Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement díospóireacht -
Thursday, 4 Nov 2021

Shared Island Unit: Department of the Taoiseach

I thank the witnesses from the Department of the Taoiseach for coming to our meeting: Ms Aingeal O’Donoghue, assistant secretary; and Mr. Eoghan Duffy, principal officer. I appreciate that they will come under time pressure at 3.30 p.m. In order to facilitate discussion on their document, I propose, before I read the privilege statement, that we take their statement as read and we ask them questions to save time so that there will be more opportunity for discussion. If that is acceptable to them, we would be happy to do that.

I will now read the privilege notice. The evidence of witnesses physically present or who give evidence from within the parliamentary precincts is protected pursuant to both the Constitution and statute by absolute privilege. However, witnesses and participants who are to give evidence from a location outside the parliamentary precincts are asked to note that they may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as a witness giving evidence from within the parliamentary precincts does and may consider it appropriate to take legal advice on this matter. Witnesses are also asked to note that only evidence connected with the subject matter of the proceedings should be given and should respect directions given by the Chair and the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should neither criticise nor make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable or otherwise engage in speech which might be regarded as damaging to the person's or entity's good name.

Ms Aingeal O’Donoghue

I wonder if I could say a word.

Of course, please do.

Ms Aingeal O’Donoghue

First, I thank you again for the opportunity. We are happy to spend a full two hours with the committee. That would bring us up to 3.45 p.m. anyway. I will not, as you suggest, read out the statement but maybe I will say a few words so that we are all starting from the same point.

Please do.

Ms Aingeal O’Donoghue

The committee will be familiar with the shared island initiative which the Taoiseach launched, our commitments under the programme for Government and the extent to which the initiative is underpinned by the Good Friday Agreement. I will flag a few issues, the first of which is the significance of the shared island chapter of the revised national development plan, NDP. It is a significant statement of intent and ambition for what we want to achieve for the next ten years backed by significant resources. In total, there is €3.5 billion going into all-island co-operation. The impact of the NDP in terms of opportunities on the island for business and employment - for example, the way we will need to look at skills on the island - is also significant. I would draw attention to that in the first instance.

In terms of ongoing work, I would flag two significant shared island fund announcements which have been made since we briefed the committee in May of last year. The Chair has mentioned the Narrow Water Bridge project to us on many occasions. There is funding of €3 million to effectively bring the project, which, as we all know, has had many iterations and stallings, up to tender stage. This will create a significant impact in the region. There was a good meeting between the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and the Northern Ireland Minister of Infrastructure, Ms Nichola Mallon MLA, up at Narrow Water with stakeholders. There is much excitement now about the project. Louth County Council is working with Newry and Mourne District Council. They are committed to taking it forward. It will be flanked by a range of green and active leisure dimensions as well.

The other big significant announcement was the launch of the North-South research programme with higher education institutions. I am happy to talk about it. In practical terms, the first call for proposals is open until 8 November. It is run by the Higher Education Authority, HEA. There has been huge interest in it. When the Taoiseach was in Belfast, he met with researchers in Queen's University who were energised by the opportunities it gives. Mr. Duffy and I visited Derry recently and there was the same message from Magee and from Letterkenny. It will be a significant project.

I would like to flag up the significant programme of research that is ongoing. We will see from the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, a particularly significant report coming out at the end of the year. We will also see a report from the National Economic and Social Council, NESC, early next year. It has already done some very interesting reports on climate and biodiversity.

In terms of our dialogue and engagement, there is a continuing programme of shared island dialogues. The most recent ones since we last met were on the economy, health and education provision. Over 1,000 people have now participated in these dialogues from all parts of the island and from right across both communities, in the sense in which it is traditionally used in Northern Ireland but also in the broader sense of minority groups, different interest groups and actively engaged groups that are focused more on environment or health than the politics on the island. It is positive.

We are doing a lot of thinking about what the next phase of those dialogues needs to be. We would be keen to hear ideas and suggestions from the committee. Obviously, meeting in person is something we want to get back to. We want to have meetings in different regions around the country. Having been through this first phase, we are also now looking at ways in which we can have more direct political engagement in the dialogues.

I wanted to give those quick few summary words so that everyone has the same context as we go into the questions and answers.

I thank Ms O'Donoghue for that. I can only laud the shared island unit for the fantastic work it is doing, the way it is interacting with all of the appropriate groups and bodies, and the research and co-operation it is involved in. They are working with everybody. That is the key to it - everybody working together.

As for the involvement of this committee, the shared island unit has had a number of events. I appreciate we have not been invited to them as such, but I think we should have a more proactive relationship with the shared island unit in terms of specific issues. For instance, a number of us visited the city of Derry-Londonderry recently and there are lots of issues there with the chamber of commerce and with Foyle Port. I appreciate we will have questions shortly but my own particular interest is in the hands-on issues that the shared island unit is getting involved with. Can Ms O'Donoghue see a role for us, as a committee representing all of the elected people in this island, in some of those events? That would be constructive. Inclusiveness at the appropriate time of political representatives is important. I certainly would welcome the opportunity, and I am sure other members would, to meet with key people in the voluntary and other spheres who might be useful for us to engage with and to visit. We will visit Belfast next week. We hope to visit mid-Ulster and Derry in early January or mid-January. We want to be seen to be active in all these events.

Senator Currie has the floor first, even though I have used some of her time.

That is okay. It is nice to see Ms O'Donoghue and Mr. Duffy again. I thank the Cathaoirleach for the opportunity. The Cathaoirleach has made good points about how we can improve communication and work closely with the shared island unit as a committee.

It is great to see the revised NDP and to hear about the €3.5 billion that we can be spending. We are coming across organisations that have opportunities for economic development, particularly in areas of deprivation or lack of opportunity. If we can come to the shared island unit with such organisations to support them in securing funds, is that something the unit would be willing to work with us on, based on our principles of cross-Border co-operation and closer economic and social links?

I too was in Derry last week. I had not been on the A5 in the last couple of years because of Covid and the horror of it was brought back to me. There has been a commitment on the A5. How does it work as regards driving these projects forward and taking the next step? I believe there are delays on the Department for Infrastructure side. How do we work to overcome those delays? While we align with the Executive, I imagine we are going to face some problems along the way. How do we make sure we are aligning on projects? How does that work? The all-Ireland research centres that were mentioned are incredibly positive. Those are also going to require matched funding. How do we drive these things forward? As a committee, how do we all work together to push these vital projects through? Skills and infrastructure were mentioned as well. That is essential, not only in the north west but in other areas and along the Border, from an all-island perspective.

