Autism Care Gets North-South Boost

Northern Ireland's top politicians met the Irish premier in Co Londonderry today for the latest round of talks.

Brian Cowen said the Dáil government would now be backing a specialist facility, the Middletown Centre of Excellence - despite cutting cash back in May - which left the centre's future in doubt.

The rethink was announced at the North/South Ministerial Council, which involved the Irish Taoiseach Mr Cowen, and NI's First and Deputy First Ministers in Limavady.

Ministers from across the island of Ireland thrashed-out the ongoing roles and successes of the six cross-border bodies, ten years since their inception.

Also, at the meeting on Monday, plans to progress a new road project from Aughnacloy to Londonderry and on to Donegal were also agreed with the economy and ways in which the North and South could cooperate more to the advantage of both parties, also discussed.

In November, proposals to improve the 15-mile stretch along the border in Co Monaghan looked unlikely to be fulfilled but have now been reprieved.

The busy stretch of single carriageway runs from the Castleblayney bypass to the NI border at Moybridge near Aughnacloy.

Meanwhile, the devolution of policing and justice responsibilities to the Stormont Assembly was not on the formal agenda, but may have been touched upon.

Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein members are still at loggerheads over the transfer of the powers.

Republican Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has warned the local institutions would face a "full-blown crisis" if a timetable was not agreed before Christmas.

Ireland's Prime Minister Brian Cowen said discussions in Limavady would centre on both administrations working towards economic recovery.

"The scale of the economic challenge facing everyone on this island is now fully recognised by all," he said.

"Meeting that challenge has called for resolute leadership in taking difficult decisions, as we build towards economic recovery.

"Resolute leadership has also been at the heart of the peace process and the transformation in relationships on this island in recent years."

Last week, the Irish government put forward its hard-hitting budget aimed at restoring the state's damaged economy.

"The North/South Ministerial Council has its 10th anniversary this month and today's meeting is an opportunity to reflect on all that has been achieved in those ten years," he said before today's meeting.

"But, more importantly, it is a time to work together to make the most of our transformed relationship to help all of our people through this recession, to build a successful smart economy on this island and to provide better, more joined up and more cost-effective public services."


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