North – South Cooperation today and tomorrow

I blogged recently on O’Conall St about the lessons from NAMA and An Bord Snip for North – South Cooperation.

My basic argument was that over the past fives year public discourse about North – South issues has become a little stale. This was a necessary part of building DUP confidence in all island cooperation and reinforcing the message that working together does not in any way dilute unionism.

But now that we have stable institutions in NI and the DUP are happily cooperating under the auspices of the North South Ministerial Council surely it is time to get back talking at stakeholder level, identifying and discussing the practical issues and needs which are common to people across Ireland. If we don’t there is every possibility decisions will be (accidentally) taken by those in power in Dublin and Belfast which will negatively impact on the other jurisdiction.

Take NAMA and An Bord Snip.

NAMA has big implications for the North and more particularly for the City of Belfast. Should a fire sale of toxic assets outside the Irish state ensue, many believe it could trigger a major crisis in the northern capital’s property market.


Because so much of the funding for the new developments in Belfast over the past decade came from Dublin banks and now is part of the toxic debt they new ‘bad ban’ will be looking to offload. Yet until the matter was raised at a Plenary meeting of the North – South Ministerial Council last month, nobody had seen the potential problem.

An Bord Snip is another example. Even the most cursory glance at yesterday’s report raises many questions for Northern Ireland.

– How will it impact on North – South bodies?
– What will be the impact for Tourism or Trade Development?
– We have an embryonic all island energy market. Will this be affected?
– Will transport cuts affect North-South services?

Never mind education and science which has a huge all island dimension – has an Bord Snip accidentally affected off the prospects for a new a highly profitable area for both jurisdictions?

Truth is we probably don’t know the answer to many of these questions because there was little or no all island discussion during their formulation. Government must shoulder some of the blame for this as should MLAS who you would have thought might have been keeping a very close eye on what was going on in the corridors of power south of the border. But there is no escaping the fact that all of us out here in the real world who do business across the border need to reengage in public debate about big issues which affect the island as a whole.

Today it is an Bord Snip in the South but next year it could well be a similar crisis in the North following a UK wide public spending purge.

  • How will it impact on North South bodies? Good question. Will it mean, for instance, that the Language Body will be obliged to publish accounts for the period 2005-8 during which the Ulsters Scots Agency and Foras na Gaeilge received €80m between them and have yet to tell us how they spent it?

  • jone

    Yes, the accounts of the language bodies are key to the future economic well-being of this island.

    *rolls eyes*

  • DC

    Does the Irish gov not support financially those NS bodies on an unequal 70:30 basis in terms of secretariat and admin etc?

  • Gee Jone, how humorous and wittily sardonic of you to ‘roll eyes’ at my remark. You must be a real hoot.

    I don’t pretend for a moment that the publication of these accounts will save us from economic ruin but I do question that the Language Body appears to be exempt from public accountability either north or south. It’s also exempt from FOI legislation. This non accountability is a recipe for disaster, imho,

  • jone

    I found it striking that Conall should raise a series of big issues, both economic and political, and yet the first response is straight onto some tedious provincial issue which, in light of the economic firestorm we’re living through, is of vanishingly tiny importance.

  • The issue isn’t the Language Body, of course, but accountability of public bodies for the expenditure of public monies which may be of ‘vanishingly tiny importance’ (whatever that means in plain English) or some ‘tedious provincial issue’ to you, but is central to the debate in my public opinion.
    Besides which €80m isn’t a ‘tiny’ sum of money….

  • fair_deal

    “raises many questions for Northern Ireland.”
    “- What will be the impact for Tourism or Trade Development?”

    Sayings as Tourism Ireland has consistently failed to deliver for NI a reduction in its budget won’t have much impact.

  • Besides which €80m isn’t a ‘tiny’ sum of money….but, without published accounts to prove the contrary, it could be said to have vanished!

  • David

    The big thing that recent events show is that North-South bodies are an irrelevance at best and an unnecessary and unaccountable waste of taxpayers money at worst.

    When John Hume advocated the Council of Ireland back in 1973 based on the European Commission model it had a strong potential to be a united Ireland in embryo. Today, with both parts of Ireland being part of the EU and most north south harmonisation having been done already by the real European Commission, the North South body is a strange anachronism; a 1970s solution to a 21st century problem.

