Mr Principal Deputy Speaker, with your permission, I wish to make a statement in compliance with section 52 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 about a meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council (NSMC) in trade and business development sectoral format. The meeting was held in Armagh by videoconference on 25 November 2020. Minister Conor Murphy MLA and I represented the Northern Ireland Executive. The Irish Government were represented by Leo Varadkar, Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and Tánaiste. The statement has been agreed with Minister Murphy, and I make it on behalf of us both.
The Council noted the impact of the pandemic on society and on the economy in both jurisdictions and the measures put in place by both Administrations to support communities and businesses affected by the crisis and to assist economic recovery. Ministers welcomed the productive cooperation between both Administrations and InterTradeIreland on support for businesses facing challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic and noted that InterTradeIreland will continue to provide support to assist businesses in coping with the challenges posed by the pandemic, particularly in the areas of supply chain management, health and safety and human resources.
Ministers noted the work being carried out to prepare for the end of the transition period and the implications for cooperation in the trade and business development sector arising from the UK's withdrawal.
Ministers welcomed the overall achievements of InterTradeIreland from 2016 to 2020 and recognised the valuable contribution that it has made through its trade and development programmes for small and medium-sized companies trading across the border and in both jurisdictions. Ministers commended InterTradeIreland for its work in helping businesses to prepare for the UK withdrawal from the EU and for its research on the issue. The Council recognised the impact of the innovation and technology programmes run by InterTradeIreland and its support for building relationships between companies and researchers.
The Council approved InterTradeIreland's business plans, budgets and grants for 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 and its 2017-19 corporate plan, which have been completed in accordance with agreed guidance issued by the Department of Finance and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and agreed by the sponsor Departments and Finance Ministers. Ministers noted InterTradeIreland’s annual reports and accounts for 2016, 2017 and 2018, which have been certified by the Comptrollers and Auditors General and laid before the Northern Ireland Assembly and both Houses of the Oireachtas.
Ministers asked sponsor Departments to consider InterTradeIreland's staffing complement, in consultation with the NSMC secretariat and the Finance Departments, and to provide an update to the next trade and business development meeting. The Council approved the appointment of Martin McVicar as vice chairman, Michael Hanley and Richard Kennedy, and the re-appointment of Florence Bayliss, Adrienne McGuinness and Micheál Briody, to the board of InterTradeIreland.
Ministers noted the progress and current position of North/South collaboration in relation to the Horizon 2020 programme and the achievements and current position of the US-Ireland R&D Partnership. Ministers noted that InterTradeIreland will continue to work with relevant stakeholders, including sponsor Departments, to explore new ways, both financial and non-financial, to maintain and strengthen research and innovation collaboration across both jurisdictions.
Ministers noted that the process for appointing a chief executive officer to InterTradeIreland has commenced, using the existing approved process and following consultation with the NSMC joint secretariat and the respective Finance Departments.
Finally, Ministers thanked Aidan Gough and Margaret Hearty for their work in successfully leading InterTradeIreland, as designated officer and assistant designated officer respectively, since they were appointed to those positions in September 2017. The Council agreed to meet again in trade and business development format in spring 2021. I commend the statement to the Assembly.