Any good new ideas for cross-border cooperation?

Every two or three years the Centre for Cross Border Studies comes close to running out of money. The begrudgers on the Slugger O’Toole website may not believe it, but a small ‘stand alone’ research and development centre in an innovative but untrendy area like cross-border cooperation is always between 6 and 36 months from closing down.

I’m not complaining about this – only stating it as a fact of life. If I were a government department or an EU funding agency or a national lottery, I might prefer to give ‘core funding’  (i.e. funding to cover wages and essential overheads) to organisations working with poor people or sick people or deprived children or environmental improvement, rather than to a university-associated research centre like ours. So I am profoundly grateful to the Special EU Programmes Body over the past 12 years which – through its PEACE and INTERREG programmes – has deemed our work useful enough in the cause of cooperation and reconciliation in Ireland to keep funding the project ideas we regularly submit to it (and also to the Irish Department of Education and Skills for its grants).

I believe that’s one of the keys to our sustainability: good ideas, well carried out. Maybe it’s time to blow our trumpet a little. For the Centre has a fair number of ‘firsts’ and ‘bests’ to its name: the first North-South training course for civil servants; the first all-Ireland network of people involved in teacher education (SCoTENS), described by senior civil servants as the best such network to be set up since the Belfast  Agreement; the first information website for people crossing the border to live and work (Border People); the first major ‘off the island’ initiative involving the nine universities (the Irish-African Partnership, which the Centre, through Universities Ireland, initiated and helps to manage); the first North-South scholarship scheme for postgraduate students; the first in-depth study of how to regenerate the Border Region economy; the first impact assessment toolkit for cross-border cooperation (the first in Europe); the first time the government departments in charge of higher education in the two Irish jurisdictions have come together in a conference series (initiated and managed by the Centre); and the first cross-border and all-island research projects in a whole range of areas, from telecom technologies to mental health, from adult education to local sustainable development, from local government to services to minority ethnic groups.

We’re about 12-15 months away from running out of money at the moment, and times are hard everywhere. So it’s time for some more good new ideas to help us draw down funding for the years ahead. We are discussing our own ideas in the ‘corridors of creativity’ in Armagh. Cross-border energy efficiency, cross-border healthy tourism and cross border reconciliation through sport in education are among the areas we are exploring with potential partners.

At a meeting last December of the North-South Research Forum (another of the Centre’s ideas) to discuss the topical theme – ‘The future of cross-border public sector cooperation in a difficult financial climate’ – I put forward the following ‘value for money’ ideas for how public servants North and South might cooperate to their mutual benefit in the financially daunting period now facing the island:

  1. They should look at how the two jurisdictions might work more closely together on obvious areas of environmental common interest: for example, by moving actively to implement the agreed management plans for the three cross-border river basins designated under the EU Water Directive.
  2. Given the need to rationalise higher education institutions, they should give serious consideration to bringing Letterkenny Institute of Technology and University of Ulster into a multi-campus university to serve the whole north-west (as those two institutions themselves were doing in a 2008 study to examine enhanced collaboration).
  3. They should take one or two ideas from the unpublished joint feasibility study between the two Departments of Health and act on them: e.g. given the Republic’s poor facilities for the treatment of cystic fibrosis (a condition where Ireland has the highest incidence in the world), and the better facilities in the North and Britain, this could be an obvious area of cooperation.
  4. They should start working on a long-term plan to upgrade the Belfast-Dublin rail service. Of course nothing will happen this side of a recovery from the recession, but the example of the new 250 mph London-Birmingham line, which was unveiled last year but on which construction will not begin until 2017, should be noted.
  5. Border region local authorities should be encouraged to start working more closely together. The level of local government cooperation until now has been low, but Newry and Louth showed the way in Brussels recently when they signed a Memorandum of Understanding to work together in areas such as tourism, renewable energy and emergency planning.

These are some new ideas that the Centre has suggested to government. If any of our readers have good ideas about projects the Centre for Cross Border Studies itself might undertake over the next three-five years (on our own or in partnership with others), I would be very grateful to hear them. With the all-encompassing Irish, British and international financial crisis monopolising everybody’s thinking these days, we can sometimes feel a bit isolated and ‘out of the mainstream’ in our peacebuilding through cooperation work here in Armagh.  Feedback from our friends and supporters is always hugely appreciated.

Andy Pollak

  • Cynic2

    A joint investigation into the actions of certain bank leaders and financiers

  • The fact that you are looking for new ideas highlights a problem. Can anybody think of anything that might improve cross – border co-operation over and above what can reasonably be expected to be achieved without a body there to promote and oversee it?

    My wife is a college lecturer in a Further Education college. Many of her students are adults. She continuously devises and promotes projects involving partnerships in other states – France, Germany, Spain, Italy to name but a few. However, she does not need a body like yours to set up such projects. Perhaps you can enlighten me on what your organisation has to offer in the field of corss border adult education?

