Nearly two years ago I wrote a ‘Note’ saying that the Centre for Cross Border Studies had 15-18 months funding left, we were starting to feel a little nervous, and were appealing to our readers and supporters for some good new ideas for cross-border cooperation in Ireland.
In the event we generated most of those new ideas within the Centre’s four walls in Armagh, with my colleague Ruth Taillon coming up with a disproportionate share of them. These ideas – nine of them in all – were combined into a package of research, evaluation, training and information projects during the first five months of 2012 which was submitted to the Special EU Programmes Body for INTERREG funding last May. In November we received the hugely welcome news that eight out of the nine would be funded, starting on 1st February 2013. 2012 was a slightly difficult year – with the cupboard a bit bare and a number of staff working reduced hours – but we are now raring to get into our 2013-2015 work programme.
The eight projects cover a range of areas. ‘Towards a Border Development Zone’ builds on a proposal that came out of John Bradley and Michael Best’s 2012 study, Cross-Border Economic Renewal: Rethinking Regional Policy in Ireland – to explore the potential of a joint economic development approach across the whole Irish and Northern Irish border region. It will involve five linked studies of how to develop an overall Border Development Zone strategy (to be led by local authority chief executives in the North and county managers in the South), plus individual studies of four possible development sectors in the region: 1) SMEs with export potential; 2) tourism and recreation; 3) agriculture, food and fish processing; 4) low carbon initiatives, energy saving and renewable energy.
Three of the projects will be run by the Centre’s ‘sister’ organisation, the International Centre for Local and Regional Development (ICLRD). These will: 1) engage local authorities in the cross-border region in new shared services initiatives, including pilot projects in areas like tourism and environmental and emergency services; 2) continue the ICLRD’s training and animation programmes in cross-border cooperation for local authority groupings; and 3) update and provide training in a number of tools including an updated all-island digital atlas and an all-island deprivation index, using data from the 2011 censuses in both jurisdictions.
There will also be training in and further development of the Centre’s highly regarded 2011 Impact Assessment Toolkit for Cross Border Cooperation. New budget and evaluation toolkits will be developed to help people who are applying for EU funding for cross-border cooperation projects, and then implementing such projects.
The Centre will join with the cross-border region health authorities’ network, Cooperation and Working Together (CAWT), to develop and train people in the use of a tool that will map the provision of acute health specialities on the island of Ireland.
The final project will be a third phase of the highly successful Border People cross-border information service, which the Centre has been running in partnership with the North South Ministerial Council’s Joint Secretariat since 2007. This phase will focus on working with citizens’ advice and information bodies in the two jurisdictions to train existing advice workers to provide practical cross-border information for people crossing the border to live, work and study.
Another new initiative with which the Centre is involved will be launched on 1st February. A group of individuals working in peacebuilding, peace research, cross-border and cross-community organisations have come together to discuss how they might use 2013 to reflect on the successes and failures of the 15 year period since the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, and how we might all learn from those experiences to do better in the future.
The group – calling itself ‘15 Years On’ – consists of Peter Sheridan (Cooperation Ireland), Avila Kilmurray (Community Foundation for Northern Ireland), Professor Brandon Hamber (INCORE, University of Ulster), Susan McEwen (Corrymeela Community), Colin Murphy (Glencree Community), Neil Jarman (Institute for Conflict Research), John Driscoll (ICLRD), Professor Jennifer Todd (Institute for British-Irish Studies, UCD), Ruth Taillon and myself.
We are beginning a year-long conversation about the progress of peace and cooperation in Northern Ireland and Ireland, and where we should go from here. We plan this conversation to take place largely online, leading to a culminating event towards the end of the year. The discussion will also feed into a session on 26 May at the big Rotary/INCORE Global Peace Forum in Derry. Members of the group and others who are interested will be invited to post regular blogs and comments on a new shared blog page (http://15yearson.wordpress.com) on issues to do with the Northern Irish peace process. Please join us in this important conversation. It is open to everybody.
Andy Pollak retired as founding director of the Centre for Cross Border Studies in July 2013 after 14 years. He is a former religious affairs correspondent, education correspondent, assistant news editor and Belfast reporter with the Irish Times.