Half a billion euro is to be allocated over the next five years to the Government’s “shared island” initiative which is intended to support cross-Border co-operation, joint infrastructure projects and all-Ireland education, health, tourism and climate action projects.
The “Shared Island” unit has been established in the Department of the Taoiseach by Micheál Martin, with a senior official appointed to head up the group.
It has been criticised by Sinn Féin, which instead wants preparations for a border poll which it hopes would usher in a united Ireland. However, Mr Martin has rebuffed the party’s demands and said he wishes to build co-operation and better relations with the Stormont administration and promote cross-Border co-operation rather than pushing the constitutional question.
On Tuesday, Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath announced he would set aside €500 million in funding for the shared island initiative over five years.
Later, in a statement, Mr Martin said: “The Shared Island Fund will foster new investment and development opportunities on a North-South basis and support the delivery of key cross-Border infrastructure initiatives set out in the programme for government.
“It also opens the way for investing in new all-island initiatives in areas such as research, health, education and the environment, in addressing the particular challenges of the northwest and Border communities, achieving greater connectivity on the island and enhancing the all-island economy and all aspects of North-South co-operation.”
An accompanying note from officials said the money would be allocated to Government departments and agencies to fund a variety of cross-Border projects, in line with commitments in the programme for government.
These include “key cross-Border infrastructure initiatives, including the A5, the Ulster Canal connection from Clones to Upper Lough Erne, the Narrow Water bridge, and cross-Border greenways, in particular the Sligo-Enniskillen greenway (subject to feasibility).”
It would also be available for “investment and development opportunities in the northwest and Border communities, including third-level opportunities for young people from across the region at University of Ulster Magee Campus in Derry,” the note said.
Other potential projects include “a North-South programme of research and innovation, including an all-island research hub, through Universities Ireland”; North-South health links and an “all-island strategy to tackle climate breakdown and the biodiversity crisis”.
Budget documentation shows a €50 million allocation for next year for the fund. Officials said the remainder of the funding would be provided for in a revised National Development Plan.