Cooley Councillor Antóin Watters was appointed the new joint chairperson of the cross-border Memorandum of Understanding committee on Wednesday morning, replacing Fianna Fail’s Emma Coffey in the role.
The MOU group is a cross border joint committee of elected members of both Louth County Council and Newry, Mourne and Down District Council.
The committee consists of nine councillors from each local authority, who meet quarterly ever year to discuss cross border issues.
Sinn Féin councillor Watters aired his delight at his unopposed selection on Wednesday, the committee’s first in-person meeting since December of last year due to Covid-19 restrictions.
“I am delighted to get this position particularly at this time of grave uncertainty around Brexit,” he said. “We are going to be badly hit in the border areas especially around the Cooley Peninsula so I see a huge part of my role as Chair of the MOU as being one of trying to minimise the damage and the fallout from Brexit.”
Among the cross border initiatives set up by the MOU committee in the last number of years have been a sizeable cross border waste initiative last year which included joint clean-up operations, awareness campaigns, GDPR Data Sharing Agreement and joint surveillance operations.
Cllr Watters says the Narrow Water Bridge project is also high up on his agenda. “[It] would enhance tourism in North Louth and South Down. This project is a vital piece of infrastructure in the development of tourism in the area and it was included in the New Decade, New Approach Deal which saw the institutions restored in at Stormont.
“As soon as the New Decade, New Approach Deal was signed I asked the Chief Executive of Louth County Council, as the lead partner in the project and the holder of the planning permission, to write to the North South Ministerial Council on the matter and the response was positive.
The MOU offers us a chance to work together with our counterparts from all parties and none across the counties north and south. I am looking forward to getting my teeth into this role and really prioritising Brexit, Cross border co-operation between all agencies and the Narrow Water Bridge project and I look forward to working with councillors north and south.”
Four Sinn Féin councillors – Watters, Pearse McGeough, Tom Cunningham and Edel Corrigan are joined on the committee by Independent Declan Power and Fianna Fáil councillors Coffey, John Sheridan, James Byrne and Andrea McKevitt.
SDLP councillor Declan McAleer is the other joint chair on the cross border committee, replacing Mickey Larkin.
According to the Louth County Council website, the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) sets out the detailed workings of the Strategic Alliance between Newry, Mourne & Down District Councils and the Louth County Council and seeks to support and promote the economic development and competitiveness of the region.