    Furthemore, would your case not be much stronger if you were able to produce figures showing direct financial benefit to the citizens on either side of the border?

    You may have unwittingly argued the case for giving your organisation the axe.

  • Are you restricted to strand 2 issues, or does your remit cover strand 3?

  • nightrider

    I’m reminded of this:

    ‘corridors of creativity’ could have come from any Dilbert strip.

    Rationalisation of Further and Higher Education has always ended up in a swamp because bureacracy trumps innovative thinking all the time.

  • Drumlins Rock

    without strand 3 involvement it is always 2 dimensional, as communications and travel improve closer ingegration East West is as , if not more important than North South.

  • Mick Fealty

    Any ideas? Thought this was interesting given funding model for Altnagelvin:

    “Border region local authorities should be encouraged to start working more closely together. The level of local government cooperation until now has been low, but Newry and Louth showed the way in Brussels recently when they signed a Memorandum of Understanding to work together in areas such as tourism, renewable energy and emergency planning.”

  • A single UK/Ireland market in communications would be of huge benefit. For example, a common licensing system for mobile phone operators would bring an end to roaming charges by ending the bureaucratic distinctions between UK and IE operations of the same companies. Why should I have to change my mobile number just because I move across the border? And a single market for telephony services would be a jobs boost, particularly for the (in)famously articulate Irish.

    You could also do worse than commission a study into how much of a boost our tourism sector would gain if the UK and Ireland joined Schengen.

  • Republic of Connaught

    Good North South co-operation?

    I’d like county Fermanagh to come under the Republic’s jurisdiction immediately. The way poor Donegal people are boxed in by those crazy northerners just ain’t right. 🙂

  • Cynic2

    Republic of Connaught.

    Personally speaking you are welcome to it on condition that you take Tom Elliott with it

  • Republic of Connaught


    Fair enough, Mr Elliot is a good oul culchie so he’ll be grand in the Dail.

  • Mick,

    Great to hear that but it still doesn’t answer the question, is this body now surplus to requirements?

    Why cant other local authorities e.g Fermanagh/Cavan replicate what Louth/Newry did without the Centre for Cross Border studies?

    The other thing I should have mentioned is that there is already much work going on at European Level to promote cross – border co-operation !!!

  • lamhdearg

    Here’s an idea, wrap if up today and put the money saved into a cancer care centre in stroke city, and then people from across the border can us it.

  • Unless one is afflicted with a severe dose of prejudice, the border hardly exists. And I recall having one’s spare underwear revealed to hoi polloi at Goraghwood, and potentially taxed at Amiens Street.

    Ah, says smartarse over there: what about the Euro/Sterling thing? Well, let me tell you, sunshine, I bought my End of Empire hat in Belleek, County Fermanagh. And the price was first named in Euros.

    So, (pending further revelations here, or elsewhere) I’m siding with Seymour Major @ 8:00 pm.

  • lamhdearg

    Better the people of Donegal join with their Ulster kith and kin, then they would not feel cut off.

  • lamhdearg

    Did you pay Eire price for your hat. big windows in Belleek.

  • lamhdearg @ 8:23 pm:

    My [UK] credit card charges a fee for non-£ transactions, and my loose sterling was “with the drink taken” at the Carlton. Yes, yes; I’d have been better at the Fiddlestone.

    Soooo … the headware transaction was at £1 = €1.16. Which is about fair (actually about 2/3p in my favour).

    In passing:

    The Lady in my Life tells me the Belleek china show-room (back right corner) features royal wedding souvenirs. Ought not “a visit from the boys” be sponsored,on a cross-border basis, and strictly in the interests of good taste?

  • Republic of Connaught


    Sounds like a good idea. Why not Donegal, Monaghan and Cavan come under the all Ulster jurisdiction of Stormont? An autonomous Ulster in a united Ireland could be the engine of the nation.

  • lamhdearg

    Replace the word Ireland, with Kingdom, and we have a deal, five autonomous nations working for the good of each other.

  • Republic of Connaught

    Lamh Dearg.

    Indeed, Let’s half an all-Ireland referendum then to see whether it’ll be a united Ireland or united Kingdom for this island. Let the people of our island decide and I’ll stand by their vote! Will you?

  • Turgon

    Republic of Connaught
    “Let the people of our island decide”
    April fool’s day is tomorrow. This is the same sort of idiocy which led a Scots nat to tell me once that there should be a united Ireland because it was one island. She seemed so pleased with this idea until I asked her where the sea between Scotland and England was.

    On a more sensible note if Andy Pollak was interested in real and useful ideas Andy Gallagher’s is the most sensible I have seen in a while. Why not have a single mobile telephone market for all the British isles: it would save everyone (except the phone companies) a significant amount of money; would stop those irritating text messages you keep getting when near the border and since the companies are the same on both sides of the border would be logical.