The NDP recognises the importance of cross-Border working and supporting regional development in all the cross-Border regions. It states:

Cross-border local authority regional development initiatives have built track records and developed strategic frameworks for cooperation, reflecting an increased capacity and level of ambition for the years ahead.


The Government will continue to support fully the work of cross-border local authority partnerships and pursue opportunities for collaborative investment.

The North West Strategic Growth Partnership, NWSGP, is doing great work between Donegal and Derry. I would like to see the same prominence and support given to the Irish Central Border Area Network, ICBAN. It is doing fantastic work. It is made up of eight local authorities working together but their funding is hand-to-mouth. It needs to be supported on a more consistent basis. It can play a pivotal role in the development of the Border area. We have seen the Dublin to Belfast economic corridor. The work of ICBAN can contribute very much to the Border areas. I would like to see it get the same security of funding and prominence of being involved in projects as the NWSGP. We can see what that has done with the technological university and there is just as much potential in the central Border area.

I will comment on the areas of research. I do not know if these are new or maybe I just did not notice them the last time. On the teacher research the witnesses are doing, will the Standing Conference on Teacher Education, North and South, SCoTENS, also address the differences between teachers North and South? It is still incredible that people can go through teacher training in the North and yet not be recognised as qualified in the South because they do not have Irish. My mum was one of those fantastic teachers who was not seen as qualified and there are others. Professor Deirdre Heenan is leading on the healthcare research. That is fantastic and it is great to see. I thank the witnesses for all the work they are doing.

Ms Aingeal O’Donoghue

I thank the Senator and the Chair for their words of encouragement. As we are moving into the next phase of the work, we want to see ways of having greater political involvement in our engagement, dialogue and events. We are very happy to talk to the committee in more detail about that. We are still at the thinking phase of what it might look like. I am concerned about getting the balance right between being inclusive and making sure all voices are heard while also bringing the political stream into the discussion in a clearer way. That would be important in a regional way or on a regional basis, for example. I very much take the point about engagement with this committee. I am happy to have that conversation in more detail.

As regards Senator Currie's questions, we have a very open door in terms of who approaches us with proposals and ideas. We encourage people to come forward with ideas. However, we must bear in mind that the shared island fund is a capital fund. Personally, from time to time I would love a little more flexibility in that regard but it is a capital fund, which means our focus is on capital projects. All the other funds and departmental schemes are there for a purpose as well and they also need to be mined and accessed, as will be the PEACE PLUS programme with its over €1 billion of funding. I am happy to hear from the Senator or for her to say to an organisation to get touch with the shared island unit, but she should bear in mind that the shared island fund is for capital funding. Of course, we are also very interested in meeting organisations in any event to talk to them, hear from them about what they are doing and get their views on issues. That can also be part of the engagement. Mr. Duffy and the team continue to do a massive programme of outreach. I think there have been 80 engagements since the last time we met the committee.

On the A5, it is a Northern planning and environmental issue at the moment. We continue to state to the Northern Executive at official and political level our commitment to it but, frankly, I cannot see anything we can do until it gets through those planning issues. We have very strong engagement with the Northern Ireland Department for Infrastructure and we are very focused on whether there are problems or gaps we can resolve, but on this project I have to say that I do not see anything we can do. Obviously the Minister for Infrastructure, Nichola Mallon, and her team would be better able to speak to this but I do not see any options until that planning and environmental piece happens.

I might bring Mr. Duffy in on the matter of the regional Border groups. As part of our work on the NDP, there was extensive consultation with the regional Border groups, not just the north west group but also ICBAN and the Dublin-Belfast corridor. We are encouraging them to think creatively and ambitiously and come forward to us with projects. I will hand over to Mr. Duffy to talk more about that.

The matter of the SCoTENS work was well spotted. Yes, it is new and has been a very interesting initiative. It is complemented by the work the ESRI is doing. That is more about educational achievement and attainment but the SCoTENS work will be very interesting in a more practical way.

The Senator also mentioned the all-island research centres. Discussion is going on there as regards funding. We have been fairly forward in indicating our commitment to funding but there needs to be funding from the other side as well. There are some things we can do on our own, as it were, or we can fund unilaterally, and the research programme is an example of that. There are some things where there has to be engagement between the Executive and the Irish Government around funding, as well as governance and structures. We remain very committed. There is a lot of ongoing work on the research centres, for example with regard to the design, the governance and the areas of priority.

We continue to worth with both Belfast and London on the funding issue. Mr. Duffy might like to add to that.

Mr. Eoghan Duffy

I will make two points. First, I want to emphasise our really valuable and worthwhile engagement with all the cross-Border local authority groupings. There were four and they are in the shared island chapter of the NDP. That part of the NDP draws out the alignment of the strategic objectives that the cross-Border local authorities have set themselves with the national objectives set by the Government in the NDP in terms of cross-Border investment co-operation. There is real alignment in those areas which is why, as Ms O'Donoghue said, we really see potential to work with the local authorities which are working already on a cross-Border basis, accessing funding around PEACE PLUS, the shared island fund and so on. That is a major area of work both with overall cross-Border initiatives but also potentially subregional groupings between two or more county councils.

Applications are being assessed by the SCoTENS committee at the moment. The themes it is focusing on for this round are educational underachievement and teaching and learning and curriculum delivery themes with a focus on learning from others on a shared island. It is not specifically looking at the professional requirements that were mentioned. ESRI research looking at the education sectors on the island more broadly is also being finalised. That is more focused on educational outcomes and student pathways North and South, and so on, than on professional criteria. The Senator's point is important and it has an impact on mobility of teachers on the island. It is something think about for another programme of work, perhaps.

Professor Heenan's research on healthcare co-operation on the island proved to be really useful. It was an input into the shared island dialogue engagement that we had on health in June with the Minister for Health and 130 health stakeholders. It really contributed to that discussion. The views and perspectives of health sector stakeholders that were brought forward in Professor Heenan's research are also very instructive in thinking along a medium-term timeframe about how healthcare co-operation on the island could be deepened. That is something we have been reflecting on, as have our colleagues in the Department of Health. I think it was well received by the stakeholders in the sector in that dialogue. It was a useful piece of work from our perspective.

