Increased North/South co-operation 'key to prosperity'

Increased co-operation between the Republic of Ireland and the North is key to the future prosperity of the island, Taoiseach Brian Cowen said today.

During statements in the Dáil on Stormont power-sharing, Mr Cowen said both parts of the island faced unprecedented economic challenges.

Mr Cowen hailed the agreement on devolution of policing and justice reached on Friday as the basis for future stability and security in the north.

The Taoiseach said the two jurisdictions could better tackle challenges such as the economic downturn and climate change by working together.

“I see an increasingly vigorous agenda of north/south co-operation as key to the future of prosperity and success of both parts of this island,” the Taoiseach told the Dáil.

“In meeting common challenges like promoting economic recovery, dealing with the effects of climate change, guaranteeing our energy security and developing our skills and R&D base, there is a growing recognition that we are the strongest when we share approaches and weakest when we work alone.”

Mr Cowen said the completion of the devolution of policing and justice powers by April 12 was an essential step for peace, stability and security in the north.

During the two-hour session he praised the parties in the North for reaching agreement, but called on the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Féin to work more closely with the other political groups.

“I urge them to continue to work more closely with the the other parties in future,” he said.

“In that regard, I welcome the proposals for improving the workings of the Executive and for greater discussion with the other parties, which are part of the agreement.”

Mr Cowen said the devolved institutions could now move to focus on day-to-day issues such as the economy, jobs, health and infrastructure.

Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin, who assisted in negotiations with Northern Ireland Secretary Shaun Woodward, also said the Hillsborough Agreement provided for a stronger and deeper north/south co-operation.

“Ministers, north and south, no longer hesitate to pick up the phone or meet in person, discuss common challenges, argue options and agree shared approaches to the difficulties we face,” he said.

“This is politics as it should be.”

Mr Martin said it was major step forward for the parties to be able to reach agreement amid contentious issues.

Mr Martin said the promotion of the Irish language was a key priority for the Government and said he looked forward to a more mature discussion.

“In moving forward we need to build and consolidate trust between communities, in a spirit of equality and tolerance for each others political aspirations, cultural expression and inheritance,” the minister said.

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