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Speech by Mark Durkan at the launch of the SDLP's "North South Makes Sense" Document, (13 February 2006)

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Text: Mark Durkan ... Page compiled: Brendan Lynn

Speech by Mark Durkan, then leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), at the launch of the SDLP's "North South Makes Sense" Document, Belfast, (13 February 2006)


"I am delighted to welcome you all here this morning for the Launch of the SDLP’s North South Makes Sense document.

Today’s Launch is the outworking of the extensive engagement we have had through our North South Makes Sense campaign - with business, trade unions, the community & voluntary sector, service providers and service users. This document not only updates and consolidates what we have been consistently arguing on North South, it also reflects what we have been hearing. It benefits from the thinking we have exchanged with people in all the different sectors, including at our North South Conference held in Derry last October, which was addressed by a range of speakers including Dermot Ahern, Liz McManus, David Gavaghan from the SIB and Kate Burns from ICBAN.

We embarked on the North South Makes Sense campaign early last year because of our concern and frustration that others were being unduly inhibited about making the case for progressive developments in Strand Two. In the Review Talks, such as they were, and then in the negotiations at Leeds Castle and after the SDLP were the only ones setting out the case for new areas of co-operation, better implementation and more strategic delivery. The so-called ‘Comprehensive Agreement’ of December 2004 secured nothing new on North South. Against that background, the SDLP set out to underscore a very basic premise that we had put into the Agreement - that North South Makes Sense.

My thanks go to everyone at Party Headquarters who have been involved both in drawing together these proposals and putting together this launch - here this morning and later today in Dublin. And to Sean Farren, who has been the driving force behind our campaign and who will continue to lead for us promoting its positive agenda in the time ahead.

The SDLP have been campaigning vigorously on North South development because we believe deeply in the power of all-Ireland co-operation.

Of cross-border partnerships.

Of fostering new relationships to create better living conditions for all.

Of targeted regional development in areas that need it like the Northwest. Where planning is done jointly. Problems are addressed collectively. And prosperity can be shared together. Recognising that what is good for Letterkenny can be good for Limavady and vice-versa.

This sort of thinking has been at the core of what the SDLP has believed in since our foundation. A quick glance through our ‘Towards a New Ireland’ document from 1972 will illustrate that. We believe in North South. It is not just as Irish Nationalists. But also as taxpayers, as service users, and as citizens who want the best public services and economic prospects.

It is on that common sense basis that we put forward North South plans that are reasonable as well as radical. Not as a way of whipping up unionist fears or stirring up nationalist emotions. But so that we can fully exploit the transforming potential of co-operation for all - unionist and nationalist alike.

People who are unionist, nationalist or neither should have nothing to fear from dynamic North South co-operation. We are all losers without it.

We also want to see more done through the British Irish framework under the Agreement as well. Indeed - more than any other party - we have put forward more practical ideas for policy co-operation, pilots and exchanges among the various administrations on these islands via the British Irish Council. And, of course, as a party that neither caused nor prolonged suspension, we want our own democratic institutions restored in the North. Where together we have to produce the right answers to the right issues for the right reasons - which Direct Rule simply cannot do.

Many of you are here this morning because you share this vision and see the logic in the arguments we are making. Like us, you want to see more done on a North South basis, with greater strategic focus and better long-term outcomes for everyone.

When the institutions were working, North South had proven itself viable and valuable - even though it only had a total of thirty months to do so. Many traditional sceptics now speak positively of their experiences of working the North South Ministerial Council. And some who were previously regarded as wary of North South are now widely recognised for the creative contribution they made to it during the lifetime of the institutions. We were sharing experiences. Developing ideas for delivery. Making a decisive difference. We can do so again. We need to.

I won’t spend too long going over all our proposals for new all-Ireland actions and cross-border delivery. A short sample will give you an idea of the depth and scope of the SDLP’s thinking. Our proposals include:

  • A new all-Ireland Transport & Infrastructure Body;
  • An all-Ireland approach to truth and reconciliation that is victim-centred and victim-led;
  • An all-Ireland Research Alliance;
  • Maximising shared use of and access to specialist health services;
  • The all-Ireland energy market - accelerated;
  • An all-Ireland animal health strategy;
  • An island-wide strategy to promote ‘reduce, recycle and reuse’;
  • A Public Safety Body;
  • A joined-up anti-poverty strategy to name just a few.

I could go on and on. Too often I do. But if I do it’s only because we in the SDLP are anxious to deliver, impatient for change, hungry to get back in there so that we can get on with the work of building a new and better Ireland for everyone.

An Ireland where people know they are getting the most efficient public services and the best value for their money, because those services are being planned and delivered in a joined-up, strategic way.

Where we grow our economy in ways that benefit all. Including through greater co-operation between the Strategic Investment Board and the National Development Finance Agency.

Where we work hand in hand to deliver the massive investment needed in our infrastructure in the years ahead. West of the Bann and West of the Shannon where most investment is needed.

Where we remove - not just the traditional fears and prejudices - but the traditional deprivation and disadvantage that locks far too many people throughout this island into a cycle of poverty.

Alongside traditional route delivery, what’s to stop us doing things in new and better ways? North South should be a blank page on which we test new ideas and write a new story of shared endeavour and common purpose.

For example, what’s to stop us from creating new funds for which departments and other public bodies North and South could make joint bids for specific cross-border projects? Modelled on the Executive Programme Funds which the SDLP pioneered, this approach would allow us to cut through a lot of the usual bureaucracy and get good initiatives moving earlier and faster.

Or why not push to overcome the barriers to a harmonised corporation tax rate across the island? It’s 12.5% in the South at the minute and is likely only to go down in the time ahead as the South works to maintain the competitive edge that has been so fruitful for it in the last fifteen to twenty years.

We need to find new ways, better ways of doing all the things that need done in this country. Socially. Economically. Environmentally. Culturally.

This is the sort of imaginative approach I know many of you want to see taken forward. It is our agenda as well.

Businesses in the North want to be as competitive and attractive as those in the South.

Students and young people want the wider opportunities that all-Ireland collaboration and co-operation in education can open up.

Farmers want an all-Ireland approach as the best way of promoting their industry and protecting their interests.

Investors want to come here and we want to make it irresistible for them to do so.

Taxpayers want to know that their hard earned money is being wisely invested, not just for now but for the long-term future.

Consumers want co-operation so that we are no longer hit for unjust roaming charges or banking charges.

Ethnic minorities want an all-Ireland Charter of Rights that will guarantee them the protection they deserve and the equality they have every right to demand.

Parents want the reassurance of knowing that the border won’t be an issue if their child gets sick.

People want to see us working North South to deliver economic prosperity, social justice and national reconciliation.

We want to deliver all this and more.

So let’s get on with it.

Let’s deliver better prospects for all. Higher living standards for all. Greater opportunities for all. Wider horizons for all.

Let’s make good the promise of a better way to a better Ireland."

See also:
Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP). (2006) "North-South Makes Sense": (SDLP Proposals for Greater Co-Operation Between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland), (13 February 2006), [PDF; 566KB]. Belfast: Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP).


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