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There's something for everyone in Cork

(by Gary Kent, Irish Post)

Senior parliamentarians from both sides of the Irish Sea are in Cork this week for the half-yearly meeting of the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body.

The two day meeting is an opportunity to compare notes on the peace process. But the cross-party body will also discuss other key topics affecting Britain and Ireland.

The centre-piece of the meeting is the formal question and answer session with a senior Irish minister.

Foreign Minister Brian Cowen was in the hot seat when the Body was last in Ireland and this year his place has been taken by the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Joe Walsh.

Veteran Labour MP Kevin McNamara will take the lead in pressing for the governments to restore devolution to Northern Ireland.

The former British Minister Alf Dubs will probe the Minister for details of "proposals to restore the confidence of the Unionist parties in the peace process."

The British Liberal Democrat spokesman on Northern Ireland Lord Smith will condemn "increasing levels of Loyalist and Republican paramilitary violence" and demand details of "further action to counteract such outrages in addition to the scrutiny being undertaken by the International Monitoring Commission."

Cork Labour TD Joe Sherlock TD has tabled a question urging the two Governments to "inject a sense of purpose and urgency into the political process in the North."

He also raises the possibility of the two Governments producing proposals for "the maximum possible level of implementation of the Agreement" if the present review of the workings of the Good Friday Agreement fails.

This could add weight to the suggestion that power-sharing be reinstated without Sinn Féin, which both Governments will be wary of.

Discussion on the possibility of some sort of truth and reconciliation process will be provoked by a question from the Sinn Féin TD for Louth, Arthur Morgan.

Mr Morgan is to ask the Minister "what efforts have been made to get the British Government to reveal files which it is retaining relating to the Dublin, Monaghan and Dundalk bombings" and is pressing for action to release these files.

Alleged links between republican paramilitary groups, criminal gangs and smuggling will be raised by the British Labour MP Harry Barnes.

The MP is pressing for a statement on "measures taken and measures proposed to curtail paramilitary groups raising funds from fuel smuggling and from the excise differential on fuel between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland."

Two Irish parliamentarians have turned their sights to the plight of the Irish community in Britain.

The former Foreign Affairs Minister Liz O'Donnell TD wants to know if the Irish Government "will address the isolation and poverty experienced by elderly Irish emigrants living in the United Kingdom."

She will ask for the official Irish Government response to the recent report of the Task Force on Emigrants and call for increased funding.

Fine Gael Senator Brian Hayes backs the call for increased funding to help isolated Irish people living in Britain.

Mr Hayes explained why he is tabling the question: "The report some years back proposed that emigrants who had fallen on hard times, particularly elderly single Irish men in Britain with alcohol problems should be allowed to return to where they were born and be provided with social housing for their last remaining years.

"But although there's so much money in the Irish economy now, there has been no action on this and I want the British Government to put pressure on the Irish government to act on this important east-west issue."

This will be the first time that a British-Irish parliamentary forum has been held in Ireland since the ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces was introduced at the end of March.

There will be considerable interest by British parliamentarians as to how it has worked so far.

The Welsh Assembly Member John Griffiths will simply ask "what will the Smoke Free Workplace Policy mean to Ireland?"

His fellow Assembly member Dai Lloyd will press for improved transport connections between Wales and Ireland.

Margaret Ewing of the Scottish Parliament wants to know if the new Cross Border Tourist Board has attracted additional tourists to Ireland and from where they have flown in.

The Donegal TD Cecilia Keavaney will focus on transport links within Ireland.

She is worried that a Dublin-Derry train service will be endangered if the current threat to close the line from Derry to Coleraine goes ahead.

The Cavan-Monaghan TD Seymour Crawford will ask about the upgrading and restructuring of the main Dundalk to Castleblaney road, which runs through South Armagh.

Crawford will argue that "the restructuring of this road will be a major contribution towards the peace process in this well-known border area."

Various all-Ireland institutions are on the agenda.

Senator Paschal Mooney backs all-Ireland sporting activities and says the Irish Government should initiate "a dialogue between the Irish Football Association and the Football Association of Ireland towards the eventual establishment of an international soccer team representing the island of Ireland and so end the historic split between the two Associations."

Senator Joe McHugh wants the Government to consider an All Ireland Youth Council based on existing models of best practice in Co. Fermanagh and Co. Donegal.

Sligo-Leitrim TD John Ellis is urging progress towards an all-Ireland veterinary protocol for livestock movements between the two parts of Ireland.

Another key issue is the impact of the enlargement of the European Union with the entry of ten Eastern and Central European countries on 1 May.

A wider catch-all debate on recent political developments which will allow parliamentarians from Ireland, Britain as well as the legislative assemblies of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man to raise the whole gamut of issues affecting these islands.

A controversial issue is the continued absence of unionist representation on the Body, which all members are keen on rectifying.

Despite this absence, parliamentarians believe that the Body has done sterling work in increasing understanding and co-operation between themselves and the two Governments over the last 14 years.

April 18, 2004

This article appeared in the April 16, 2004 edition of the Irish Post.