Speech by Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin TD, Ireland Wales 20 Year Celebration 14 November 2014

Issued 14 November 2014

Speech by Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin TD

Ireland Wales 20 Year Celebration Dublin Castle, Friday, 14 November 2014

Minister Hutt, Ladies and Gentlemen

I am delighted to be here to take part in this celebration of twenty years of the Ireland Wales Cooperation Programme, and I am pleased to see so many of the people who have contributed to the success of the Programme here today. I am particularly pleased to welcome Minister Jane Hutt to Ireland following my visit to Wales in April.

The Ireland Wales Programme has been “twenty years a-growing”, to borrow a phrase from the writer Muiris Ó Súilleabháin. I was interested to discover recently a Welsh connection with Ó Súilleabháin’s work, namely the poet Dylan Thomas who commenced work on a screenplay of Ó Súilleabháin’s book. Regrettably it remained unfinished at the time of his death, although the unfinished screenplay was published, as it happens, fifty years ago this year.

President Michael D Higgins visited Wales recently to take part in the commemoration of Dylan Thomas’s centenary and rightly described him as one of the great giants of poetry. I am pleased that during his visit to Wales the President was also able to travel to the University of Swansea and see some of the projects supported by the Ireland Wales Programme.

Last April I travelled to Wales to meet Jane Hutt and discuss the programme with her, and to see for myself some of the excellent work that has been undertaken by the programme, ranging from sport to advanced communications, and from enterprise to medical research.

Visits such as these, and Minister Hutt’s visit here today, speak of strong bilateral relations between Ireland and Wales, and the Ireland Wales Programme is a prime example of that cooperation.

The strong historical and cultural bond between Ireland and Wales has successfully been nurtured by the Programme over the past two decades, to the benefit of both nations. The benefits in the economic, cultural, environmental and academic spheres are well documented and can be seen here today. The Programme has supported our shared aspiration to build inclusive and sustainable communities.

As a Minister with 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 growth and development of our two communities. The Irish Sea, which lies at the heart of the Programme, is the sea that unites us, not divides us.

Prior to the very first Programme in 1994, there were numerous ad-hoc links between the two regions, and I am pleased that my own county of Wexford was involved in earlier links with Dyfed and Pembrokeshire.

The first Programme, from 1994 to 1999, had a strong focus on improving maritime transport links and finding common solutions to environmental problems in the Irish Sea. Its successor Programme, from 2000 to 2006, broadened its maritime scope to tackle wider issues such as enterprise development, rural development, education, training, culture, heritage and tourism.

The 2007-2013 Programme, which is drawing to a close, has been characterised by a more strategic approach which has seen a diverse range of Irish and Welsh organisations work together, to address common issues to support innovation, employment, climate change and community regeneration.

The draft Programme for 2014-2020 has now been submitted to the European Commission and I look forward to it being finalised. The priorities of the new Programme will be innovation, climate change, and cultural and natural resources, and it will continue to have a strong focus on the Irish Sea.

Today we hand the baton for leading management of the Programme to Wales. I would like to congratulate the Southern & Eastern Regional Assembly for its stewardship of the Programme and to thank Stephen Blair and his team for all their hard work. I would also like to wish Minister Hutt and all the team in the Welsh European Funding Office well as they take up the baton, and to assure them of my continued support and that of the Southern & Eastern Regional Assembly as we continue to work together in close cooperation.

Finally, I am looking forward to hearing from those who have been involved in the Programme over the years, to learning more about the projects that have featured in the current Programme and, above all, to celebrating ‘twenty years a-growing’.