Sunday, December 06, 2009

 

North-South Matters

On Monday I accompanied Eamon Gilmore to Stormont in Northern Ireland. The purpose of the visit was to meet with the various party leaders in the north, and to receive an update on the current situation there.

At the moment there is a bit of an impasse in the devolution of policing and justice powers. It is hoped that the situation will improve soon, because we are about to enter the Westminster election, which by law has to be held before next summer. If things go on much longer then the issue will probably get parked until some time after those elections.

Eamon and I had separate meetings with First Minister Peter Robinson, Martin McGuinness and Gerry Kelly of Sinn Fein, Sir Reg Empey of the Official Unionist and Conservative Party and with David Ford of the Alliance Party. We also met Mark Durcan, Alistair McDonnell and Margaret Richie of the SDLP.

Robinson, Gilmore & Hannigan
First Minister Peter Robinson, Eamon Gilmore and me at Stormont

Apart from talking about issues in relation to the ongoing peace process, I also brought up the issue of north-south shopping and of cross-border tourism.

It was a fascinating two days for me. I had not been in Stormont previously, even though it's only 90 minutes from my front door in Drogheda. It's a beautiful building, the setting is great and it seems a lot smaller inside than Leinster House. I'd say the politicians are bumping into each other all the time (something with an updside and a downside!)

The next day I met some of the same people again, this time at a meeting in Leinster House. The Sub Committee on Overseas Development, of which I am a member, met with our northern counterparts to discuss our aid programmes. Among the northern delegation were Carmel Hanna of the SDLP (who was a VSO volunteer with me last year), Alliance Party Leader David Ford and Mr Jim Wells of the DUP. I met Jim a few years back when I brought him around the Battle of the Boyne site at Oldbridge - he was concerned about the impact of the Duleek incinerator on the site.

We had a mutual exchange of views on our aid programs. Later that day I spoke to a Scout Group from East Meath about our aid programme. They were in Leinster House to lobby for the protection of the aid budget. Apart from myself and other local politicians, we were also addressed by Minister Peter Power. The scouts made a great presentation and it was nice to see the commitment and effort they made to make their case for the continuation of development aid.

Finally, flooding continues to be an issue around the country. I attended a residents association meeting for The Northlands on Thursday evening. Residents are concerned about the lack of adequate drainage, as well as of safety issues in relation to children managing to get in to the stream in the estate. We will be following up these issues with the council over the next while.

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