Celebrating Ireland Wales co-operation since 1994 and a look to the future
Project partners and Programme Monitoring Committee members gathered in Portmarnock, Dublin on 23rd June to celebrate the success of the 2014-2020 Ireland Wales European Territorial Co-operation Programme.
The event, compared by Newstalk’s Jonathan Healy, provided the stage for project beneficiaries in Ireland and Wales to talk about their experiences of working together across the Irish Sea, following opening video addresses from Mark Drakeford the First Minister of Wales and Pascal Donohoe, Minister for Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery and Reform in Ireland.
The First Minister re-emphasised the priority that the Welsh Government placed on its relationship with Ireland and the added importance of sustaining relationships between Irish and Welsh stakeholders in the post-Brexit environment. He highlighted the role of Agile Cymru and the Irish Sea Framework in helping to do that. In recognising the success of the Ireland Wales Programme, Minister Donohoe confirmed the Irish Government’s commitment to find ways to build on the relationship and take advantage of the opportunity for a new phase of co-operation activity.
WEFO’s Chief Executive Peter Ryland and David Kelly, the Southern Regional Assembly’s Director, introduced proceedings, pointing to the future and the evolution of the relationship. The Welsh Government’s Regional Investment Framework included a strong focus on co-operation and the many years of co-operation between Ireland and Wales provided a solid base from which to build. It was now important to turn this into something real on the ground and to capitalise on opportunities to do something new despite the absence of an EU Framework. The Irish Sea needed to be managed and brought many shared challenges with it but also opportunities to work together to provide solutions. An Irish Sea Framework had been established with the support of stakeholders and the demand for Agile Cymru seed funding was high. This and the turnout at this event and the Symposium in May demonstrated a strong demand for a new phase of co-operation. Ways needed to be found to build upon this success and provide the capacity to deliver.
Jonathan Healy hosted three panel sessions enabling partners to share their experiences and provide a hands on insight into the unique value of delivering joint projects which have provided real benefits to communities, businesses and institutions on both sides of the water.
Panel 1: Delivery of Shared Priorities - T J Horgan SELKIE, Claire Connolly PORTS PAST AND PRESENT, Wim Meijer ACCLIMATIZE
The panel reflected on the foundation the Programme had provided which enabled the sharing of expertise and identification of best practice, leading to significant outcomes. Increasing the breadth and scale of activity, a more effective interchange with relevant authorities and engagement with and buy-in from communities on both
sides of the Irish Sea was highlighted. The active involvement of SMEs was a key feature, many activities being SME driven, leading to innovation and commercial success. The added value of working across borders was significant, with the establishment and development of cross-border networks making a huge difference to levels of achievement. The importance of harnessing strengths across our shared waters as opposed to an isolationist approach was very clear; the desire for this “Celtic connect” was clear.
Panel 2: Added value of co-operation - Steve Conlon CALIN, David Kay ACCLIMATIZE, Aonghus McNabola DWR UISCE
The high level of interchange between Welsh HE/FE sectors and Irish businesses and vice versa clearly demonstrated the benefits and added value of co-operation, with the respective strengths of Universities in Wales and Ireland creating a “super network”. SMEs had been made aware and taken advantage of a unique opportunity to work with HE establishments across the border. When the unique benefits became clear, getting business on board was far easier. Cross-border working provided a lens through which organisations on one side of the border could see how things were done on the other, i.e. some activities were implemented more effectively in Wales, some in Ireland, shared learning led to more effective implementation and accelerated the innovation process. Brexit risked a diversion of approach, talking with and learning from others, without borders or barriers, facilitated wider flexibility and perspective and greater impact.
Panel 3: Future co-operation - Oonagh Messette CELTIC ROUTES, Fiona Doohan HEALTHY OATS, Shelagh Malham BLUEFISH/ISPP
Provision of funding was a key issue, with a recognition that the Welsh Government’s Agile Cymru programme was helping to maintain co-operation, there was nothing yet of an equivalent nature in Ireland. Partners had demonstrated a demand for co-operative activity and there was a call for both the Welsh and Irish Governments to strive for something more substantial to link Ireland and Wales and facilitate future co-operation, ideally a new programme. In the shorter term, there was a recognition that partners needed to be inventive as on many levels, particularly in the context of the Irish Sea, what happens in Ireland affects Wales and vice-versa. Protecting the Irish Sea was a key priority and strong governance and working together to facilitate this was essential, otherwise opportunities would be lost. Momentum was very important and the need to find a way to support this was key.
Councillor Thomas Phelan of the Southern Regional Assembly closed the event, recognising the contribution that projects had made over 30 years, and endorsing the need to seek out new co-operation opportunities between our two Nations.
The over-riding conclusion was that Ireland Wales co-operation had been very successful and there was a clear appetite to co-operate across the Irish Sea and build upon this success. There was a shared understanding that despite Brexit and the ensuing logistical difficulties that came with it, it was now the right time to design a new approach to co-operation for the common good.