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José Manuel Durão Barroso
President of the European Commission
Statement by President Barroso following his meeting with Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland
Brussels, 9 December 2010
I'm delighted to welcome First Minister, Peter Robinson, and Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, to the Commission this evening. The Ministers have invited me to open the new offices of the Northern Ireland Executive in Brussels later this evening, something I accepted with great pleasure.
I have very fond memories of my visit to Northern Ireland in May 2007 as the first international leader to meet Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness after agreement on restoration of the political institutions in Northern Ireland. It is important we recall the major progress that has been made over the last three and half years with the longest period of devolution in Northern Ireland.
I want to pay tribute to both men with me today. They have both been instrumental in making it possible for Northern Ireland to move from division to democracy and lasting peace.
This experience is now being exported. I am pleased to hear that the project to construct a “Peace Building and Conflict Resolution Centre” – one of the actions initiated following the report of the Commission's Northern Ireland Task Force - is now well on track. The Centre will allow the region to provide help and advice in overcoming deep social divisions and situations of conflict around Europe and in the wider world. We have made provision under the PEACE programme to allow support for the setting up of the Centre.
We also had today a very good discussion on how we can do more to help the people of Northern Ireland.
I'm extremely proud that the European Union has supported Northern Ireland with more than £2.5bn over the last 20 years. The various funds have provided real value added to local communities throughout Northern Ireland. We will look at how we can best continue to provide support in the future.
We have discussed the impact of the economic downturn in Northern Ireland. I'm especially concerned at the levels of youth unemployment. Northern Ireland has already shown its commitment to the Europe 2020 strategy. We are looking at how we can best use EU Structural Funds on projects which boost skills, innovation and research.
The First Minister and Deputy First Minister have presented today a list of achievements resulting from the opportunities highlighted in the Task Force report of 2008.
We have seen good progress. I want to see more. Today, I have asked the Task Force to go back to Belfast early in the New Year to give a new momentum to our joint work. It is time to renew and reinvigorate our collective effort.
I have said before that my commitment to Northern Ireland is not for one day but it is a commitment to our shared future – the future of Northern Ireland in the European Union. Today we renew that commitment, we celebrate the results achieved, and we look forward to Northern Ireland's future stability and success and that is exactly what I said to both First Minister and Deputy First Minister to ensure on my own behalf and on behalf of the European Commission my political support, and also other forms of support, to Northern Ireland and its people.