I will move onto Sinn Féin now. We can have a second round. It is not a problem. The three speakers nominated to me were Deputy Conway-Walsh, followed by Mr. Francie Molloy and Mr. Mickey Brady. Fianna Fáil is after that, if it tells me the order in which it wants its speakers.

I will go first but I would like my answers in five minutes and then we can immediately move on.

I just do not want to cut anyone off.

I welcome this opportunity to have an update on the island unit. The civic forum and civil engagement were mentioned. Other than the ongoing dialogue, what has been progressed in this area? What structures make up the agenda of engagement in the future? I very much welcome the fact that the unit is looking at opening it out because I think this committee has an important role to play in taking part in these discussions. I do not know if there would be any impediment to our doing this. I tried to access one of them and it was extremely difficult. We should not all be reinventing the wheel and adding to each other's work, given that the members of this committee have key interests. For example, I am interested in the future of education on the island and the work that we are doing in that regard.

Last week we had representatives of the all-island cancer research institute before the committee. I know it is making a submission to the North-South research programme. Its mission is to establish a fully integrated approach to cancer research and its aim is to establish a virtual institute focusing on bringing together cancer researchers across the island. We spoke the last day about how it is best for the Government to fund the hard things to fund and the researchers will do the rest. This often refers to the research infrastructure and the architecture that is needed to share all this information so that we really get the value out of research that we need and we are not just doing paper exercises and so on. Will Ms O'Donoghue tell us if the unit has given any consideration to the role it can play to help to bring about this infrastructure both for data and the other things that will be needed for the research to have an all-island collaborative approach? I have several other questions but I will leave it at that so I can get an answer.

We will call in -----

Would the Chair mind if I get an answer to those in the five minutes and then we can move on to the next speaker?

I am happy to do whatever the Deputy wants. I want to make sure that she gets her time but that we do not exceed it because I know that people are under pressure. If the Deputy wants the answers, that is fine. There is 12 minutes left.

That is okay. We will stop at ten minutes to go on to the next speaker.

We will stop when we stop. We do not want to stop a speaker in the middle of speaking.

Ms Aingeal O’Donoghue

I am not sure how quickly I need to answer this. The shared island dialogue is an ongoing series of seven dialogues, rather than a one-off dialogue. Each one of the seven dialogues is extremely carefully prepared to make sure that we have good, substantive and relevant themes, that the panels are interesting and that the participation is diverse. We also look at the outcomes. As we look to the next phase of the dialogues, we are planning to prepare and produce a report on the first year of dialogues and then draw recommendations and proposals from that for the next phase. It is an ongoing, dynamic and very substantive programme of work.

On access, particularly as we move into the in-person phase, depending on the Covid restrictions, the political involvement would become a much easier dynamic if we were all in a room together. It is not at all that the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement or any of its members is being excluded or anything like that; it is just that we have different avenues at the moment for conversations with different people. As the Deputy and the Chair have said, we see the need to bring those different strands closer together. I would be happy to continue that discussion.

I am familiar with the all-island cancer research proposal. Indeed, a number of proposals like that made us think about creating the North-South research programme to create an actual strategic context for all of this and to make sure we were not just addressing one or two particular proposals but were also driving further collaboration. I would have to come back with a reply on the technicalities of what the Deputy means by research infrastructure. My assumption is that some of that would be built into the proposals because there are three levels of funding under the research programme: individual researcher-to-researcher collaboration, sectoral collaboration between different hubs, say, in particular areas, and full institutional collaboration. The programme is being run by the HEA. We can come back on the research infrastructure on what is already encompassed.

I thank Ms O'Donoghue. We will have further discussions on that.

We will now have Mr. Francie Molloy, please.

Mr. Francie Molloy

I thank the officials for the presentation. A very important dialogue is taking place. This committee is called the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. I want to see where the links are between the shared island unit and the Good Friday Agreement implementation bodies. We continue to talk around the issues but at the end of the day the Good Friday Agreement has not been fully implemented and is not being fully implemented. We are moving into different angles. How can we blend the two things together to benefit each other?

Increasingly, I have an issue with talk of the "all-island" unit and "all-island" development. We are dropping the word "Ireland" from the issues. This is an issue, along with references to "Northern Ireland" and "Ireland". It is one country at the end of the day. Separating the two like this makes people very uncomfortable. These are the issues I see. It is very important that we engage right across the island of Ireland but that we remember it is one Ireland. This is the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. How do we link the two together?

Ms Aingeal O’Donoghue

There is no separation. The shared island initiative is underpinned by the Good Friday Agreement. When the Taoiseach launched it, a key part of how he contextualised it was by explaining that we have not fully maximised the benefits and the potential of the Good Friday Agreement. This is very much part of what we do. A big part of it is looking at the strands of the Good Friday Agreement. The North-South strand is an area where much of our work is focused. It is also focused on the reconciliation and building of understanding dimensions of the Good Friday Agreement. From our point of view, this is what we are doing. It is about the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and all of the potential that is in it. I operate under the programme for Government as a civil servant on the shared island unit and initiative. There are sensitivities in both directions. There are other communities in Northern Ireland that have asked me why it is not the shared islands unit. Shared island captures the idea that we are together on one island with one set of opportunities and one set of shared challenges, and that we need to work together to address them.

Mr. Eoghan Duffy

I thank Mr. Molloy for his comments and perspectives. The Good Friday Agreement, its implementation and the realisation of its potential is, as Ms O'Donoghue said, at the core of everything we are doing. We are bringing civic society together and bringing together various discussions to see how we can move forward on elements of the Good Friday Agreement that have not delivered or been realised as much as they could have been over the past 23 years. We are commissioning research in these areas. Teacher education is an area where there has been long-standing work. There is recognition that there is potential to do more in education on the island. We are also working with Departments throughout the system to see what is required to do more through the framework of the Good Friday Agreement, with regard to its implementation and realising the full potential of elements in all three strands. It is central to how we are working. We are working with colleagues in other Departments, including the Department of Foreign Affairs. As Ms O'Donoghue said, the reconciliation dimension is at the core of all of this.

