On 22 October, I set out the Government’s vision and priorities on Shared Island in an online event at Dublin Castle. Over 800 people participated online, comprising a broad range of civil society, community, sectoral, and political representatives, across the island of Ireland and in Britain.
A Shared Island unit was established in my Department in September to drive and coordinate the Shared Island initiative, as a whole of Government priority.
In Budget 2021, the Government announced the Shared Island Fund, with €500m to be made available out to 2025, ring-fenced for Shared Island projects.
The Shared Island Fund provides significant new, multiannual capital funding for investment on a strategic basis in collaborative North/South projects that will support the commitments and objectives of the Good Friday Agreement.
The Government’s priorities for such investment are set out in the Programme for Government and include:
- Working with the Executive to deliver key cross-border infrastructure initiatives, including the A5, the Ulster Canal, the Narrow Water Bridge, and cross-border greenways, including the Sligo-Enniskillen greenway;
-Working with the Executive and the UK Government to achieve greater connectivity on the island, including for instance, to examine the feasibility of high-speed rail connections;
- Working with the Executive and the UK Government on new investment and development opportunities in the North West and Border communities, including coordinated investment at University of Ulster Magee Campus in Derry; and,
- Supporting a north/south programme of research and innovation, including an all-island research hub.
In December, the Government approved over €6m in funding from the Shared Island Fund to launch the delivery of Phase 2 of the Ulster Canal and we are continuing to work in partnership with the Executive and through the North South Ministerial Council on the other cross-border investment projects, which are part of our Shared Island commitments in the Programme for Government. Progressing these projects was a key focus of our discussions at the North South Ministerial Council Plenary on Friday, 18 December.
I have also had constructive engagement with British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, on the Government’s Shared Island objectives and commitments, and have made it clear that we are happy also to engage on an East-West basis as we take this work forward.
The Shared Island unit in my Department is progressing a comprehensive research programme, working with the Economic and Social Research Institute and other partners. My Department has also asked the National Economic and Social Council to prepare a comprehensive report on Shared Island issues in 2021. This will provide valuable input from economic, social and environmental partners.
Strengthening social, economic and political links on the island and the promotion of all-island approaches to the strategic challenges facing Ireland, North and South are key objectives.
On 22 October, I launched the Shared Island Dialogue series to foster constructive and inclusive civic dialogue on all aspects of a shared future on the island. The first Shared Island Dialogue was held online on 26 November on the theme ‘New Generations and New Voices on the Good Friday Agreement’. I took the opportunity to address more than 80 young people from across the island who participated, representing different backgrounds and interests, and who put forward their ideas for a shared future on the island across a range of themes.
A Shared Island Dialogue took place on 5 February, with the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications, Eamon Ryan TD, on the theme of ‘Environment and Climate - addressing shared challenges on the island’. Over 100 participants participated in this online forum, including civil society groups, business and agriculture representatives, academic and research experts, local authorities and environmental and sustainable development agencies.
The Shared Island Dialogue series will continue through 2021, to foster civic engagement on important issues for the future of the island, including on health, education and economy, and on key civic aspects of the Good Friday Agreement, including on identity and equality. Plenary sessions are available online at www.gov.ie/sharedisland/dialogues.