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Tánaiste Micheál Martin Remarks at Cancer Knows No Borders Showcase Event

**Check Against Delivery**

Vice Chancellor, Professor Ian Greer

Robin Swann

Professors Young, Lawler and McCloskey,

Dr O’Driscoll


I am delighted to join you for this afternoon’s showcase event on cancer research.

I would like to start by thanking Queen’s University Belfast for putting together such a comprehensive programme to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Agreement.

The wide range of topics covered over these three days shows just how transformative the Agreement has been for us all. 

While attention is often on politics and what more needs to be done, this session on cancer care is for me perhaps the most salient – a practical demonstration of the power of positive decision-making to improve peoples’ lives.

Good Friday Agreement (Strand Two)

That is why, while much of the focus this week is – rightly – on how the Good Friday Agreement enabled us to break the cycle of violence in Northern Ireland, it is important too that we take a broader view and celebrate all of the other achievements that have flowed from the Agreement.

We often talk about Strand One, the democratic institutions in Northern Ireland, but it is worth recalling that the Agreement highlights how the functioning of Strand One is inter-related with that of Strand Two. 

Strand Two consists of the areas of consultation, co-operation and action within the island of Ireland on which both administrations on the island work together, in partnership, to improve the lives of our people.  

The pivotal Strand Two institution is the North South Ministerial Council.
Over the past twenty-five years, cooperation through the NSMC has delivered tangible benefits to people and communities on both sides of the border, including in the health sector. 
Benefits which make peoples’ lives better, whether through safer food, cleaner waterways, or jobs in tourism.

It is disappointing that the NSMC has not always been allowed to function as intended, particularly in recent years.
I look forward to once again working closely with our counterparts in the Executive, through the NSMC, to deliver practical solutions

Cancer research

Today we are here to celebrate one of the great examples of North South cooperation, all-island cancer research.

This research, this sharing of knowledge, this co-working, has played a vital role in improving cancer care on this island over the past twenty-five years.

It is a subject that is very close to my own heart, having been the first Minister for Health to fund Cancer Trials Ireland, or what was then known as ICORG.
Many years later in 2021, as Taoiseach, I visited the Patrick G Johnston Centre for Cancer Research here in Queen’s – named in honour of the University’s late Vice-Chancellor Paddy Johnston, himself a cancer researcher of world renown.

Here in Queen’s I saw first-hand how cross-border partnerships are making real progress on tackling cancer. Our smartest people, working together to benefit us all.

This work builds upon one of the Good Friday Agreement’s early successes, the establishment of the Ireland / Northern Ireland / National Cancer Institute Cancer Consortium in 1999 by our Departments of Health, North and South, together with the US National Cancer Institute.

Paddy Johnston was instrumental in setting up this Consortium.  Ar dheis Dé go raibh a h’anam dílis.

This tripartite partnership is a practical illustration of what we can achieve when we work together, pooling our talent and resources.

I was delighted to speak at the launch of the renewal of the Consortium in March 2021.

It has had many successes.

It has established robust cancer clinical trials infrastructure across the island and trained over 500 clinicians, health care professionals and scientists.

It has allowed us to share knowledge, experience, and best practice across areas such as prevention, research, and innovation.

And, most importantly – it has eased suffering and saved lives. And I know that it will continue to do so.

From the US perspective, I know from my conversations with him, that President Biden has a very strong interest in the Consortium, and a deeply felt commitment to improving cancer outcomes. 

Improving those outcomes – not just saving lives but improving the quality of lives – is a passion that I know is shared by everyone in this room.

North South health cooperation

Strand Two of the Good Friday Agreement has delivered a wide range of benefits right across the health sector.

The North West Cancer Centre in Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry provides radiotherapy services for the entire North West of the island.
Since this arrangement was introduced in 2016, over 1,000 patients have been referred to and treated at the North West Cancer Centre in Derry on a cross-border basis.
This is crucial in ensuring that patients in the North West can access services locally, remaining close to their friends and family as they receive treatment.

Under cross-border arrangements agreed through the North South Ministerial Council, Altnagelvin also provides treatment to patients suffering from life-threatening heart conditions from both sides of the border.
And children from Northern Ireland requiring cardiac surgery now receive their treatment in Dublin, allowing them to stay on this island rather than having to travel to Britain.
There is also life-saving cooperation on a daily basis between our ambulance services; responding to families in distress in the most efficient way, no matter where they live.

And when there is a crisis - like we saw in Creeslough, Donegal in October - our emergency response teams work together, naturally.  

Here I would like to pay tribute to Robin Swann, who was Minister for Health here in Northern Ireland during the COVID years. 
Robin led his Department courageously, navigating a difficult path as he, like Health Ministers everywhere, tried to make the best decisions possible in an evolving situation with imperfect information. 
The sharing of information, the technical cooperation, between the two Health Departments on this island during that time saved lives.

Thank you Robin.
All of this shows, not only the existing levels of cross-border collaboration in health, but also the enormous potential for even greater and more impactful all island cooperation.

Shared Island

This is one of the reasons why I launched the Shared Island Initiative in 2020. I want to use this ambitious programme to unlock the full potential of the Good Friday Agreement and to deepen all-island links across a range of sectors.

Through the Shared Island Initiative, we have committed €1 billion up to 2030.

We have allocated €190 million from the Shared Island Fund to date, to progress key infrastructure projects, but also to support innovative all-island research programmes.

We are funding unprecedented research into the reality of life across our island, including detailed work on health provision north and south, and we are also investing heavily in new and exciting research collaborations between institutions on a cross border basis.

The first phase of this North South Research Programme is funded through an allocation of €40 million from the Shared Island Fund.

Last year, the All-Island Cancer Research Institute – a collaboration between researchers here in Queen’s and University College Dublin – secured funding to examine the area of precision cancer medicine.

This funding is supporting the All-Island Cancer Research Institute to further strengthen and enhance existing collaborations, deepening links between higher education institutions and research communities across the island.

Our North South Research Programme is also supporting a number of other cancer research projects, including in the areas of digital health and liquid biopsies, as well as cancer survivorship and quality of life.

I know that many of you here today are involved with these research programmes. I want to offer my sincere thanks to all of you for your dedication, hard work, and enthusiasm.  

I also want to assure you of my ambition for the Shared Island initiative and to encourage all those here to consider how, through the initiative, we might work together in new programmes and projects which will improve the lives of people on this island.

National Cancer Strategy

The continued implementation of our National Cancer Strategy is hugely important in ensuring that cancer patients receive the highest standards of care.
Our Strategy places a strong emphasis on the importance of research in the provision and development of cancer services.

Our approach in Ireland to cancer has led to the transformation of our cancer services, through three successive cancer strategies in 1996, 2006 and 2017.

A recent study published in the Lancet has shown that cancer survival rates in Ireland, across a number cancers, have improved significantly in recent years.

I have no doubt that cooperation, North and South, has played an important role in this progress.


It is important that we are here today celebrating and reflecting on all of the achievements of the Good Friday Agreement.

And as we look forward to the next 25 years, I can see that there is still so much more that we can do together to build on the progress achieved.

The extent of cooperation already taking place in the area of cancer research is hugely encouraging. But there is also enormous potential for us to go much further.

Through your commitment and continued efforts the lives of those affected by cancer, North and South, will continue to improve.

It is an exemplar of practical and impactful North South cooperation and is testament to the rewards we can reap when we work together on this island.

This is at the heart of the Good Friday Agreement.

Thank you.

Press Release
18 April 2023


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