Mr. Mickey Brady

I thank the witnesses for the presentation. I am encouraged by the news that the Narrow Water Bridge is reaching tendering stage. It is in a neighbouring constituency to mine. The provision of that facility will be a huge boost to the Newry, Mourne and Down area. We have had some discussions with the committee and colleagues on the provision of a city park and the issue regarding the greenway. In the Taoiseach's speech, he mentioned ambitious plans for the provision of a greenway as far as the north coast. With regard to the infrastructure, we have a very good greenway going from Newry to Carlingford. It is used a lot and it is of great benefit to the area. Have plans been developed on the provision of further infrastructure such as greenways and the natural environment? Has the Department proceeded with plans in this area?

Ms Aingeal O’Donoghue

I do not have maps in front of me. A key part of the approach to the Narrow Water Bridge this time, that might not have been there the last time, is around the idea of active travel and greenways. As well as the bridge, the intention is that a lot of work is done around it. The Northern Ireland Minister, Nichola Mallon, and the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, are very keen that it happens. I do not have specifics in front of me and I am not sure whether Mr. Duffy does either. I will not put him on the spot unless he wants to contribute.

Mr. Eoghan Duffy

As Mr. Brady said, we had a good meeting with stakeholders and representatives on the project. It is a very good example of the coming together of two points we have spoken about. The first point is that intensive work is going on at local authority level to build a plan to have a cross-Border dimension to active travel in the region. This is being championed and funded at local authority level. The second point is that at national level the NDP recognises this work and sets an investment objective to develop an island-wide greenway network. This is a strategic investment objective under the NDP. Resourcing can be put behind this. It requires local authorities on either side of the Border to come together and put forward an integrated approach. As Ms O'Donoghue said, this is very much part of the approach on the Narrow Water Bridge project and the area.

I welcome the event that took place at the Narrow Water Bridge. As it happens, I was out of the country on that day. I could not have been there anyway. It is important that elected representatives from Louth and constituencies north of the Border are included in functions. Some of them are members of this committee. I want to stress I was not around on that particular day. It is important to be more inclusive. Part of the problem we have is that politicians on either side of the Border do not meet often enough. People do not know their politicians or think they are different from what they actually are. The more we normalise relationships, the better. The shared island unit will be very welcomed by the committee, to go back to the point I made at the beginning of the meeting on inclusiveness and involvement. This is key.

I welcome the witnesses. Like the Chair, I laud the work of the shared island unit. I have had the opportunity to engage with officials other than Ms O'Donoghue and Mr. Duffy. They have been very receptive of the ideas I and others have put forward. I am very glad there is buy-in throughout all of the island to the shared island concept. It was met with cynicism in some areas when the Taoiseach initially announced it. There is now good buy-in throughout the island, and this is welcome.

I also welcome the substantive chapter in the NDP to which Ms O'Donoghue referred, with its overall commitment of €3.5 billion for all-Ireland investment. The Taoiseach mentioned the initial €500 million committed to the shared island project would be doubled to €1 billion over the lifetime of the NDP. This is very important. As the Chair said and as Ms O'Donoghue said, it is important that we have more intense political engagement with the unit as it drives forward its work.

It was at a previous meeting with the witnesses that I was very strong on the need to engage with the local authority cross-Border groups that represent local authorities on both sides of the Border. There has been intense collaboration and I welcome this. There is one thing I would caution on. We have to be mindful that it is the individual local authorities that have the statutory remit.

These cross-Border groupings do not have statutory functions. It will be important that the shared island unit engages directly with individual local authorities. This is because local authorities can often be in a position to help to drive forward projects through their own funding resources, as well as collaborating with the unit. It is essential to have good buy-in, collaboration and intense work with the local authorities on an individual basis.

I appeal, as I did at each of the engagements that we had with the shared island unit, as well as in direct questions to An Taoiseach in the Dáil, that particular emphasis needs to be placed on the less-developed parts of the Border region. I am thinking of my own area of Cavan, Monaghan, Fermanagh and south Tyrone. It is understood that the Dublin to Belfast corridor will look after itself, no matter what particular economic challenges come. However, we will not have the major research centres and third level education in small villages or towns in west Cavan, north Monaghan, or west Fermanagh. A particular emphasis needs to be placed on the economic and social needs of the less-developed regions.

Ms O’Donoghue mentioned “enhancing support for enterprise on an all-island basis”. I welcome that particular development. That aspect of her work is new to my knowledge. Over the years, and particularly in the years of the Troubles, when it was particularly difficult to bring jobs to Border regions, local authorities and community groups sourced funding to develop workspace and enterprise centres. There are some instances in my constituency where companies started out as a one-person operation. Some of them are international companies today. Were it not for the fact that workspace was provided to allow them to grow to ten and 20 jobs, they would not have been the success that they are. I know that often there is funding at national level to develop enterprise centres which community groups or local authorities can source. Often, however, the big problem is putting the site in place and servicing it to enable it to get to the stage where one can build the workspace. Local authorities, such as my own in Cavan and Monaghan, have a very small rates base. They find get it hard to generate funding at local level. They are trying to support other developments, such as town and rural renewal and tourism developments. There is a need to support local authorities to make available suitable sites that are serviced to enable workspaces and enterprise sectors to be developed. That will lead to job creation.

Any audit or analysis of our network of enterprise centres throughout the country would show a great success record. They have enabled the creation of employment and have facilitated small companies to grow, to move out of that space and to allow for new, emerging companies to take over. That might be one new area that the shared island unit could look at. It could look at supporting local authorities and community groups to put in place serviced sites to enable enterprise workspace to be developed.

Another thing that was mentioned was the further development of third level education infrastructure in the northwest. Again, I welcome that. However, I would also like to see the north east included in the remit of that work. I know from my engagement with Dundalk Institute of Technology, DkIT, over the years that it is a particularly important institute for education for persons from Louth, Monaghan and Cavan, as well as from Armagh and Down. Ever before there was much collaboration in higher education on an all-island and North-South basis, DkIT was collaborating with Queen’s University Belfast and with the University of Ulster on major projects. I would like to see an emphasis on the northeast, particularly on Dundalk and local authorities and colleges of further education in Louth, Monaghan and Cavan as well.

Ms O’Donoghue spoke about “the further development of third level education”. Again, we have to include further education in that particular work. As public representatives, we all know that in many instances attracting people from communities where there is a lot of disadvantage has come through further and higher education and the availability of places to progress through. I place particular emphasis on it. I hope it can be considered in the context of development of further education on a cross-Border and all-Ireland basis as well.

