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Address by Brendan Howlin TD Minister for Public Expenditure & Reform Bringing Divided Communities Together Sharing the Experience of the EU PEACE Programme
First Minister, Deputy First Minister
Ladies and Gentlemen
I must begin by thanking you for the kind invitation to this important event. It was an invitation I was happy to accept.
We are all aware that conflict has marked European history.
Almost two hundred years ago, not many miles from where we are today, two armies met near the small village of Waterloo. At stake was control of the strategic city of Brussels. It was a major battle -50,000 people were killed or injured at Waterloo. Present were soldiers from across what is now the European Union – from France, Britain, Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium.
The victor on that day was Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington and later Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. His birthplace is a house across the street from my office in Dublin and is marked by a plaque I see every day.
Decisive though the battle was at the time, however, it was by no means the end of war in Europe. Where diplomacy failed, war continued and, indeed, a hundred years later the continent found itself mired in the first of two wars which spread well beyond Europe and would claim the lives of tens of millions around the world.
But new initiatives for peace emerged in Europe after the Second World War, initiatives that, against all the odds, have been successful.
Recently I re-read the speeches of some of the founding fathers of the European Union and was inspired by a generation seared by war but bent on peace. In the declaration that bears his name, almost exactly five years after the end of war in Europe, one of those founding fathers, Robert Schuman set out a vision of a new Europe where war would not just unthinkable but materially impossible.
There were many people at the time who thought that what was being proposed was impossible. They have been proved wrong.
The idealistic aims of that immediate post-war period have had real and long-lasting practical effects.
Recently we celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the Élysée Treaty which laid the foundations for a new relationship between France and Germany. Since then both countries have been at the very heart of the European Union. In that time the poverty and hunger that Schuman and his colleagues witnessed at the end of the war have given way to a period of unparalleled peace, security and prosperity.
Last year the Nobel Committee acknowledged the contribution that the European Union had made over six decades to peace and reconciliation in Europe and to the advancement of democracy and human rights when it awarded the Union its Peace Prize.
The challenge for this generation in Europe is to make that peace permanent.
Nowhere has the Union’s contribution to peace been more evident than in Northern Ireland.
This has been a long-standing commitment. It was in 1994 that the then European Commission President Jacques Delors first proposed a fund to assist the peace process after the ceasefire announcements.
The first PEACE Programme, from 1995 to 1999, addressed the immediate legacy of the conflict and took advantage of the opportunities that the peace process presented. Its successor programme, from 2000 to 2006, reinforced that progress towards a peaceful and stable society through economic development and cross-border co-operation.
The aim of the current programme, PEACE III, is to reinforce progress towards a peaceful and stable society by reconciling communities and contributing to a shared society.
We acknowledge, therefore, the contribution and commitment of the European Commission, the European Parliament and the other members of the European Union. We also acknowledge the substantial financial support from Europe to the International Fund for Ireland.
Brussels is once again a strategic city, but this time it is in the cause of peace.
The PEACE programme has made an enormous contribution to developing the peace process in Northern Ireland and the border counties of Ireland. Thousands of projects have been supported from 1995 to the present, with approximately €2 billion invested in these areas.
Projects which have been supported under the PEACE Programme have helped promote social and economic stability through the promotion of community cohesion and the development of a shared society.
A wide-range of projects have been supported, from large-scale capital-build and infrastructure projects to small scale, locally focused, grass roots projects.
The participative, bottom-up approach adopted by the PEACE Programme has proven to be particularly effective.
The current programme is targeted at over 450 individual projects, ranging from community-based organisations to ex-prisoner groups, local authorities, arts groups, religious organisations, trauma counselling services and sporting organisations.
The shared spaces initiative has brought a new pride in and shared ownership of spaces in areas which heretofore have been divided.
Commissioner Hahn, you were present for the opening of the Peace Bridge in Derry/Londonderry in 2011. It is a spectacular bridge that would grace any city, but spanning the River Foyle and helping to remove divisions has a special resonance for the communities involved.
I am pleased to be able to take part in the work of the North South Ministerial Council, particularly the sectoral meetings which oversee the Special EU Programmes Body where I am able to work closely with my Northern counterpart, Sammy Wilson, and his Ministerial colleagues.
The PEACE Programme is still very relevant for the needs of Northern Ireland and the border areas of Ireland. As noted in the PEACE III operational programme
peace building is a process which requires long-term commitment and effort to achieve real and lasting progress and to create a peaceful and stable society.
Current unrest is a reminder that we cannot afford to be complacent about any aspect of the peace process. There is much work to be done. The conditions that necessitated the previous PEACE programmes – sectarianism, segregation, marginalised communities, the threat of violence and dissident activity – all still need to be addressed.
There is still a need to engage with more marginalised communities and groups affected by the conflict and to build new shared spaces.
The challenge for this generation in Ireland, North and South, is to make the peace permanent.
The Irish Government strongly supports the establishment of a new PEACE Programme. Over the last year I have discussed this with you, Commissioner Hahn, and also with the chair of the Regional Affairs Committee in the European Parliament Danuta Hubner, and with colleagues in Belfast and London.
The Taoiseach and the Tánaiste have also been active in making the case for a new programme. The response we have received has been encouraging but there is still work to be done to ensure that a new programme is put in place.
I believe we should have a new programme because I believe in the values of the programme and the contribution it has made to supporting reconciliation, to the creation of a shared society, and to addressing the legacy of the troubles. Significant challenges remain, however, and addressing them is important for the longer term viability of the peace process.
Commissioner Hahn, I welcome this opportunity to share this space with you today, along with the First and Deputy First Ministers. I would like to acknowledge your continuing support for the PEACE Programme and to thank you and your team for organising this conference.
The presence of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister reminds us that Northern Ireland now enjoys devolved government, thanks to their painstaking and tireless efforts as well as that of their predecessors in political leadership. I call on them and the leaders of other political parties to sustain and renew their efforts towards building a shared society – a society in which all the people of Northern Ireland can build lives of peace, progress and prosperity. Like people in so many apparently divided societies, there is more that unites the people of Northern Ireland than divides them, and political leaders have a responsibility to reflect and articulate that reality.
I would also like to acknowledge the contribution of the Special EU Programmes Body to the ongoing success of the programmes and to thank Pat Colgan and his team for their hard work.
But above all, today is about the projects and the people who make them happen. These projects are a testament to the commitment of the people of Northern Ireland and the border counties of Ireland to nurture and strengthen peace, to leave conflict behind and to build an inclusive and respectful society for all.
Today, therefore, we celebrate the PEACE Programme. For almost two decades it has played an important and visible role in embedding peace and promoting reconciliation, and it is important that we come together to acknowledge that.
We know the PEACE Programme continues to make a real difference on the ground, bringing people and communities together.
People and communities are enjoying the new shared spaces that have been created; they are enjoying the opportunities that have been provided to work and learn together; above all, they are enjoying a new sense that a better future can be achieved.
31st January, 20