Remarks at launch of Reconciliation Fund Strategy09 June 2014
Check against delivery-
Launch of the Reconciliation Fund strategy
Belfast 9th June 2014
I am delighted to be here, at the end of a busy day, with all of you community, political and business leaders, to launch the Irish Government’s strategy for the Reconciliation Fund. There are many familiar faces in this room – people who I’ve met during the past three years as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, others who I’ve known over many years – who work day in, day out in support of reconciliation.
Over the past number of years, we have all sensed deep and disturbing fractures, as legacy issues from the Troubles, continue to have a corrosive effect on lives today. We need to find political, and societal, mechanisms to deal with these legacy issues. As I said in a speech in Cambridge last September, the past cannot be devolved, and in facing this challenge, we as the Irish government, along with the British government, have responsibilities also. We cannot address the past constructively unless we also examine ourselves. The Irish Government has learned this from difficult experience – recent times have seen a new approach to scrutinising and taking responsibility for its own role in issues such as institutional abuse and of course the conditions in mother and baby homes in past decades. We know that this process makes for better government and a better society. We believe a similar approach applies to dealing with the legacy of our troubled history on this island and we meet our responsibilities here in a number of ways. The Reconciliation Fund is one manifestation of our commitment in that regard.
Vision for a reconciled Ireland
Our vision as a Government is for a prosperous and reconciled Ireland. An Ireland where prosperity is measured not just in terms of GDP, but in the broader well being of our community. The Reconciliation Fund, in the period 2014-2017, will be dedicated to making further progress towards that vision. In doing so, we take as our foundational framework the Good Friday Agreement and the Agreements which have flowed from it. We see these as essential to the achievement of reconciliation here in Northern Ireland, and in the totality of relations between these islands.
The principles and values of the Agreements are essential to peace and reconciliation in Ireland and across these islands, namely: devolution, power-sharing; agreement on sovereignty; human rights; parity of esteem; support for the rule of law; and the continued shared responsibility of the two governments to guarantee these principles. The Irish Government is determined to realise their potential. This is a vital and challenging responsibility which concerns us all.
The Agreements have had an overwhelmingly positive and transformative effect on security, politics, economic and social opportunity on this island and in Northern Ireland most particularly. They came about as a result of a sustained effort over a number of years by the British and Irish Governments and the Northern Ireland Parties. However the full potential of the Agreements has yet to be reached. We need to reflect honestly on where gaps remain and commitments are unfulfilled. As is the case in any comprehensive political agreement, implementation is essential to the integrity and balance of the whole.
Work supported by the Reconciliation Fund
Many of you in this room work to fill those gaps. The sheer diversity of the work you are engaged in is illustrative of the challenges that we still face. The community leaders and workers here could be leading an intergenerational programme on identity and exploring the impact of the decade of commemorations on communities living side by side; or you could be spending a damp night on a troubled interface using your networks and skills and wealth of experience.
From a practical point of view the two funds will now become one Reconciliation Fund and anti-sectarianism will become an integral theme of our funding model.
Our new strategy will be based on support for two thematic pillars:
The first pillar will focus on repairing those issues that lead to division, conflict and barriers to a deeply reconciled and peaceful society. This will include projects that specifically target sectarianism; projects that target hard-to-reach and marginalised communities that are not normally involved in peace-building work; and projects that promote across-communities links and reduce segregation.
The second pillar will work to build a strong civil society that encompasses all communities, through the continued implementation of the Agreements and the promotion of a rights-based society, political stability and respect for all. This will be achieved through projects that build North-South links with sustainable relationships and connections; by projects that foster links across communities and generations; through projects which develop the role of women in peace-building and civic and public life; and by projects which develop and further deepen British-Irish relations.
At a time when financial support for the community sector is changing, we are evolving in order to remain effective. This strategy will therefore also see the implementation of a new funding framework which will allow differing levels of engagement with small and larger funding partners. We will also include a strong focus on measurable results and ensure that projects we support deliver value for money.
Although significant progress has been made, the work of civil society is crucial in building and maintaining peace. We have heard from you that you value the accessibility and flexibility that the Reconciliation Fund offers grant applicants and recipients, and we will ensure that this is the way that we continue to do business. This strategy is based on partnership between us, as Government, and civil society and further demonstrates our commitment to supporting the work being undertaken to promote reconciliation and reduce sectarianism on this island. We look forward to working with you to achieve that vision.
Political and economic context
Earlier today I met with the political party leaders and with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I welcome the real momentum that is building and the determined focus across the Governments and the parties to find comprehensive and fair solutions to outstanding issues. Delivering agreement on flags, parades and dealing with the past is an absolute necessity, and will have a positive impact on more than just those issues.
In my discussions today, key representatives of the business community spoke of the need for work at political level to create the conditions necessary for business and the economy to flourish. I know the same holds true in the community sector. And this is the message that I will bring with me to Washington next week – that the people of Northern Ireland are anxious for progress. We all need to see politics working.
The fact is that we have moved to a point where the Irish Government has no closer relationship than with the Northern Ireland Executive. We have no more important interest than in a peaceful secure and reconciled Ireland. We articulate that commitment through our role as guarantors of the Agreements. We express it today through our support for the talks process and for a comprehensive deal on contentious issues. And through the Reconciliation Fund we will demonstrate further our commitment to you into the future.