Ms O’Donoghue and Mr. Duffy are very welcome. It is always great to listen to all the great work that they do in the shared island unit. I personally want to applaud and note the huge effort that they have gone to to get Narrow Water Bridge to this point. As Mr. Brady said earlier, it will change the dynamics of the entire area of north Louth, south Down and south Armagh. I have such ambition to be able to do a loop of the lough, to start at Greenore, get the ferry and come back around and back home to the Cooley Mountains. There so much potential and so much to look forward to on that.

Deputy Brendan Smith mentioned my love for DkIT and the importance of having a cross-Border emphasis on DkIT. We should emphasise development in the northeast as well as in the northwest. It is hugely important. The witnesses will probably know that DkIT is the only institute of technology that is not matched up with a partner to work towards technological university status. There are opportunities in not having DkIT paired for the purposes of university status.

Following on from what Deputy Brendan Smith was saying, the Border counties, North and South, have been disadvantaged. We all know the reasons why. It is because of that Border. I would be a big fan of a Border economic zone that would make sure that there is that crossover including all those county councils and the four organisations with which the shared island unit works. It could be created in the same vein as the Eastern and Midlands Regional Assembly, EMRA, which follows a European model for a committee of regions. Those feed into national policy.

I am curious about the shared island unit's incredible amount of work on the dialogue series. It is really positive. What comes next from the body of work that the shared island unit has created and found out in those shared dialogues? An incredible amount of knowledge must have been gathered. Where do we go from there, after the dialogue? The dialogues are worthwhile and enjoyable.

Ms Aingeal O’Donoghue

I thank Deputy Brendan Smith for his reference to other officials. Mr. Duffy and I are just part of what is a small but highly committed and, frankly, innovative team. I appreciate Deputy Brendan Smith’s words. The team is working. They are the ones who deliver the dialogues and who do so much of our engagement. I am pleased that he mentioned them. I will be sure to tell them that he did.

On local authorities in the Border area, we hear the message about spanning the entire Border. It is not just about one or the other. We know ICBAN well. I reiterate that we are engaging with all of them. We see them all as key partners. As well as engaging with the regional groupings, we have met with some of the local authorities on a one-on-one basis, on both sides of the Border. Again, we are conscious of the importance of that. There is probably now a piece for the local authorities. Effectively, they need to come forward with concrete proposals. We have had very good engagement. We are happy to be as helpful as we can be in that.

However, there is a point at which they need to come forward with concrete proposals. My message to members of the committee who have been talking to us about this is to take that message back to them. For shared Ireland funding, they need to be capital proposals and they must have a North-South dimension, preferably but not necessarily always with a Northern funding partner. We would not always ask that they start by being able to point to a Northern funding partner as well. Those are some of the parameters and Mr. Duffy might want to give a few more. The next phase for the local authorities is to move to that more concrete proposal phase and we will try to support them through that and definitely looking at all aspects. The point about enterprise centres is something that has arisen in other contexts as well.

Sometimes we refer to higher education. It is safe to say that when we talk about it in this context we always mean further and higher education. Again, that would be very much the message we get from the region. In terms of third level education infrastructure in the north east, and the Senator mentioned this about DkIT, the commitments regarding provision in the north west are the Irish Government's commitments under New Decade, New Approach, and come from a particular political set of circumstances and concerns. That is why they have been foregrounded. The research programme will help with the collaborations across the higher education network, but we are very open to talking to others. Mr. Duffy has possibly met with DkIT, but I am not sure. When I did this work previously many years ago, I went with the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern, to DkIT, not surprisingly. At that point it had a very innovative green approach to some of its energy as well. Again, we understand that and we are very much open to it. I should make the point that the issue of further and higher education provision in the north west has had a particularly difficult and political past, which the members are familiar with, and that is why it has been very much to the front. However, that is not to say others cannot come in as well.

The Minister, Deputy Harris, has visited DkIT a number of times, has met the board and is more than anxious to facilitate board-led initiatives. That is the key. In DkIT there are issues because some trains have left the station and DkIT is not on them. Obviously, the question of finding the appropriate partner is a key issue. We and the shared island unit will help as much as possible.

Ms Claire Hanna

I thank the witnesses. As I often do, I am participating from the airport so I apologise if there is any noise in the background. I appreciated the response and it is very good to hear what the unit is doing. The progress of the unit is very clear and substantial across the practical projects and the dialogue aspects as well. I am curious about some of the work that perhaps falls between those two aspects. I am thinking particularly of engagement in the areas that have borne the brunt of the political instability of the last year, such as Springfield Road, Shankill and Sandy Row in my constituency. Unfortunately, they have been picking up the pieces and been exploited by people who are trying to create tension and photo opportunities. Does the unit have a reach or projects that are filtering down in terms of both the practical projects and raising the conversation in those areas? Related to that, the categories of projects are very solid, including transport, environment, business, health and higher education, but obviously deprivation would cut across all of those. Will the witnesses comment on how they try to factor that into the work they are doing?

I apologise for the interference in the background. A few months ago we heard about a group or two that said they were going to hand back funding in protest. I am not sure what it was in protest against but it was something to do with the protocol. Has that been an issue for the shared island unit and how would the unit categorise its engagement with communities that traditionally would not have been particularly open to the type of work and conversation it is trying to have?

Ms Aingeal O’Donoghue

I was wondering why Ms Hanna was wearing a mask. I did not realise she was in the airport. On the point she raised at the end about our level of engagement and traction in some of the communities, there is no doubt that the last year has made that more difficult. As she knows even better than me, it is difficult for us to have a conversation in Northern Ireland at present where the protocol is not the first part of that conversation. It creates challenges and obstacles in those communities to engage with us. It has been a more challenging backdrop than we had hoped. As I said previously, we have engagement across the community in Northern Ireland in the dialogues. We also have had some low-key type of conversations, but I must say that getting through to some of those communities has been, and continues to be, challenging against the backdrop of the protocol or, perhaps I should say, against the backdrop of the noise that has been created around the protocol. We will keep at it. Also, and this refers back to the point I made earlier, we are not the only show in town. We work closely with our colleagues in the Department of Foreign Affairs. The reconciliation fund has access, as do the International Fund for Ireland and the PEACE programme. We are not isolated from what others are doing. From my point of view, if some element of us is in there that is important and valuable.

