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Deals reached on cross-border bodies, Executive

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Anne Cadwallader

BELFAST — Christmas presents were delivered to the people of Northern Ireland this week, most notably agreement on cross-border cooperation and a shape for the in-coming power-sharing Executive.

On closer examination, however, one might be forgiven for seeing the "presents" as more in the way of fancy wrapping paper than significant steps forward in the peace process.

The Good Friday peace agreement, signed on April 10 this year, ensured that there would be cross-border "implementation bodies." This week’s deal identified what areas they would include.

The government bodies agreed are Agriculture and rural development; Enterprise, trade and investment (to include tourism); Health, social care and public safety; Finance and personnel; Education; Advanced education, training and employment; Environment; Regional development; Social development; Culture, arts and leisure.

Six cross border bodies will be set up to deal with are European Union program; Trade; Language (Irish and Lallans, the Ulster-Scots dialect); Aquaculture and Marine; Inland Waterways; Food Safety.

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There are strains between the SDLP and Sinn Fein over what was achieved on the cross-border implementation and cooperation bodies, with republicans accusing the SDLP of failing to secure a stand-alone department of equality, and of allowing transport and tourism to fall off the North-South agenda.

The SDLP hit back saying it was proud of its record in the negotiations and that significant progress, which could and would be built on, had been achieved. Tourism would be the subject of an all-island private company, it said, and it was more appropriate for equality to be dealt with by the first and deputy first ministers than in a separate department.

Both parties are also aware that the negotiations that resulted in agreement on cross-border and all-island cooperation are more of a skirmish than a battle, compared to the fight that lies ahead over Sinn Fein’s right to sit on the Executive without IRA decommissioning.

Unionists have not budged on their demand for the handover of some IRA hardware before Sinn Fein can take up the two ministerial places it won by election.

On the face of it, it does seem that unionists did better out of the negotiations that nationalists. Unionists demanded all along that there could only be six implementation bodies, three subjects chosen by them and three by nationalists.

Originally nationalists wanted the Irish language, strategic transport planning (including roads, rail, ports and airports), European Union programs, inward investment, cross-border trade and tourism included.

The unionists wanted only animal health, food safety, inland waterways (canals and rivers) and the marine (including legal rows about where the border runs in Lough Foyle and Carlingford Lough) included.

Inward investment and transport were dropped entirely from the nationalist wish list and tourism will now only be dealt with by a private company, not a full cross-border implementation body.

Nationalists did win a concession, however, that there will be 10 government departments in the new Executive, which means there will be equal nationalist and unionist representation on the body once it is set up.

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