I propose to take Questions Nos. 34, 36 and 46 together.
During 2011, I attended the Trade and Business North South Ministerial Council, which I chaired, and two meetings of the North South Plenary between the Taoiseach and First and Deputy First Ministers. The Ministers of State at my Department and I also attended a number of North South conferences and events during the course of 2011. On 1st March next, I will attend the next meeting of the Trade and Business Development North South Ministerial Council. InterTrade Ireland was established under the Good Friday Agreement to “exchange information and co-ordinate work on trade, business development and related matters in areas where the two administrations specifically agree it would be in their mutual interest”.
Enterprise policy co-ordination and practical all-island business co-operation in the areas of Trade, Innovation and Business and Economic Research are already a reality through InterTradeIreland's work, which is underpinned by joint funding from my Department and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment in Northern Ireland. North South economic co-operation is and will remain a priority for myself and the Government. This is evidenced by the fact that despite the enormous pressures on our budgets, I have secured an allocation for 2012 for InterTradeIreland which will be maintained at 2011 levels.
The enterprise development agencies North and South of the border have for many years co-operated where this has added value to their activities, and this collaboration has greatly increased in recent years. Enterprise Ireland, which stimulates the development of indigenous enterprise, has extensive contact with its Northern counterparts and works with them on a range of programmes. IDA Ireland collaborates with Invest Northern Ireland, for example, in the Northwest Now initiative. More recently, there have been very positive developments where a wide range of agencies and institutions now co-operate on science and technology issues, including participation in the EU Research Framework Programme.
My Department also provides funding support for Interreg projects, which are supported by the EU and the Northern Ireland Executive. Through Interreg, we have supported a number of North South enterprise projects, including enterprise networking for the border counties and Northern Ireland, for example, for renewable energy and sustainable development. I understand that a number of other network projects are currently under consideration by the Interreg Managing Authority, the Special EU Programmes Body. The Government, along with the enterprise development agencies, will work diligently with the Northern Ireland Executive and its agencies to increase the economic benefits accruing from cross-border co-operation and the work of the North South Bodies.