As regards deprivation, that is a very important point. We are still working through that a little. The Taoiseach has spoken on a number of occasions about issues relating to deprivation and educational underachievement, but those are areas where, frankly, we would need a great deal of collaboration and collaborative working with the Northern Ireland Executive and relevant Departments. That is something that has not proved possible in some areas. Mr. Duffy might wish to speak on this because he has been more hands-on on some of the outreach and engagement.

Mr. Eoghan Duffy

On the point about deprivation and its significance, it has been a theme and a focus from the Taoiseach from the start that there is a need and scope to do more on that. That requires deep co-operation. We have started commissioning work to scope out and provide an evidence base for that discussion and that work. NESC will be publishing a report in the coming weeks on poverty and the approaches to tackling poverty in the two jurisdictions. There is a focus on educational underachievement both in the SCoTENS work that will start in the coming weeks and also from the ESRI, which is looking at educational outcomes, the way the two education systems North and South work and what differences there are in terms of educational outcomes, including for disadvantaged groups. We have started the work at that level and, hopefully, that will provide an evidence base and an impetus for deeper work on a cross-Border basis in those areas.

We will move to the Independent members and Aontú. I call Senator Black.

It is good to see the witnesses and I thank them for the work they are doing. It is great to see that they are opening it out. That is warmly welcomed.

I have a couple of questions, including a final one around a community in north Antrim I am very close to. I have touched on it before.

As the closing date for submissions for the North-South research programme is next week, can the witnesses give us an overview of the level of submissions in each of the three strands? Was there an expected number of submissions in each strand and what type of numbers have we seen in each?

Ms Aingeal O’Donoghue

There has been a high volume of applications. It is in the hundreds but I do not have a breakdown between the strands. Once we set up the programme, the running of it and the assessment of the proposals is done by the HEA with expert panels. I am not sure if they would share the information with us until the closing date, but I can check. I know from our engagement with universities and higher education institutions that we are talking about hundreds. It is a very energised sector and we see from talking to the institutions that there was untapped potential there, which researchers and academics probably realised but they had nowhere to go. I will see if we can get the information but I know overall the applications are in the hundreds.

I appreciate that. What internal criteria are being applied to ensure we achieve a balance between science, technology, engineering and mathematics, STEM, and social sciences, as well as between large and small projects?

Ms Aingeal O’Donoghue

The detailed criteria are being worked through by the HEA. We had long discussions about whether we would be prescriptive about strands, such that a certain amount would go to STEM, etc., but the considered expert view was it was better to leave this open. My understanding is that the criteria will be all around excellence.

On the second part of the question concerning large and small projects, that has a structure around it because there are three strands of applications. The idea was to ensure we preserved a certain level of funding for the smaller researcher-to-researcher projects. I will check in with my colleagues in the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science and see what level of information we can give the Senator from the HEA at this stage.

That would be helpful.

Ms Aingeal O’Donoghue

I assure the Senator that the approach the HEA will adopt is one of assessing the applications based on excellence, providing they meet the criteria, which include North-South collaboration. There will be a strong input from international experts.

I will speak on behalf of the small island community I touched on before when I spoke to Ms O'Donoghue about Rathlin Island. They would love to get a meeting and connect with the witnesses. I know they have had public and political representatives talking to the witnesses but their main aim is for the witnesses to go to Rathlin. It would be a lovely trip and they would love to meet them personally. It is hard for them to get the message across about their aim. They want to get a centre up for people from all the islands all over this island where there can be workshops and seminars on cross-Border and cross-community issues. They want to try to bring communities from other islands around Ireland to talk about how they can work together. I would love if the witnesses would consider taking a trip to Rathlin Island. That is my ask today. They would be warmly welcomed. It is their dream to get the witnesses up there.

Ms Aingeal O’Donoghue

I cannot promise to go up there because life can be busy at this end, as it can for committee members, but we are happy to meet with them. We have seen some of their thinking and this comes back to the North-South, all-island dimension so I encourage them before they come to us to think about the collaborative dimension. From what the Senator said, they seem to have done a bit more thinking. Is there a partnership they can have with another island around the coast? Something like that would be of interest to us.

I think that is it unless Mr. Duffy wants to put up his hand to go immediately to Rathlin Island. I would love to but probably not in the middle of winter. We would be happy to meet them and we can take it from there.

I thank Ms O'Donoghue. That is all I have to ask.

Ms Michelle Gildernew

It is great to see Ms O'Donoghue and Mr. Duffy. Rathlin is beautiful any time of year, as is Fermanagh and South Tyrone, so do not be put off by coming up in the wintertime. Ms O'Donoghue will have seen since Brexit happened a huge increase in the amount of North-South trade done on the island of Ireland. North-South infrastructure has been touched on. The A5 is an issue but there are other issues. I would love to see better rail and road linkages for Enniskillen and onto Sligo for example, connecting with Belfast and Dublin. North-South infrastructure, both road and rail, will be very important in the future.

Ms O'Donoghue and I have spoken before and I appreciated her coming and doing a meeting with Fermanagh and Omagh District Council. Most of the stuff talked about on education today has been on higher and further education, but we had a conversation before about post-primary education and the opportunities for children to cross the Border to get that. St. Mary's in Brollagh, west Fermanagh, has closed recently and the children have to make a horrendous journey by bus to Enniskillen. They are leaving in the dark every morning and coming home in the dark. It is unfair to drag them to Enniskillen when there is a perfectly good school in Ballyshannon and one in Bundoran that they could potentially tap into. Has any more work been done on that? Is there any possibility of research or an investigation into how those children could be better served in those Border communities? Gabhaim buíochas leis na finnéithe.

I apologise to our visitors. They probably did not notice but I had a couple of commitments in the Seanad so I was in and out of the Chamber and was not able to follow the entirety of the meeting. We had a presentation from the ESRI at the Seanad Special Select Committee on the Withdrawal of the UK from the EU earlier in the week. Ms Gildernew mentioned the exponential growth in trade, particularly North to South but South to North as well, which was referenced by the ESRI at that meeting. In the course of the presentation, ESRI representatives spoke about wanting to be involved in the shared island unit and looking to that in the broader context of their research and work. I do not ask the witnesses to veer into the realm of the political and I appreciate all the dynamics. Ms O'Donoghue referenced the noise generated around the protocol and I appreciate that is an issue but the protocol is a live, dynamic political reality as it stands, regardless of what takes place down the line. There is an obligation on all of us elected representatives, on the Government and on the arms thereof, to break through some of that noise with facts and realities and with the benefits and opportunities that come for the entirety of Ireland as a result of the protocol. In the spirit of the shared island unit, we can all share in that insulation and those protections and opportunities.

