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Cowen: Focus on economy and peace

Politicians in Ireland, north and south, must focus on building the economy and supporting the peace process, Irish premier Brian Cowen has said.

This came as the Taoiseach prepared to lead his government's Ministers in a session of cross-border talks with the Northern Ireland administration.

The North-South Ministerial Council, first formed under the Good Friday peace agreement of 1998 is marking its tenth anniversary, but proceedings today are likely to be overshadowed by fears for the future of the Stormont Assembly.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Fein are divided over the timing of the devolution of law and order powers to the Assembly.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness accuses the DUP First Minister Peter Robinson of delaying a deal, and has called for agreement by Christmas to avoid a crisis.

Mr Cowen said today's meeting, in Limavady, Co Londonderry, which brings together ministers drawn from both jurisdictions in Ireland should be an opportunity to build for the future.

"The scale of the economic challenge facing everyone on this island is now fully recognised by all," he said.

"Meeting that challenge has called for resolute leadership in taking difficult decisions, as we build towards economic recovery.

"Resolute leadership has also been at the heart of the peace process and the transformation in relationships on this island in recent years."

His government last week unveiled a tough budget aimed at rescuing the Republic's crisis-hit economy.

But today's agenda includes a series of programmes organised to encourage economic development on both sides of the border.

"The North/South Ministerial Council has its 10th anniversary this month and today's meeting is an opportunity to reflect on all that has been achieved in those ten years," he said.

"But, more importantly, it is a time to work together to make the most of our transformed relationship to help all of our people through this recession, to build a successful smart economy on this island and to provide better, more joined up and more cost-effective public services."

Among the items likely to be considered at the meeting are:

  • The economic downturn and the strategy for economic recovery.
  • Developing co-operation on the smart economy and the Innovation Island, including through closer co-operation on R&D investment.
  • How public services North and South can be better co-ordinated so as to provide better and more cost-effective services, for example in the health area.
  • The cross-border infrastructure programme, which in 2010 will see the completion of the Dublin-Belfast road corridor, further significant progress on the Dublin-Derry-Letterkenny and Belfast-Larne corridors, and the completion of a major transatlantic broadband link serving Derry, Donegal and the border region.
  • The future of the all-island centre for autism in Middletown, Co Armagh.
  • Developing links between the Oireachtas and the Northern Ireland Assembly
  • The future development of the North/South consultative conference, which comprises representatives of the social partners and civil society from North and South.

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