Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach Gníomhach as an bhfáilte a chur sé romham anseo ar maidin. Ba mhaith liom freisin mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis an Seanadóir McCallion ós rud é gur ardaigh sí na hábhair tábhachtacha seo ag tús an tSeanaid inniu.
The New Decade, New Approach agreement, as the Senator said, was published on 9 January 2020, and formed the basis for the parties in the North to resume operating the power-sharing Assembly and Executive. The Irish and British Governments, at the same time, each announced their own separate sets of financial and other commitments in support of the resumption of the power-sharing institutions at Stormont, and the work of the North-South Ministerial Council. The Government is fully aware of the commitments in the New Decade, New Approach agreement, which the Senator outlined, and is determined to ensure maximum progress is made in implementing all of them for the benefit of everyone on the island of Ireland, North and South, including the people of counties Derry and Donegal, and the wider north west.
I am aware the Senator tabled this matter previously and raised specific issues, which, I assume, are along the lines of those raised today.
Regarding the construction of the A5 road, which is perhaps the most signature project and will inevitably be the most visible in respect of people moving and travelling, the agreement restates the Government's commitment to provide €75 million up to 2022 for the project. Governments over the years have committed to this project and little has happened. However, the Taoiseach and the Government are absolutely committed to making sure that this happens. As the Senator rightly said, it will require co-operation from the three sides. She mentioned the Northern Ireland Minister of Finance, Conor Murphy, and the Minister for Infrastructure, Nichola Mallon. With all parties working together, we are determined that the project will be delivered, and she can be assured that the Taoiseach will provide leadership on this issue.
As the Senator will no doubt be aware, a public inquiry in Northern Ireland administered by the planning appeals commission into the A5 western transport corridor scheme concluded on 13 March 2020. Subject to a favourable outcome from the public inquiry and the successful completion of all statutory procedures and environmental assessments, construction work on the first phase of the scheme, phase 1A from New Buildings to north of Strabane, could commence during 2021. As somebody who travelled in that particular area during the summer, going to north Donegal, I am aware that the road is badly needed and the project will bring significant economic benefits to the area when it is completed.
The Government welcomes the development of plans for ambitious new higher education provision at the Ulster University Magee campus in Derry. This investment has the potential to increase access to third level education for young people on a cross-Border basis, enable further co-operation between third level institutions in the north west and underpin broader economic development and opportunities in the region.
When I was the spokesperson for education in the previous Dáil, what I found surprising was how little cross-Border movement there is in education. We may think there is a large number of students crossing the Border, but there is not, in particular, for example, in respect of the institutes of technology in Dundalk and Letterkenny. However, this campus could have a major impact, and it is up to all parties involved to grasp the opportunity.
The Government is willing in principle to contribute to capital investment to support expanded provision at Magee campus, alongside the commitment made by the UK Government as part of the New Decade New Approach agreement. We look forward to early discussion with the Northern Ireland Executive on taking forward this co-ordinated investment.
The North West Strategic Growth Partnership, established in 2016 through the North-South Ministerial Council, brings together senior Government officials from relevant Departments, North and South, and other stakeholders to deliver on the strategic priorities aimed at bringing real and positive change for the north west. The Government, through the Department of Foreign Affairs, provided €2.5 million to the North West Development Fund. Matching funding of €2.5 million was provided from the Northern Ireland Executive.
The Government remains committed to continuing to support the work of the North West Strategic Growth Partnership and is committed in principle to providing further funding in collaboration with the Northern Ireland Executive.
The meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council in plenary format, which took place in Dublin on 31 July last, was a positive development for co-operation and shared understanding. That it how we will get things done.
We look forward to continued engagement with the Northern Ireland Executive, including in taking the New Decade, New Approach commitments forward through the regular pattern of ministerial meetings via the North-South Ministerial Council's 12 policy sectors over the coming months.