Do the witnesses foresee dedicated work being done on that? I know there have been calls in the Assembly and I have made a call in the Oireachtas for dedicated work to promote the opportunities of the protocol. I am not sure that the entire business sector, especially some of our small indigenous businesses in the North and South, are fully aware or getting the full picture, as a result of that noise, about the importance and opportunities in the protocols. It dovetails naturally with the work of the shared island unit. If the witnesses have not looked at it already, cognisant of everything that Ms O'Donoghue said in her response to Ms Hanna, I think it is time for everyone with an interest in sharing the island and the opportunities and potential that exist to cut through some of that noise. How do the witnesses envisage their role in doing that?

I support the Senator in that point. It is important.

Ms Órfhlaith Begley

I thank the witnesses for coming before the committee and for the update. It is great to have this continual, regular engagement. It is good to get an update on the shared island dialogue series and to see the impact that it is having on the ongoing discussions. Since the last time we met, there have been many discussions in our committee about a citizens' assembly. Even in my county, Tyrone, a group of Gaels have written to the Taoiseach, urging him to take the initiative to set up a citizens' assembly on the back of the ongoing conversation about Irish reunification. There is an onus on the Irish Government to step up to the mark and to ensure that responsible planning is in place should there be a referendum in the future. It would be good to get an update from the witnesses about the possibility of a citizens' assembly in the future. Perhaps it would address some of the same issues that are being discussed in the ongoing dialogue series from the shared island unit.

The A5 was mentioned earlier by Senator Currie. It is in the NDP. It is noted as a priority by the Irish Government. Not to sound like a broken record, but only €75 million is committed for that project. The witnesses said that there was nothing else that the Irish Government can do. I am of the view that the Irish Government can increase its contribution to the A5 in line with the original commitment to co-fund the A5. It would be good to get the witnesses' thoughts on that.

COP26 is on this week. There are many conversations about climate change. If any challenges or opportunities emerge from that, how would they feature in the NDP or the work of the shared island unit?

Ms Aingeal O’Donoghue

I will start with the Brexit-related question. The Government, not just politically but across relevant Departments, has been thinking on the benefits of the protocol and how we can articulate them. We have also engaged extensively with Northern Ireland businesses, encouraging them to look at and articulate the benefits. We are doing significant work in that area. My view is that if Northern Ireland businesses are articulating the benefits of the protocol, that is the optimal way to influence the politics of the protocol. In our engagement with Northern Ireland's ministers and at an official level, we make points about the benefits. Sometimes people use the phrase "the best of both worlds". I am not sure if that is helpful but the reality is that Northern Ireland has open access to the Single Market, which is what our messages focus on with regard to the trade and investment opportunities that it brings. As members know, the first thing that foreign investors typically look for is stability. There is not stability at the moment so there are potentially missed opportunities already.

Research will be done into increased levels of trade and what causes it, as well as what sectors it is in and what has driven the increase. The Central Statistics Office made the point that some of this relates to the different way of accounting for the level of trade on the island, so we need to examine the factors relating to that. Part of the idea behind commissioning the ESRI to work on services on the island was a view that there had been much focus on trade in goods and what Brexit meant for it and that we needed to look at the trade in services and what Brexit might mean for that, both to map where we are right now and what Brexit will change. Parts of that work are happening.

I take Ms Gildernew's point about the road. There is an all-Ireland strategic rail unit, which was launched by the Northern Ireland Minister, Nichola Mallon, and the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan. There is a full North-South review. Consultants have been employed for that rail review. The work began in September. The review outcome is expected to be in about a year. It is comprehensive. The original, early versions of it might just have looked at Dublin to Belfast, or Belfast to Dublin and Cork. It is now comprehensive. It addresses rail connectivity for passengers and transit.

Can I come back separately about post-primary education? There are many knotty issues to address. It can seem logical and I can see why. I will come back separately about that.

We are not looking at a citizens' assembly. This dialogue series is inclusive, as I mentioned earlier, reaching more than 1,000 people at this point. We think it is the right approach right now. As the committee knows, the shared island initiative is focused on building connectivity in every sense, including physical, between businesses, socially and between communities. Our focus is on building that now. As the Taoiseach said, this Dáil is not looking at the prospect of a Border poll. Our mandate is what we had in the programme for Government.

This is a personal comment. We are probably at a phase where being inclusive and bringing more people into the conversation is the better place to be. A citizens' assembly is a different exercise. The model we have here involves 100 people. There are other models too. This inclusive phase is where we need to be at present. I will ask Mr. Duffy to address the climate issue because much work has been done on the dialogue and in the NESC report.

I hear what Ms Begley is saying about the A5. That €75 million has been on the books as a commitment for many years because we have not been able to progress to actually doing the A5. I have said in this committee before that the shared island fund would look at a contribution to the A5 but in budgetary terms we cannot do that until the project moves on and comes closer to being shovel-ready.

I flag to the committee, not with a political decision behind me but with logic, that of course we would be interested in the A5 and would want to be supportive of it, including in funding terms, beyond what is already committed. It needs to be at a phase where we are actually looking at being able to disperse funding. Regardless of whether we put more money on the table at this point, it does not change the dynamics around planning applications and the environmental issues. I ask Mr. Duffy to say something on the climate and biodiversity.

Mr. Eoghan Duffy

I thank Ms Begley for raising that point. The simple answer is "Yes". The climate and biodiversity challenges are fundamental for the island. The Government in the South and the Executive in the North will be pursuing the major policy and investment needs that arise in this context. There is a recognition that there is a need and a scope to do that effectively and to do it together, if it is to be done in the ways it needs to be done and with the urgency required.

