Cross-Border institutions may be set up this week

 

A Considerable boost is expected to be given to co-operation between the North and the Republic later this week with the expected establishment of the various cross-Border institutions provided for in the Belfast Agreement.

When it was signed on Good Friday 1998 the agreement set down numerous areas for cross-Border co-operation. The administrations in Dublin and Stormont were required to undertake a work programme covering at least 12 subject areas "where co-operation and implementation for mutual benefit will take place".

These areas included agriculture; education; transport; environmental protections; water ways; social security; tourism; relevant EU programmes; inland fisheries; aquaculture and marine; health and urban and rural development.

Last February the Northern Ireland Assembly accepted a recommendation from First Minister, Mr David Trimble and the deputy first minister, Mr Seamus Mallon, for six agreed areas for implementation bodies and six areas of co-operation.

The six new implementation bodies are: trade and business development; inland waterways; aquaculture and marine matters; special EU programmes; food safety and language (Irish and Ulster Scots). The six areas agreed for co-operation through existing bodies on both sides of the Border are: agriculture; tourism; transport; education; environment and health.

According to the Belfast Agreement, the implementation bodies will implement "on an all-island and cross-Border basis policies agreed" by the North-South ministerial council.

Irish and British government officials have in recent months undertaken a considerable amount of work in laying the ground for the establishment of the implementation bodies.

Each body will have a chief executive officer - three to be decided by Dublin and three by the new administration at Stormont. However, official sources in Dublin stress each side will have to agree with the other's nominees.

It is believed Dublin will determine the chairs of the inland waterways, food safety and language. The heads of the trade and business development; aquaculture and marine matters and language will be decided in Stormont.

The two governments are believed to be keen to have the implementation bodies running as early as possible. It is expected that interim chief executives could be appointed as early as the middle of next month, with the positions being advertised on a permanent basis in the new year.

The implementation bodies will be asked to concentrate on the promotion of increased cross-Border economic development. Particular emphasis will be pla ced on the trade and business development body, which will exchange information and co-ordinate work.

This body is expected to work in close collaboration with existing agencies on both sides of the Border. One of its first tasks will be to devise a strategy for increased enterprise competitiveness in a North-South context.

The implementation body for inland waterways will focus initially on the marketing and development of the tourism and commercial potential of the Shannon-Erne waterway.

The scope of this body, to be called Waterways Ireland, will be expanded from April 2000 to include all of the navigable waterways on the island. The body will undertake an assessment of the possible restoration and development of the Ulster canal.

The special EU programmes body will have responsibility for the administration of the new Peace Programme, INTERREG III along with the cross-Border elements of other EU initiatives such as LEADER.

Cross-Border co-operation will not end with the implementation bodies. The six areas for co-operation will see the administrations in Dublin and Stormont working closely on many policy areas. In the agriculture area, emphasis will be on animal and plant health.

Teacher qualifications and student/staff exchanges will be discussed in the education area. The entitlements of cross-Border workers and the elimination of fraud will be examined by social security agencies.

The North-South ministerial council will also have the authority to consider other areas as they arise. In a recent policy document the SDLP argued for greater cross-Border policy co-operation in areas such as energy and the transport.

Beyond the enhanced policy links on the island with the full implementation of the Belfast Agreement, members of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Oireachtas are expected to develop a joint parliamentary forum.