await with interest the delivery of the national broadband plan and the results of that tendering process. We hope that can be linked into mobile connectivity proposals, as we have spoken about previously. That must be delivered across a region such as ours because one roams into areas of inadvertent roaming. When one crosses the Border one experiences a drop in signal. That is not good for businesses, people or homeowners living on the Border whose homes are constantly moving in and out of roaming charges. If Brexit comes to pass and the UK leaves the EU Digital Single Market we are back to a charging regime which puts the region at a competitive disadvantage. That must be engineered out through licences, and I believe it is possible to do that.

The Ulster Canal could be a fantastic project, and has been long advocated for in our region. We have no doubt that if it achieved the required investment it could be a huge success. We only have to point to the example of the Geopark between Cavan and Fermanagh and Omagh, which is something we should shout about a bit more. It is the largest single visitor attraction in the Border region, with some 400,000 visitors. I appreciate that Fermanagh, Omagh and Cavan might never have thought to aspire to that level of success originally. The growth potential and the ability to deliver good projects is there in our region. The agrifood, engineering and manufacturing sectors in our area are interlinked; that is what has happened since the Good Friday Agreement and the opening of relations, and the work of groups such as this committee have done have brought people together. We have a concern that Border relations might be affected because of the wider discourse around these issues. What the Irish Central Border Area Network, ICBAN, proves is that Sinn Féin, the UUP, the DUP, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the SDLP and others to work together on a common agenda. Politics is essentially left outside the room, and we work, where we can, on the common issues of the time.

Mental health is a big issue in our region, as we found out through the research we carried out on Brexit in conjunction with Queens University Belfast. Community planning officials from the region meet regularly; the next meeting, next month, is all about mental health and the issues affecting the region. We will really dig into it. This initiative is being led by the local authorities, the local community development committees, LCDCs, and the community planning partnerships respectively in each jurisdiction.

We are not here to complain that our region has always been left out. We are here to say that when investment has been made in this region we deliver. The facts are there. This region is as busy as the other Border regions. It is great to see that they are so busy and to see that they are in receipt of support. We should fill in the missing link, which is the central Border region. We have the key centres of production. Mr. McCreesh spoke about the enterprise focus and the enterprise centre. Mid-Ulster, to pick one area, is the single biggest single contributor in Northern Ireland to gross value added to those indicators, in terms of manufacturing outputs. We look at the industries right across our area, down into Monaghan and Cavan, and west into Leitrim and Sligo, which has a thriving small business economy. It covers an area of approximately 750,000 people, and is the biggest cross-Border area, and the area with the most crossings. We work with its complexity and richness. We also offer an alternative to the traffic congestion in Dublin. There were reports yesterday that Dublin is the third most congested city in the world after Bogotá and Rome. We are only an hour up the road, and can offer fantastic quality of life. If the final investments we need in roads, in connectivity and broadband are delivered it would mean that people would not have to commute so much and allow us to deliver on creative economy solutions.

We ask for the committee's help in profiling the importance and the value of the central Border region. The members are Deputies for these areas, and we ask them, within their political parties, to remember to profile the central Border region as being important. It should be raised as regularly as possible with the Irish Government, and indeed with the Northern Irish Government. We want it to be raised in Westminster as often as possible too. Mr. McCreesh mentioned the work we have been doing on regional spatial strategy. The presentation we gave today is based on a collective response to the regional strategy, because we feel the national planning framework has ignored our region to a large degree. If we could have some support or assistance from Government, either by way of funding or help or assistance to develop and build upon our spatial plan, our economic policy resolution and our ideas on how these areas could be more effectively knitted together, we could turn an area with untapped potential into a major economic driver. It is holding its own with other areas at the same time as being the area that is most neglected in terms of investment.

As well as the central Border region there are also the north-west and east Border regions, we will hear a presentation on the latter, which is part of my area, later. Mr. McCreesh mentioned the issue of being fully recognised as a region and as a collective unit. Do the witnesses see merit in the co-ordination and facilitation of efforts between the three groupings working together? They could identify the various sectors that are important to one region but which are totally different from another region. One simple example of this is the education sector. Letterkenny and Derry work on specifics that are required for programmes in that region, whereas Dundalk Institute of Technology and Dublin City University would have different requirements. If we want to get additional moneys from Europe in a post-Brexit situation or otherwise, is there merit in facilitation? The Centre for Cross-Border Studies and others are offering guidance in this area, and Deputy Brendan Smith referred to help from the universities as well. We have to make sure that we maximise the spend and the investment to ensure that all the regions survive.

Mr. Shane Campbell

I absolutely agree. There has been co-operation between the three Border areas and there could be more. It would be good to probe and ask that question of the other Border regions. The central Border region has always been open to engagement, and has backed the idea, developed by the Centre for Cross-Border Studies, of a Border development zone. There are many examples where issues can be tackled Border region-wide, and there are examples which we have mentioned today that have to be tackled. We would be very keen to engage.

Mr. Paul Robinson

I thank the committee for having us here today. I believe we need to find a bit of common ground, when it comes to tackling Brexit, between North and South and the UK. We have to keep trading as we have been, without tariffs or things like that. We need to negotiate with each other and arrive at that conclusion.

I am particularly impressed by the visitors who have travelled with the witnesses today. It shows the importance of collegiality and of people having a voice. In my time in this House this is the biggest delegation to come into the Gallery. I reassure them that this will not be the end of our engagement; the secretariat, in the planning programme, will note that we intend to have an outreach visit to the central Border region shortly. I cannot indicate exactly when that engagement will occur - Brexit is taking precedence at the moment - but we are in the process of planning that visit. We hope to spend much more time with the witnesses and to see the issues first hand, in the same way that European parliamentarians visited the Border region to find out how the Border operates, as Senator Craughwell and Deputy Brendan Smith pointed out. I can assure the witnesses of that, as someone who has worked in and lived around the Border.

If one were to close one's eyes when meeting a group and if one did not know who the group were, what their faith was or what region they came from, one would see the problems are the same whether in the north west, ICBAN or the north east. It is a question of identifying issues and working collaboratively; that collegiality was referred to by many here today. Mr. Baird spoke about Ulster Scots; I developed Ulster Scots in Dundalk. I thank the witnesses for their time today.

We will suspend briefly before our next guests come in.

Sitting suspended at 3.41 p.m. and resumed at 3.50 p.m.