On behalf of the Centre for Cross Border Studies and the other organisations present, I thank the Chairman, Vice Chairman and members of the committee for the invitation to meet them to discuss the Towards a New Common Chapter project and the resulting New Common Charter for Cooperation Within and Between these Islands. If the Chairman is in agreement, I will begin by saying something about the Centre for Cross Border Studies and the Towards a New Common Chapter project before Ms Farrell, Ms Coyle and Ms Dickson tell the committee about their own organisations and their involvement in the project. I will also draw the committee's attention to the New Common Charter for Cooperation Within and Between these Islands, of which members should have a copy, as this is the ultimate reason for our attendance.
Since its creation in 1999, the Centre for Cross Border Studies has sought to contribute to the increased social, economic and territorial cohesion of the island of Ireland by promoting and improving the quality of cross-Border co-operation. The centre's pursuit of its mission has been framed by two primary public policy imperatives: the European Union's cohesion policy with its focus on social, economic and territorial cohesion, and the commitment to cross-Border and North-South co-operation integral to strand two of the Good Friday Agreement.
Throughout its existence, therefore, the centre has been deeply concerned with community, social and economic development and co-operation, particularly on the island of Ireland but also between the island of Ireland, Great Britain and beyond. This concern has informed the centre's desire to initiate the Towards a New Common Chapter project. The project began in late 2014 and has been made possible with the generous support of the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, Northern Ireland's Community Relations Council, and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's reconciliation fund. The project has looked to support and inspire grass-roots community commitment to cross-Border co-operation in all its dimensions, these being co-operation at the Border, wider North-South co-operation, and east-west co-operation between the island of Ireland and Great Britain. It has worked towards a bottom-up vision of the importance and role of cross-Border co-operation within and between these islands while also noting the need for community groups to possess the necessary skills and capacity not only to engage in their own cross-Border initiatives but also to enter into more productive dialogues with relevant local, regional and central government policies and strategies.
The result of a series of intensive conversations between a range of community groups from Northern Ireland and Ireland, and more recently with groups from England, Scotland and Wales, is the New Common Charter for Cooperation Within and Between these Islands that committee members should have in front of them. It represents a shared desire to maintain and strengthen relations between communities across these islands, to work together on issues of common concern, and to advocate for the provision of the requisite structures and means to co-operate within and between these islands in whatever circumstances may arise.
In light of this committee’s specific role, and given that the sets of relations envisioned within the New Common Charter for Co-operation Within and Between these Islands reflect the core strands of the Good Friday Agreement, we would ask members to support it and work with us in ensuring all administrations across these islands put in place policies and funding structures to encourage cross-border and cross-jurisdictional co-operation at grassroots community level. We hope that today’s meeting will offer an opportunity to discuss the work undertaken as part of the Towards a New Common Chapter project, and how members of this committee and political representatives more generally can champion the objectives of the new common charter. These are outlined in more detail in the series of recommendations within the supporting information provided to the committee. They include how capacity-building measures should be introduced to improve how all levels of government and public bodies across these islands engage with community organisations in the development of policies and strategies with a cross-border or cross-jurisdictional dimension, as well as the need for a comprehensive assessment of the current funding landscape for cross-border and cross-jurisdictional co-operation initiatives aimed at community organisations, and what that landscape should look like going forward. Crucially, we would also like to see concrete support in advancing the work undertaken in the Towards a New Common Chapter project, bringing it to a wider audience, and perhaps looking towards a platform for cross-border and cross-jurisdictional dialogue for community organisations that recalls the structure provided for governments and administrations across these islands through the British-Irish Council.
These are issues we may explore further during today’s meeting, but I will hand over now to Ms Tara Farrell of Longford Women’s Link.