UK to protect 156 cross-Border co-operation schemes after Brexit

Agreement includes political, economic, security, societal and agricultural matters

Britain’s prime minister Theresa May: came under pressure to reveal list of North-South bodies to be protected. Photograph: Rebecca Naden

Britain’s prime minister Theresa May: came under pressure to reveal list of North-South bodies to be protected. Photograph: Rebecca Naden

 

A total of 156 North-South co-operation programmes, listed publicly on Friday night for the first time, will be safeguarded by the UK after Brexit under commitments it makes in the withdrawal agreement.

These include 27 agricultural programmes, from working groups on plant health and quarantine pests, to equines, invasive alien species, farm safety and agricultural education.

There are 19 environmental groups involving water pollution, wildfire management and radiation among other functions. Eighteen transport programmes include the Enterprise rail service from Belfast to Dublin and the old-age free transport scheme.

They include strategic planning for the national road and rail networks, and work on cross-Border bus services. There are 22 health programmes, two tourism schemes and 11 in education.

Justice programmes include criminal justice co-operation and work on terrorism threats, multi-agency co-operation on fuel fraud and on organised crime and drugs.

Among the more obscure smaller programmes included is assistance to the annual migration of Lough Neagh’s eels, transhipped across the Border en route to the Sargasso Sea.

The full list is set out in detail in a paper published by the British authorities on Friday night for its parliamentary Brexit committee.

Mapping exercise

The list reflects an extensive “mapping” exercise conducted by the EU and UK in their talks on the Northern Ireland protocol to assess the full and varied range of North-South co-operation.

Much arose from the Belfast Agreement which provided for six areas of common policy – agriculture, education, environment, health, tourism and transport – which are managed separately North and South.

In six other areas – inland waterways, food safety, trade and business development, special EU programmes, language, and aquaculture and marine matters – all-Ireland implementation bodies oversee the work.

The document makes clear there is no question of Westminster imposing any additional measures not approved by the executive.

“Arrangements for North-South co-operation remain a matter for the Northern Ireland Executive and the Government of Ireland to determine,” it states.

There had been repeated requests from journalists and politicians for sight of the list and the mounting parliamentary pressure on Theresa May’s government may have forced its hand at this stage.

Irish diplomatic sources say the list reflects fully the content of the joint mapping exercise and of Irish concerns.

The implementing bodies are also listed for protection – the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission (Loughs Agency); the food safety promotion board (SafeFood); Waterways Ireland; the North-South language body (the Ulster Scots Agency and Fóras na Gaeilge); and the trade and business development body (InterTradeIreland).

Healthcare providers

In the field of healthcare one of the more elaborate programmes is the All Island Congenital Heart Disease Network, which facilitates collaboration between healthcare providers in both jurisdictions to ensure that vulnerable children receive treatment on the island of Ireland. The network has a single surgical centre in Dublin and a specialist children’s cardiology centre in Belfast.

The management of a single electricity market and extensive higher education co-operation ranging from staff movement to research are also listed.

While in telecommunications there is a joint approach to Irish language broadcasting, mobile roaming, and the maintenance of sub-sea cables.

The Northern Ireland protocol of the withdrawal agreement commits the UK “to protecting and supporting continued North-South and east-west co-operation across the full range of political, economic, security, societal and agricultural contexts and frameworks of co-operation, including the continued operation of the North-South implementation bodies.”

It “sets out arrangements necessary to address the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland, maintain the necessary conditions for continued North-South co-operation, avoid a hard border and protect the 1998 agreement in all its dimensions”.

The full report can be found here.

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