10 Years Supporting the Irish Peace Process

In 2009, Ireland’s President Mary McAleese, her husband Dr. Martin McAleese and a team of delegates met with the Board and staff of I2UD to thank the Institute for its role in starting ICLRD and its continued support to the peace process on the island of Ireland.

Since our beginnings in 2005, I2UD has been working in Ireland and Northern Ireland as a founding partner of the International Centre for Local and Regional Development (ICLRD). The ICLRD provides independent, joined-up research and policy advice on cross-border and all-island spatial planning and local and regional development. The Centre plays a proactive role in peace and reconciliation on the island by bringing together policy-makers, practitioners and academics from the North and South to work on common goals in the areas of coordinated spatial planning and social and economic development at local, regional and national levels. It does this through research, policy advice and publications; professional education and capacity building programs that assist local governments and communities to translate policy into ‘on the ground’ action; and active outreach and networking that includes conferences, workshops and international cooperation and exchanges to identify best practices.

In addition to I2UD, this international and cross-border partnership was established by the School of the Built Environment Ulster University, the National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis (NIRSA) at Maynooth University and the Centre for Cross Border Studies in Armagh, Northern Ireland. The majority of ICLRD activities have been funded and supported by the EU INTERREG IVA programme managed by the Special EU Programmes Body, the International Fund for Ireland, InterTradeIreland and central government departments in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

As the Boston area based partner, I2UD has facilitated linkages and exchanges between Irish policy makers and academics and their counterparts in Boston and elsewhere, including Eastern Europe. Over the last ten years we have worked closely with our Irish colleagues to create opportunities for cooperation among central government officials on an all-island basis and also among local governments in the Irish Border region. For example, the Framework for Co-operation: Spatial Strategies of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is a 2013 policy document endorsed by both governments that identifies shared opportunities between the Regional Development Strategy in Northern Ireland and the National Spatial Strategy in Ireland.

Applied research, conferences and training programs also led to a new understanding of how local governments in the Irish Border region could address decades of ‘back-to-back’ development. Together with the other partners in ICLRD, I2UD staff worked closely with local authorities and the cross-border networks in the three distinct areas that make up the Irish border region. Along the Belfast-Dublin corridor, a precedent-setting memorandum of understanding between Newry and Mourne District Council in Northern Ireland and Louth Local Authorities in Ireland was drafted by the ICLRD to support cooperation in the areas of emergency planning, the green economy, tourism and job creation. In the largely rural central border region, the ICLRD has supported the development of a Regional Strategic Framework which was launched in 2013 and, in 2014, we participated in the drafting of an action plan for regional cooperation among local governments in the Northwest Region.

Institute staff also helped to launch Borderlands — The Journal of Spatial Planning in Ireland, now in its 4th Edition and available as an online resource. In the current edition, an article entitled Local Authorities and Cross-Border Collaboration: Insights from Hungary – Romania highlights common elements to promoting inter-jurisdictional cooperation and reflects our previous work in Romania developing the Oradea Metropolitan Zone. The articles in Borderlands cover a range of topics that are also of interest to practitioners and organizations involved in post-conflict development activities outside of Ireland and Northern Ireland, for example Investing in Peace: Reflections on the Work of the International Fund for Ireland From 1986-2011 offers interesting lessons for how development organizations can support peace and reconciliation.

We have been pleased to be part of the development of the Atlas of the Island of Ireland with the All-Island Research Observatory (AIRO). Available in both hard copy and as an on-line resource, the atlas provides a common reference point for planning and research among senior government officials, academic researchers, practitioners and local authorities. More recently, in 2013 we have been part of research teams looking into the application of shared services with a particular focus on delivering high quality services among clusters of local authorities. This research has led to the development of a dedicated website on Shared Services for local governments and the publication of three reports dealing with international experiences with shared services and propositions for local government collaboration on the island of Ireland. These reports can be found and downloaded here.

I2UD’s involvement of this unique ICLRD partnership offers insights on how applied research organizations support the peace process and develop a reputation for high quality research that is accessible to policy makers, practitioners and academics. In 2013, Sir George Quigley, a pioneer in North/South cooperation in Ireland observed in an interview that:

‘ICLRD material deals with an impressive range of issues from river basin management to the mapping of functional territories throughout the island, with much else of significance in between. This last is a potentially exciting concept since, put at its simplest, it could hopefully be developed to provide guidance, in an island context, on what services should be put where, having regard to optimum catchment areas, thereby enhancing accessibility and ensuring that services are affordable, economically operated and effectively configured and managed to sustain high quality.’
(North-South Cooperation in 2013: towards an ever closer working relationship Interview with Sir George Quigley, Andy Pollak, Journal for Cross Border Studies – No. 8, 2013).

Since its founding, ICLRD has held an annual conference which has become a valued and consistent place for those involved in cross-border cooperation to come together and learn from each other. The 10th annual ICLRD conference, held in association with the Centre for Cross Border Studies, took place on January 29-30, 2015.

Harmonizing cross-border planning and increasing cooperation among Councils along the Irish border in service delivery, economic development and environmental management remain an important priority for both Irish administrations. We look forward to our continued involvement in ICLRD and working with our Irish colleagues in the future with a particular focus on how other regions in the world can benefit from the lessons learned in the Irish peace process.

For information on the Institute’s activities within ICLRD please contact, John Driscoll at driscoll@i2ud.org.

For further information on ICLRD activities in Ireland and Northern Ireland please contact: Caroline Creamer, Acting Director, International Centre for Local and Regional Development at caroline.creamer@nuim.ie