On 28 October, NESC published a substantive piece of research, based on extensive consultation with stakeholders North and South, that maps out where there are channels and routes to do more and to bring the two jurisdictions together on climate and biodiversity. With the benefit of that work, which was well under way, the NDP put a focus on a shared island basis on working on sustainability issues. It is quite specific in what it has identified as offering potential in the more immediate term and the medium term. Some of the specific investment priorities that were agreed on a cross-departmental basis are now in the plan. I will give the committee a sense of those priorities. They include investing in a co-ordinated roll-out of electric vehicle charging networks, focusing on exploring the potential for renewable energy and investing in renewable energy capacity on an all-island basis. There us a strong view that introducing and developing a circular economy can proceed in a much more effective way if it is done on an all-island basis where we would get the scale needed for the investment required. Similarly, there is already some good work under way on the all-island biodiversity plan. There is a commitment from the Government to invest more in all-island biodiversity initiatives and in cross-Border peatlands as biodiversity ecosystems in their own right and as carbon sinks. These are the kinds of areas in which our system has the benefit of the NESC research and the stakeholder engagement we have had so far. The Government is now setting those areas as places in which to invest. There is co-operation with the Executive alongside this. That is a very wide-ranging piece of work within a huge system and a society-wide exercise in climate and biodiversity. It is very important to do it in an efficient and joined-up way because doing it back to back will not be anywhere near as effective. That is very strong focus.

I thank Ms O’Donoghue and Mr. Duffy for attending here today.

If no other colleagues wish to come in, perhaps I could make a brief supplementary point.

It is important in the context of an earlier contribution. With the Chairman's indulgence, I will be brief. I do not like the assertion that a citizens' assembly would not be inclusive. I do not believe it has been asserted that an assembly should be put in place at the expense of the shared island unit. I appreciate that Ms O'Donoghue and Mr. Duffy must work to the political direction of the Department they are in, but people are arguing for a citizens' assembly. It is the mandate of the Seanad, for example, that there would be a citizens' assembly. It is also coming from several councils in the North and a lot of civic and community organisations as well. It is not to replace or to take away from any of the very important work that the shared island unit is engaged in. They could inform and complement one another. We have heard consistently from elected representatives that they are not aware of all of the discussions and engagements that the shared island unit is involved in. So it cannot be that inclusive just yet, although I hope it gets to the point where it will be. I would urge a wee bit of reflection on remarks such as that.

On my own point on the issue of the protocol, perhaps Ms O'Donoghue could come back to me separately off the back of this meeting on whether there is a public engagement strategy or plan around what the shared island unit is doing. There is the issue of the protocol but there are also issues such as the EU digital Covid certificate, access to Erasmus and access to other entitlements and services that the Government announced. These are very welcome and important and are appreciated, but nobody knows about them or how to avail of them. Where does that responsibility fall? I believe that the logical vehicle would be through the shared island unit. In campaigning for a passport office, for example, or around the issue of the digital Covid certificate, I have unfortunately become the passport office for the North. We need a dedicated strategy on that. If we are to retain rights and entitlements for people, this is very good and very welcome, but we need to go beyond the public announcements and say how it is going to be done. I appreciate that the unit is engaging with certain businesses in certain sectors and telling them of issues around the protocol, but there needs to be a broader PR exercise and strategy around what are very welcome and very positive steps. Certainly, it is not always my position in my role in the Seanad to commend the Government, but I will encourage these initiatives. I will welcome them and I will advocate for them but neither I nor individual members of the Oireachtas have the capacity to publicise them. An all-of-government approach is needed to convey those welcome steps. I thank the Chairman for his indulgence.

Before I bring the witnesses in, and I understand Deputy Smith has a final contribution to make as well, I want to make the point that our witnesses are civil servants and-----

I absolutely appreciate that.

It is important to note this. I support absolutely everything they are doing, as the Senator does. The political issue is a separate issue. In fairness to our witnesses, it is not their domain. It is ours and it is mine. On that very point, if the Senator wishes to ask a Minister or the Taoiseach to come to this committee, let us have them in here. In fairness to Ms O'Donoghue and to Mr. Duffy, it is reasonable that we should absolutely support everything they are doing. We should articulate any additional issues we have when we bring the politicians in to answer on the spot. I do not know if this is fair to Ms O'Donoghue or not, but I hope it is.

In response to the Chairman's initial comments, Ms O'Donoghue mentioned that the shared island unit is anxious to broaden its scope with regard to inviting views and so on. I welcome that. I go back to the huge corporate knowledge, expertise and experience that is in our local authorities at elected level and at official level. They dealt with cross-Border developments at a time when there were none, and at a time of very difficult political circumstances. Often they did this with very scarce resources and they drove forward projects for the benefit of communities North and South. There are other groups also. The local enterprise offices, the LEADER programmes and the different partnerships in each county have all been working away quietly and maybe not highlighting enough of the work they do in engaging with communities in counties north of the Border. If the shared island unit is to broaden the canvas in seeking more public opinion on its work, it should go directly to people who have a particular expertise across society and across the different sectors. That expertise is there. They have lived it through difficult times and bad times. Many of them would have good ideas that they have tried to progress over the years unsuccessfully. For what it is worth, I would be very anxious that the knowledge, experience and expertise of those particular groups is used, and particularly that elected people of all shades of political opinion at local level are involved and perhaps given the opportunity to speak directly to the shared island unit.

I call Ms O'Donoghue for a final summation.

Ms Aingeal O’Donoghue

I thank everyone for their engagement and their encouragement. There were a few very specific points and an important broader point about how we build the engagement between the shared island unit and the committee, which we take away from this. I thank the Chairman for his point on the politics of the role of officials. I assure Senator Ó Donnghaile that I did not mean the citizens' assembly was not inclusive. When I was thinking of the citizens' dialogue it was more the span, the number, the range and the scope of the engagement.

Obviously, the citizens' dialogue itself as currently constructed is very carefully managed around inclusivity in terms of how the participants are chosen. I was not intending to suggest that at all.

There is quite a lot here. What is encouraging for us is the extent to which the themes we are pursuing and see coming through from our engagement are also the themes that the committee is talking to us about, including the role of local authorities, which is a particularly clear one, the role of higher education institutions across the island, enterprise opportunity, climate opportunities and issues around deprivation, and deeper engagement from ourselves. We do not have all the answers. Going back to Deputy Smith's point about the depth of knowledge that is out there, we work very carefully with, for example, colleagues in the Department of Foreign Affairs and then equally with others who have a long history of engagement in these issues. We certainly do not claim to have all the answers, and therefore this engagement is really important for us. We take it very seriously and take away all the points made to us. I thank members very much.

I thank Ms O'Donoghue and Mr. Duffy. I remind members that on Wednesday, 10 November at 9.30 a.m. we are meeting the House of Lords committee digitally. Members of the Oireachtas must be in the House in order to participate.

The joint committee adjourned at 3.11 p.m. until 9.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 10 November 2021.