Twenty Years a’Growing – The Ireland Wales INTERREG Programme
Issued 11 April 2014
This has been another extraordinary week in the history of the relationship between Ireland and Britain. As superlatives that risk becoming jaded find new life, one of the many highlights of the week was surely the sight of the Union Flag and Tricolour flying side by side in Windsor Castle.
It is a little over two decades since President Mary Robinson became the first Irish Head of State to visit Buckingham Palace. Much has happened in the intervening two decades, from the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 to the hugely successful State Visit by Her Majesty the Queen to Ireland in 2011, culminating in President Michael D Higgins’ State Visit to the UK this week.
These visits speak of strong bilateral relations across many fields, and of the endless possibilities of which the President spoke on Tuesday evening in Windsor Castle and again on Wednesday in the City of London Guildhall.
Over the past few years in particular there have been significant developments in cooperation at Government level, with progress on deepening economic cooperation and close and strategic engagement on a range of issues of shared importance. But there is a mutual respect and trust which extends beyond Government into the wider community, in the areas of business, cultural life and, of course, sport as has been witnessed by the range of business people, actors, artists and sports people that have been present throughout the State visit.
Engagement between our two islands is increasingly about bilateral opportunities and our shared interests in Europe and internationally. One of the areas of cooperation that has developed in those twenty years is the Ireland Wales INTERREG Programme which this year celebrates its twentieth birthday. The Ireland Wales is a prime example of the cooperation between our two communities. The Programme aims to further develop Irish Welsh co-operation in the areas of employment, innovation, climate change and sustainable development.
As a Minister with responsibility for Structural Funds and also from a constituency located in the South East of Ireland, I am of course keenly aware of, and greatly interested in, the contribution that the programme can make to the our two communities. The Irish Sea, which lies at the heart of the Programme, is the sea that unites us, not divides us.
It was fitting that I should have been able to visit Wales this week at the invitation of the Welsh Finance Minister, Jane Hutt, to reflect on the achievement of the Ireland Wales Programme and to look forward to a new Programme. The visit gives me the opportunity to see for myself the range of important projects that are supported by the Programme, from sport to advanced communications, and from enterprise to medical research.
The Ireland Wales Programme is one of a number of cross-border programmes we are involved in that highlight the role that EU funding can bring together the regions of Europe. Ireland is also involved in the Northern Ireland PEACE Programme as well as the INTERREG Programme between the border counties of Ireland, Northern Ireland and the West of Scotland.
INTERREG stands for ‘Inter-regional’ and represents the building of links between regions in the European Union. It represents tangible support for the regions of Europe by the Union.
Europe’s Structural Funds spending lies at the very heart of the growth agenda and is one of the primary instruments available to the Union to drive investment and to promote growth and jobs in the years ahead, as we strive towards meeting the Europe 2020 goals of smart, sustainable and inclusive economic growth. Forty years experience has taught us that Cohesion policy has been one of the success stories of Europe. It lies at the very heart of European integration and solidarity and proves that these words have real meaning for every part of the Union. It has played a major role in reducing social and economic disparities and increasing cohesion in a Union of 500 million people in 28 Member States across 274 regions.
The Irish experience of Structural Funds has been very positive, with Cohesion policy playing an important role in the development of Ireland’s economy. Everywhere you travel in Ireland you can see the distinctive Structural Funds badge on plaques and signs, which highlights the many ways we have benefitted from EU funding – from major infrastructure road and rail projects to smaller community projects, to projects aimed at helping people get jobs, acquire new skills and find better jobs. All serve to underline the real and tangible ways Ireland has benefitted from its membership of the European Union.
Brendan Howlin, TD, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform
Image courtesy of domdeen and FreeDigitalPhotos.net