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Remarks by Tánaiste Micheál Martin TD - Announcement of the Shared Island Civic Society Fund

It is a pleasure to be here today in Armagh - a centre of faith and learning, as well as the ecclesiastical capital of this island for more than 1500 years.

Bill Clinton described Armagh as a city whose “faith and tolerance are making a new era of peace possible”.

We are gathered in the beautiful Robinson Library, a place where knowledge is shared, where the overlapping stories of this island we call home are collected.
From medieval religious manuscripts, Dean Swift’s personal copy of Gulliver’s Travels to works on medicine, science, history and law, this building is a living monument to collective endeavour.

Collective endeavour is of course the essence of civil society work. As you know, in supporting and improving our communities, we never travel alone.

It is right that my Department’s Reconciliation Fund is supporting both the Robinson Library and the Cardinal Ó Fiaich Library on their project to preserve and curate the papers of two great prelates of this island, Cardinal Ó Fiaich and Archbishop Eames. Each played instrumental roles in the process of peace and reconciliation.
Those papers are a striking reminder of the leadership from all sections of society that made the peace process possible.

Individuals, organisations, communities, reaching out, and asking themselves and each other difficult questions. Listening, learning, and coming to accept if not always agree.

25 years on from April 1998, we still need leadership – people prepared to take the bold steps required to ensure the full functioning of all the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement, ready to deliver in full on the Agreement’s promise of a peaceful, prosperous and generous island.
That is challenge to politicians but also to all those who share this island. What can we do to make this a better place?

Many of you here today are delivering on that challenge. Even in the darkest times on this island, civil society never lost sight of the duty of hope, striving for a better future.

Civil society opened the door for those acts of astonishing bravery by political leaders from all traditions that got us to the peace of 1998 and helped us to navigate what came after.

I see the work that civil society does to build better futures, finding innovative ways within which we can share this rock on which we live.

I value that work and thank you for it.

It is why today I am announcing a new €3 million Shared Island Civic Society Fund, part of my Government’s Shared Island Initiative. We are inviting applications immediately.

This Fund responds to the need which came through the Shared Island dialogues that civil society across the island would benefit from support to enable them to work more effectively together on issues of common interest.

In its first three years, the Shared Island Civil Society Fund will enable organisations to work on a regional, national or sectoral cross-border basis on such issues including:
- Climate and Environment
- Community development
- Heritage and conservation
- Social Enterprise
- Charity and Voluntary Sector
- and Sport.

I hope that this provokes more interesting and useful collaborations between community practitioners across the island, whether on rural and community development, tackling gender-based violence, or the role of arts and culture.

The Fund should also open up new opportunities for conversations on challenges and opportunities within our own communities from fresh perspectives.

There is so much to be learned from each other’s experiences. From these exchanges I hope that new initiatives, new bonds, can be created, making this a better place for us all.

This the heart of my vision for a Shared Island. An island in which the full potential of the Good Friday Agreement is attained, with deeper cooperation and connections across borders and communities.

I want to engage with all communities and traditions on the island to build a vision for our shared future.

Let us work together on issues and opportunities that reach beyond questions of identity.

Let us challenge ourselves to broaden our sympathies without abandoning our loyalties, and to live the values of the Good Friday Agreement by building a better, peaceful and prosperous future for our young people.

This Shared Island Civic Society Fund sits alongside other concrete commitments, including the €1billion Shared Island Fund to enhance cooperation and investment across the island as a whole – through targeted capital investment, transforming our understanding of the social and economic dynamics of our island through rigorous and systematic research, and the ongoing Dialogue series to hear from all communities on their ideas, expectations, fears and hopes for the future.

When I established the Shared Island Initiative, I was very clear that for it to work, it must be a whole-of-government priority. That is why it is essential that it is coordinated at the heart of government.

And each Department must play its part. This new Fund is one part of the Department of Foreign Affairs response, and I look forward to working with colleagues and officials to further develop the Department’s Shared Island programme in the time ahead.

But delivering a shared island is also a whole-of-society endeavour. That is why it is essential that society is resourced, through this Shared Island Civic Society Fund, to play its part.

In this 25th anniversary year of the Good Friday commitment, let me underline once more that the relentless commitment of civil society to forge a better future for their communities is matched by the relentless commitment of my Government to its responsibilities as a co-Guarantor.

We are doing everything we can to restore the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement and to support a lasting, stable foundation for relationships in Northern Ireland and between and within these islands.

I know that we don’t travel alone as we do so. Allow my last words to be in gratitude to every single one of you that joins us in these efforts.

A cháirde agus a chomhghleacaithe – go raibh maith agaibh.

Thank you.


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