Tuesday, 27 July 2021

Questions (6, 7, 8)

Duncan Smith

Question:

6. Deputy Duncan Smith asked the Taoiseach the status of the latest activities of the shared island unit of his Department as of July 2021. [40806/21]

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Ruairí Ó Murchú

Question:

7. Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work programme of the shared island unit in his Department. [40944/21]

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Ruairí Ó Murchú

Question:

8. Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú asked the Taoiseach if he will provide details on the shared island unit commissioned comprehensive research programme including topics of research; and the expected timeframe for publication of the research. [40945/21]

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Written answers (Question to Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6, 7 and 8 together.

The Government’s Shared Island initiative aims to harness the full potential of the Good Friday Agreement to enhance cooperation, connection and mutual understanding on the island, engaging with all communities and traditions to build consensus around a shared future.

I established a Shared Island unit in my Department to act as a driver and coordinator of this whole of Government initiative.

In Budget 2021, the Government established the Shared Island Fund, with €500m in capital funding being made available out to 2025, ring-fenced for investment in North/South projects.

We are making allocations from the Fund to support delivery of our commitments and objectives on a Shared Island, as set out in the Programme for Government. The Government will work with the Executive in Northern Ireland, the British Government and other partners to deliver cross-border investments that enhance our shared island.

Progress to date includes:

- The launch in April of Phase 2 of the Ulster Canal restoration project, enabled by an allocation of €6m from the Shared Island Fund and €5.6m from the Rural Regeneration Development Fund. The Shared Island Fund has also provided a further €1 million for development work on Phase 3 of the project, which has now begun;

- The launch in April of the all-island strategic rail review jointly by the Minister for Transport and the Northern Ireland Minister for Infrastructure. The review is an important step in implementing the Government’s commitment to enhance connectivity on the island, including by rail;

- On 29 June, I was joined by the Northern Ireland Minister for Infrastructure, Nichola Mallon MLA, as I announced €3m in funding by the Government from the Shared Island Fund to progress work on the Narrow Water Bridge to tender stage, with further funding to be allocated, once the due diligence process has been completed; and,

- On 5 July, I and the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science announced that the Government will be investing €40 million from the Shared Island Fund over five years in a new North-South Research programme to support the deepening of links between higher education institutions, researchers and research communities on the island of Ireland.

The Government will continue to develop and progress investment, policy and cooperation initiatives that contribute to implementation of our objectives on a Shared Island as set out in the Programme for Government.

To support development of a more ambitious agenda for cooperation and connection on the island, the Shared Island unit in my Department has commissioned a comprehensive research programme, working with the ESRI, the National Economic and Social Council, the Irish Research Council and other 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, and North/South and East/West collaboration is a feature of the research work.

The research programme with the ESRI is on ‘the Economic and Social Opportunities from Increased Cooperation on the Shared Island’. Research outputs will be published in 2021 and subsequent years. 2021 work is focusing on aspects of health, education, foreign direct investment and the all-island economy. Scoping papers including terms of reference for each of the ESRI research topics for 2021 were published in May, available at gov.ie/sharedisland/research.

The National Economic and Social Council (NESC) is preparing a comprehensive report to Government on Shared Island this year, informed by broad consultation, which NESC is conducting with stakeholders North and South. In February, NESC published a scoping paper setting out their approach and focus on issues including: the economy and regional development; tackling poverty; mental health; social enterprise and, climate, biodiversity and environment. NESC will also conduct a place-based examination of issues relating to sustainability and connectivity on the island.

The Shared Island unit has partnered with the Irish Research Council (IRC) and a funding call was conducted for academic contributions to the Shared Island research agenda across a wide range of themes, under the IRC’s New Foundations scheme. The successful research projects will be announced in the autumn and findings published in mid-2022.

The Shared Island unit commissioned independent scoping research by Professor Deirdre Heenan on ‘Collaborating on Healthcare on an All-Island Basis’ which was published as a discussion paper for the Shared Island Dialogue on ‘Working Together for Healthier Island’, that was held on 8 July.

At the Labour Employer Economic Forum earlier this month, it was agreed to commence a workstream on Shared Island issues of interest for trade unions and employers within LEEF’s remit of economic and employment issues relevant to the labour market.

I initiated the Shared Island Dialogue series to foster inclusive, constructive civic dialogue, that engages all communities and traditions, on key issues for our shared future.

I addressed the first Shared Island Dialogue with young people in November, on the theme of “New Generations and New Voices on the Good Friday Agreement”. Dialogues on Climate and Environment; Civil Society engagement; the Equality agenda; Economic recovery on the island; and Health cooperation have been held so far this year, with participation by Government Ministers. The next Shared Island Dialogue will be on Education, taking place in the autumn.

These Dialogues are bringing together hundreds of civic representatives and stakeholders in the different sectors, from across all regions, communities and traditions, to discuss how we can work together to build a shared future on the island. Recordings and reports of the Dialogues are available online at www.gov.ie/sharedisland/dialogues and on social media.

Question No. 7 answered with Question No. 6.
Question No. 8 answered with Question No. 6.