    Somehow, however, I feel that Mr. Pollak is not as interested in such all British Isles integration as he would be in some unnecessary and irrelevant North Southery.

  • lamhdearg

    Half or have/ latter, lets not.
    if Eire wanted to have a ref on the subject, by all means.
    A new Ulster (including donegal) could have some sort of mish mash, a bit like dual sovereignty.
    Anywho I/we are going a bit of subject, and i do not wish to fall foul of Micks born again red and black flags.

  • Republic of Connaught


    Comparing Northern Ireland with Scotland is patent idiocy. Scots people don’t call themselves English nor do they want unification with England. Scotland is not Northern England.

    And if you can’t let the people of Ireland decide, at least the all the people of Ulster decide. But of course that can’t happen either, because Ulster is a majority Nationalist province, just like Ireland’s other three provinces are nationalist. Hence the partition of Ulster and the invention of the wee 6.

  • Reader

    RoC: Comparing Northern Ireland with Scotland is patent idiocy. Scots people don’t call themselves English nor do they want unification with England.
    Some of them call themselves British, and enough of the others would still vote to keep the Union. And England isn’t the name of that island anyway.
    RoC: …at least the all the people of Ulster decide.
    Why should any political decision be based on the boundaries of your GAA provinces?

  • Mack

    @Turgon & Andrew Gallagher

    There are probably other areas as well – I think it’s most attractive in terms of more integrated markets –

    e.g. –

    Some level of coordination in television distribution (i.e some scheme for making local television available across both islands – given that people migrate quite a bit). The internet could be the primary medium here.

    Coordination of supports for sports. The only way an Irish (or even Scottish) team will win the champions league is if they can access larger television revenues (i.e. they need a larger market). Maybe not a high priority, but it works well in Rugby and helps boost morale.

    Support for cross-border banking. Especially in this day and age, it might be nice if it were simple to open a sterling account with a British bank (and perhaps have it taxed automatically via Irish DIRT etc). Saving the Irish banks would actually be much less important if there were British and / or other European banks in place capable of serving the market (Ulster Bank not withstanding).

    Common online directories to make cross-border business and communications for families simpler.

    An investigation into impediments into the creation of single-market or All-island economy. E.g. the impact of Vehicle Registration Tax in the south.

    Greater co-operation on the creation of standards and other areas of mutual concern (the whole point of a standard is inter-operability, so either country or region there of going it’s own way is sub-optimal). Why are Ireland and the UK operating two different digital tv standards? Should daylight savings be abolished? etc.

  • Mack,

    I wanted to mention TV above but didn’t have time to go into the details. The different digital TV standards are a joke (just like the different road signs, telephone sockets…). Yet another example of being different for the sake of it.

    And yes, daylight savings should be abolished. The Russians are giving it up due to recent research showing increased health problems:

    re: banking etc. – the European single market in services is still not functioning, due to resistance from certain countries. The UK and Ireland (and other like-minded governments) should lead the way by fully implementing a services single market between themselves. The technique of the avant garde has been well practised by France and Germany – maybe it’s about time others had a go.

  • Mack

    Yet another example of being different for the sake of it.

    I would take some slight issue with that statement. I don’t think the UK are being deliberately obtuse in not following our lead, it’s just there are different people / departments making the decisions there and perhaps they are unaware of what their Irish collegues are thinking, or even who their Irish collegues are and the benefits of consulting with them.

    And vice versa, of course.

  • Mack,

    That explanation only holds water when decisions are being made simultaneously. There’s no excuse for not being aware of other people’s decisions when they were made decades ago. Digital terrestrial TV was launched in the UK in 1998. A deliberate decision was made by the Irish government not to use the existing standard.

  • Mack

    I don’t that is true Andrew. Decisions are always made ‘simultaneously’ as the decision to delay making a choice until more information is available, is also a decision if you get me.

    As is the decision not to migrate to a new platform, if a better choice is available later on.

    Unless people are discussing these matters they are going to be completely unaware of any issues the other has. Simply forcing one group to blindly follow the decisions of another, when their circumstances (including all previous standards adopted, which may be incompatible, licencing deals / fees to be paid, technical know-how, supplier relationships etc) is a recipe for disaster and / or political unpopularity.

    At the other extreme design by comittee or over-analysis cause big problems (and delays) but they’ve got to be talking and see each other as equal partners. Otherwise they’ll wind up doing their own thing in many areas (perhaps except those were some other supra-national framework or global corporations force their hand)…

  • Mack

    It does look like the best-practises around the adoption of (hopefully international) standards is a good area for research / further development.

