22 Feb 2021, 20.15

The 60h Plenary of the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly took place virtually today, from Leinster House, with an opening address by An Taoiseach Micheál Martin.

The 60h Plenary of the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly took place virtually today, from Leinster House, with an opening address by An Taoiseach Micheál Martin.

The meeting marked the first plenary for BIPA since the Covid-19 pandemic began and the first since the end of the UK’s transition from the EU. The theme of the event was 2021: Challenges and Changes. It was the first virtual plenary for BIPA since the assembly was formed in 1990.

In his opening address An Taoiseach Micheál Martin told BIPA there is a need to deepen co-operation between the UK and Ireland on climate and biodiversity initiatives, to deliver sustainable economic recovery from the pandemic as well as co-operating on international issues.

The Taoiseach said: “We will need to develop structures to underpin this engagement, with regular meetings by heads of government, at ministerial and senior official levels in order to build relationships and deliver on agreed programmes of work.

He said the UK’s departure from the EU is a moment of dramatic and profound change which requires “us to rethink and reinvigorate the British-Irish relationship.”

He said there are many benefits and opportunities inherent in the Protocol for Northern Ireland.

“It is right that we all work closely together to ensure that the Protocol works and that disruption is minimised to the great extent possible.”

The Taoiseach paid tribute to BIPA members as champions of the vital “Irish-British relationship”. He said there is an opportunity now for BIPA to play a revitalised role in this new chapter of British- Irish relations.

Speaking at the conclusion of the plenary, Irish Co-Chair, Brendan Smith TD, said: “I want to thank the Taoiseach Micheal Martin who we were honoured to have with us this morning to deliver the opening address, and all of our speakers today who joined us for the first virtual plenary of BIPA.

“Much of the plenary’s focus and discussions were on the urgent challenges facing us as parliamentarians in 2021 and indeed beyond. The work of BIPA is of profound importance for our two countries. We need to build on the good work of BIPA since it was formed in 1990 in building and deepening bonds between our nations.  We now have new challenges not as great and prohibitive as they were in 1990, but working together, we can deal with these challenges and indeed create new opportunities for us. As a political assembly, we will not shy away from the work that needs to be done for the benefit of all of the people we represent.”

British Co-Chair of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, Andrew Rosindell MP said: “Renewal and reinvigoration were the watchwords of today’s plenary meeting. It is encouraging to hear that both Britain and Ireland are absolutely committed to deepening ties to tackle the most pressing problems for both our nations. None is more pressing at the moment than coronavirus, and cooperation and coordination of our responses is, of course, important, but we should explore what more we can do to help our partners. Through presentations from the Taoiseach, Foreign Office Minister Wendy Morton, the respective ambassadors of both countries and other representatives we spoke to today we have a better mutual understanding of each other’s perspectives, even where Members’ policy views may differ.

"It’s clear that a combination of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU and the coronavirus pandemic means that diplomacy must now be done differently. BIPA is well-placed to fill this gap. We won’t shirk any extra work that comes our way to bolster our relationship for the continued health and prosperity of these islands.”

Other speakers at the event included: Minister for European Neighbourhood and the Americas, Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office, Wendy Morton MP, Ambassador of Ireland to the United Kingdom, His Excellency Adrian O’Neill; Ambassador of the United Kingdom to Ireland, His Excellency Paul Johnston; historian Dr Eamon Phoenix;  Enterprise Ireland Chief Executive officer Julie Sinnamon and Dawn Farm Foods, Chief Executive Officer Larry Murrin.

Senator Emer Currie (Chair of BIPA Committee A on Sovereign Matters), Darren Millar MS, (Chair of BIPA Committee B on European Affairs);  Brendan Howlin TD (Chair of BIPA Committee on Economics) and Lord Dubs (Chair of BIPA Committee D, Environment and Social)  gave progress reports on the work of the respective BIPA Committees  to the plenary.

BIPA is formed of members of the Houses of the Oireachtas, Houses of Parliament, Scottish Parliament, National Assembly for Wales, Northern Ireland Assembly, High Court of Tynwald (Isle of Man) and the States of Guernsey and Jersey. The Assembly’s mission is to promote co-operation between political representatives in Britain and Ireland for the benefit of the people they represent. It meets twice a year to on the close relationships established in recent years and discuss issues of mutual interest to Ireland and the UK.

 

Summary of addresses

 

Minister for European Neighbourhood and the Americas, Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office, Wendy Morton MP outlined the importance of British-Ireland relations. She noted that Ireland is the UK’s sixth largest trading partner and the countries’ economies are deeply intertwined.  She said she looks forward to working with the EU to resolve “the outstanding issues” with the Northern Ireland Protocol.

“Throughout this process we will remain committed to the Belfast Good Friday Agreement and protecting the gains of the peace process,” Minister Morton said.

The Minister welcomed Ireland’s return to a seat on the UN Security Council. She said Ireland has close relations with a broad range of countries and the impact of its membership will be widely felt. She said the UK looks forward to working together on matters of shared interest including the global challenge of climate change.

 

Ambassador of Ireland to the United Kingdom, His Excellency Adrian O’Neill spoke about the impact of a changed environment; with Brexit “now a fact” on the ground. He said Covid-19 has profoundly changed how we live, work and communicate with each other.

Among the issues he discussed were plans for a new consulate for the North of England, the New Diaspora Strategy and the re-opening of the Consulate in Cardiff. He also acknowledged the 14,000 Irish citizens working in the NHS.

 

Ambassador of the United Kingdom to Ireland, His Excellency Paul Johnston spoke about the “impact of a changed environment”. He noted there are 100,000 British nationals living in Ireland and four times as many Irish nationals living in the UK. He noted how the pandemic had changed the context of how people are operating.  He spoke about significant opportunities in the development of offshore wind programmes.

 

Historian Dr Eamon Phoenix spoke on a decade of Centenaries on the partition of Ireland and the Creation of Ireland, 1900 to 1922 using images supplied by Northern Ireland Screen.

 

Enterprise Ireland chief executive Julie Sinnamon provided the Assembly members with an overview of the role of Enterprise Ireland, the UK Irish trading relationship, the changes and challenges facing Irish enterprise in 2021 and supporting Irish enterprise to build resilience.

 

Dawn Farm Foods, Chief Executive Officer Larry Murrin outlined the experience of operating since the end of the Brexit transition period. Dawn Foods has two production facilities in Ireland and a facility in Northhampton which is the largest cooked bacon facility in the UK.

Dawn Farms acquired its first facility in mainland Europe, Haas GmbH, a cooked meat specialist in Germany. Mr Murrin told Assembly members that Britain is Ireland’s closest most culturally, similar market. He said solutions must be found to avoid trade frictions.

 

Follow us on Twitter for updates: @BritishIrishPA

Further information contact:
Dublin: Petrina Vousden (+353) (0) 85 8745 295 petrina.vousden@oireachtas.ie
London: Tim West: +44 (0)7933 386 949 westtb@parliament.uk

 

 

Media enquiries

Petrina Vousden
Houses of the Oireachtas
Communications Unit
Leinster House
Dublin 2
+353 1 618 3437
+353 85 8745 295
petrina.vousden@oireachtas.ie

pressoffice@oireachtas.ie
Twitter: @OireachtasNews