The Irish government yesterday launched its new National Development Plan, Transforming Ireland - A Better Quality of Life for All. This plan sets out a major seven-year investment programme of €183bn (£120bn sterling) across the entire range of government policies and services.
For the first time, we are proposing significant Irish government investment in projects and initiatives for mutual benefit north and south. Our proposed new package has two innovative elements: joint investment in new strategic projects and the opening up of access to funding on an all-island basis.
Our priorities for new joint projects with Northern Ireland include:
- Completion by 2013 of high quality roads linking Dublin, Belfast and Derry/Letterkenny;
- Development of the Dublin to Belfast rail line;
- Improved access for tourism and other opportunities along the eastern corridor, including better links between Co Down and Co Louth;
- Improvements in higher education, through strategic alliances between institutions, for example in the north west;
- New schemes to promote graduate mobility, graduate retention and access for people from disadvantaged areas to higher education;
- Maximising the potential for cross-border cancer services;
- The restoration and re-opening of the Ulster Canal.
We also want to undertake comprehensive studies, with our colleagues in Northern Ireland, on how we might improve cooperation in health and education.
We are proposing innovative new competitive funds to support education, skills, science and innovation, energy research, regional development, tourism development, poverty, social inclusion and community infrastructure. These would be run on a competitive basis, rewarding innovation, ensuring funds go to the best projects and encouraging collaboration between north and south and potentially also on an east/west basis. We are clear that any programme of investment has to be of benefit to the entire community in Northern Ireland, as well as benefiting both north and south.
I look forward to developing these proposals with the British Government and, very shortly, with a newly-restored Northern Ireland Executive. I particularly look forward to working with locally-elected Northern Irish ministers, who are best placed to ensure that joint projects and initiatives benefit their constituents.
People are interested to know if this is new money. The answer is yes.
This will be a substantial extra investment in the island economy and in Northern Ireland. It will translate directly into more jobs, enhanced skills, increased productivity, faster transport links and improved public services. It will improve the quality of life of everybody and the economic prospects of all our children.
People also want to know how much money is involved.
We are already investing over €1bn (£650m sterling) in projects that directly benefit the north such as the completion of the Dublin to Belfast road corridor, the upgrade of other major roads to the north, the second north-south electricity interconnector, the new south-north gas pipeline and the development of City of Derry airport.
The additional investment will be on top of that. We want to help fund new and necessary projects in agreement with the British government and the incoming Executive. While these discussions are still ongoing, the Government has made provision for this investment in the NDP financial envelope.
We are proposing all of this based on a hard-headed analysis of what is good for the south, as well as what can benefit the north and the island as a whole. Our proposals make economic sense. They are also common sense.
North and south we face many similar challenges in ensuring that our economy and society can continue to grow. In the north, these challenges have been clearly identified and agreed by all parties in the Programme for Government Committee of the transitional Assembly. We have listened to the parties' priorities and the issues that they wish to see addressed and have tried to reflect the parties' ideas and concerns in our proposals.
Living close to the border, I have seen only too clearly the negative impact of working apart for so many years. All-island cooperation offers us an unique and largely untapped source of competitive advantage in the global economy.
Over the coming months we will have an historic window of opportunity to decisively shape the political, economic and social future of our island.
The two governments have agreed to support the peace process with significant packages of economic support.
We must be ambitious - our aim is nothing less than to improve the quality of life of all people living on this island.
For my part, I will be making sure we do not miss this opportunity.