  • Republic of Connaught


    The only viable comparison between Northern Ireland and Scotland would be if Scotland itself was partitioned into two jurisdictions: the Republic of Scotland and Northern Scotland. Considering that isn’t the case, any comparison with Scotland is simplistic in the extreme. Ireland is one country divided, just like Germany was one country divided. England and Scotland are not one country divided. They’re two different countries under one agreed political jurisdiction.

    As for your GAA province nonsense: no agreement was ever signed in 1921 or 1998 that declared Donegal, Monaghan and Cavan ceased to be Ulster counties. That’s for all the people of the 9 counties of Ulster to decide. Not a dictatorial minority in the province.

  • lamhdearg

    the nine county Ulster you claim is the right one was an English design, are you ok with that?. Ulster v Connacht 22th april ?.

  • Provocative language #94:

    Here’s a curious one, surely relevant to this thread, located deep in Simon Carswell’s analysis of the latest instalment of the Great Irish Banking Saga:

    Where once there were six banks, there will soon be two – Bank of Ireland and AIB – in an attempt to create two strong financial institutions and restore confidence in Irish banking…

    The Government will rely on the foreign-owned lenders, most notably Ulster Bank, to become a natural “third force” to keep the two main banks honest in competitive terms. [my emphases]

    Well, strictly true: Ulster Bank is a subsidiary of the Royal bank of Scotland, which is 84% owned by the British Treasury.

  • Rory Carr

    In scanning Malcolm’s latest offering above I first read it as, “…in Simon Cowell’s analysis of the latest instalment of the Great Irish Banking Saga” and immediately thought, “Good God! Old Redfellow’s been at the sherry again.”

  • ItwasSammyMcNally


    Has any research been done on the attitudes and numbers of Protestants in border areas, on the southern side of the border and in particular their allegiances both cultural and political – I have some admittedly anecdotal evidence that rural border Protestants have perhaps to keep their heads down when it comes to 12th etc?

    In relation to ideas which might attract funding, a number of industries were obviously adversely impacted by the border (some like smuggling obviously benefited) and it would be an interesting project to record the detail and in some instances mark their locations. Having recently researched my family history I have encountered a number of enterprises which disappeared after partition and which were important to the commerical life of border areas and and yet little record of them remains.

    … I think a suitable piece of Artwork constructed on the actual border itself would be a an outstanding creative challenge to local (Irish) artists and prove to be a tourist attraction and worth the investment of a few bob.

    Turgon, Rep of Connaught,

    “Let the people of our island decide”

    Although that might be my first choice I think we should explore the alternative idea of

    “Let the people of our islands decide”

    Have we even had an opinion poll on the subject – I suspect the majority of mainland Briitsh think there should be a United Ireland.

  • ItwasSammyMcNally @ 5:43 pm:


    What I keep saying, here and elsewhere, is that the policies of successive UK governments, ever since 1920 have been consistent:
    ¶ a united island (which may not be the same as a United Ireland) is the end-game;
    ¶ that the declared will of the electors of Northern Ireland is the stumbling block.

    Take away the formulae of words, which change between (say) Thatcher and Blair, and that’s what you get. No more. No less.

    I suspect therefore that hard-headed, selfish assessment of the operation of the NHS/National Insurance versus VHI/Aviva/Quinn may be a more significant factor than any flag-waving nationalism. Which is why Altnagevlin and the South West Acute Hospital at Enniskillen really, really matter. And why Michael McGimpsey may be the UUP’s ultimate weapon.

  • Rory Carr

    What Malcolm Redfellow has kept saying “here and elsewhere” seems remarkably consistent with what I have been saying here and elsewhere, certainly since the late 70’s and that is (pace Malcolm) “… that the policies of successive UK governments, ever since 1920 have been consistent”:

    a) A united Ireland (although I will concede to a united island).

    b)To that end, pursue a policy of slowly selling the Proddies down the river with the minimum of fuss.

    I have found nothing in British policy since to make me revise that opinion.

  • Tochais Síoraí

    An All-Ireland Soccer League. Top 12 teams in Ireland and two regional feeder leagues. The domestic game is on a continuing downward slope and needs radical restructuring. This has the potential to be greater than the sum of its (current) parts.

    Improve standards – the LOI is starting to go down noticeably, judging by the Setanta the IL is at an even lower ebb.

    Revenue – More attractive product to sell even if initially it would be the novelty value. Bigger Crowds. More Sky exposure – Shams V Linfield in front of a full house at Tallaght will surely be more attractive than an IL game in front of a three figure crowd.

    And of course the frilly Stuff – People will go to places they haven’t been before and meet people from backgrounds they wouldn’t ordinarly meet.

    No government money needed, no EU ‘peace’ industry money, this might even make money if properly run.

  • Tochais Síoraí @ 5:27 pm:

    The path to a cross-border football league is paved with innumerable bankruptcies (mostly in Cork).

  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    Tochais Síoraí,

    12 is far too many – 6 at most and petition UEFA for a sub-prime Euro League.