Study Visit to Flanders by Northern Ireland Officials
Officials from across Northern Ireland Civil Service Departments, as well as the Public Health Agency and local authorities, paid a working visit to Belgium from Tuesday 14th to Thursday 16th February for a study visit with the Government of Flanders coordinated by the Office of the Northern Ireland Executive in Brussels.
The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), the Executive Office (TEO), Department for Communities (DfC), Department of Health (DoH), Department of Justice (DoJ), Department for the Economy (DfE), Public Health Agency (PHA) and Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council were represented and officials took part in a series of general and policy-specific meetings.
On Tuesday 14th the delegation began their visit by meeting with several of their counterparts in the Flemish public administration, including the Flemish Peace Institute, the Agency for Justice and Enforcement, Flanders Innovation & Entrepreneurship (VLAIO), the Agency for Integration and Civic Integration, the Department for Agriculture and Fisheries, the Department for Environment, the Energy and Climate Agency of Flanders (VEKA), the Agency for Nature and Forests, and Digital Flanders. The group had the opportunity to meet with officials from the Flanders Chancellery and Foreign Office, including the General Representative of Flanders to the European Union and Deputy General Representative of Flanders to the United Kingdom, to discuss potential future collaboration between the regions.
On Wednesday 15th, field visits took place for which the delegation was divided into two groups according to their areas of interest, to either the Port of Antwerp/Bruge or to West Flanders. The group who travelled to the Port of Antwerp/Bruge were hosted by port officials who arranged meetings and terrain a visit, where they were able to discuss issues around the need for transparency and certainty regarding trading with Northern Ireland, as well as areas of mutual interest.
The other group’s field trip to West Flanders had a theme of ‘An Area of Shared Cultural Interest – Peacebuilding and Integration’ which included a meeting with the Mayor of Messines and visits to the Island of Ireland Peace Park in Messines, the Menin Gate, the ‘In Flanders Fields’ Museum and an integration project in Ypres.
On Thursday 16th, the visit was concluded at Errera House, the official residence of the Government of Flanders in Brussels with presentations by Flanders Investment and Trade and the Flemish Interuniversity Council. The closing plenary session was introduced by the Secretary General of the Flanders Chancellery and Foreign Office, Julie Bynens, and the Director of ONIEB, Aodhán Connolly. During this session, delegations exchanged positive views on future Flanders-Northern Ireland relations and reflected on the visit as having laid strong foundations for the potential signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the regions in the future.