    I suppose it is a testimony to the staleness of NI politics that nationalists advocated this sort of thing so ardently and unionists opposed them so resolutely for all those years not realising that the world around has changed.

    The sort of institutional north-south harmonisation which north-southery was aimed at is largely an irrelevance. The main issues that bother both parts of the island are ad hoc, not institutional. There is plenty of room for more co-operation, but new institutional structures are more likely to lead to north-south disagreements than to harmonization.

  • David

    I agree that there is plenty of room for more cooperation but disagree that North – South Bodies have been a failure. Ask anyone in tourism North or South and they will tell you Tourism Ireland has made a big contribution. This view was corraborated by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee during a formal inquiry last year.

    There is a need to continue working the institutional links whilst also encouraging greater cooperation and civic and economic level across the island.

  • Glencoppagagh

    “Should a fire sale of toxic assets outside the Irish state ensue, many believe it could trigger a major crisis in the northern capital’s property market”

    Have you any evidence that loans secured against property in NI are actually ‘toxic’ and, if they are, to what extent?
    Incidentally, I wish people would stop using the term “toxic” which was originally applied to traded complex financial instruments whose risk was largely obscured from buyers.In the Irish context we’re talking about bog-standard loans which have gone bad. There’s nothing novel about them apart from the scale of defaults.

  • “Tourism Ireland has made a big contribution”

    The report paints a rather mixed picture about TI’s role:

    There is a lack of clarity in the different roles carried out by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, Tourism Ireland and the Regional Tourism Partnerships

    A bureaucratic and complex picture of the division of responsibilities emerged clearly from the evidence of what is the existing accountability framework for the oversight of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) and Tourism Ireland.

    We are concerned by the discontent expressed by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) over Tourism Ireland’s approach to marketing Northern Ireland in Great Britain.

    .. it is essential that Tourism Ireland refines its marketing strategy with a view to ensuring that Northern Ireland is given greater emphasis in its marketing campaigns. We urge Tourism Ireland to continue its discussions with the NITB with the aim of introducing a separate, Northern Ireland specific marketing campaign.

  • Nevin

    I think you will find these concerns have been met to both organisations satisfaction.


    The property boom in NI took place over a shorter period of time and year on year price inflation during that period was greater then in the Republic. So the bubble is steeper. This means the bad debt will be immature and greater then in other parts of the island.

    I used toxic beacuse it is the term in currency but take your point.


  • fair_deal


    “Ask anyone in tourism North or South and they will tell you Tourism Ireland has made a big contribution.”

    Where do you think I heard the criticism from? The failure to deliver has been recognised by TI in internal reviews. NI is contributing 25% of the cost but not getting 25% of the return.

  • Coll Ciotach

    I believe that only good will come out of closer north south links. There is no need to have a separate civil service here.

    In fact the operation of dual civil service systems here is just a waste of money, the entire place could be better served from Dublin and end this unnecessary wastefulness.

    However once FF get started in the occupied territory it all becomes a moot point as Stormont rule will be de facto Dublin rule anyway.

  • “NI is contributing 25% of the cost but not getting 25% of the return.”

    How can it be demonstrated that there is a direct link between the marketing of Tourism Ireland and the share of the tourism market between the two jurisdictions? What percentage of our visitors use the TI website or book through its ancillaries?

    The TI Discover Ireland website is far from user friendly or comprehensive.

    For example, friends who fly here from Birmingham, Eng, are offered a list of airports not a list of destinations. Just recently they flew into City of Derry airport but this one isn’t listed when you select Birmingham as a departure point [Belfast, Belfast International, Dublin, Shannon, Waterford].

    Friends who travel here from Seattle, WA, USA, are not offered a point of departure and if they select ANY they’re only offered Belfast International with departures from Newark and Orlando – or Dublin and Shannon. How useless is that? They mostly come through London.

    Lots of visitors travel through the UK and Ireland so it would probably be more useful to have a shared marketing arrangement ie put the needs of the visitors first.

  • Interesting, I was also thinking about the future of North – South co-operation, but in a wider sense than other commentators. It seems to me that if you acknowledge the lack of concern for the North which most citizens of the Republic have, take into account their economic situation, and then add the cuts that we’ll be facing in the North once Cameron is elected next year (which I think will lead to the suspension of the Assembly again because they won’t be able to agree on a budget i.e. what to cut), then North – South co-operation is very vulnerable, GFA notwithstanding.