File image from 11 April 1998 as some Belfast residents got their first look at the Peace Agreement. PA
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Events to mark Good Friday Agreement anniversary planned amid speculation over Biden visit

There has been much speculation about whether the US President will visit Northern Ireland for the anniversary.

THE GOVERNMENT WILL be updated today on plans to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement this year.

As co-guarantor of the agreement, the Irish Government is planning a series of events to mark the anniversary, both on the island of Ireland and abroad.

Cabinet will be told today by Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Micheál Martin that rather than focusing on a single date, events will take place throughout the year. 

The events will reflect the vital role played by the United States and the European Union in supporting the peace process, it is understood. Sources state that an invitation for US President Joe Biden to visit Ireland remains, having been extended by Martin previously.

There has been much speculation about whether Biden will visit the North if a deal can be reached to restore the power-sharing Executive by the 10 April anniversary date.

US Congressman Brendan Boyle recently played down the suggestion, stating that he “doesn’t get the sense” Biden will visit Northern Ireland to coincide with anniversary. 

However, Irish Government sources have said that Biden’s plans are “yet to be revealed”.

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The US played a significant role in the peace negotiations which resulted in the Good Friday Agreement, under the leadership of Bill Clinton and his Special Envoy to Northern Ireland, George Mitchell. 

Departments across government including Foreign Affairs, Taoiseach, Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media are working together on elements of the broader programme of events.

One key event will be a high-level conference hosted by Queens University Belfast between 17 and 19 April, featuring a range of speakers to be announced later this year.

A range of other cultural, civic and academic events will also be held and the Department’s Reconciliation Fund has awarded funding to community partners for a number of projects.

St Patrick’s Day events abroad this year will also have a strong GFA 25th anniversary focus.

The Government believes the anniversary programme is an opportunity to remind people about the success of the agreement and underlines that its vision and values are at the core of the ongoing journey of peace and reconciliation on the island.

Cabinet will hear that the anniversary should be seen as an opportunity to “celebrate what was a transformative moment for everyone on this island” and that the 
gains made in the last 25 years should not be taken for granted.

Social Insurance Fund

Separately, Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys is expected to tell Cabinet today that the State’s Social Insurance Fund (SIF) has recorded a surplus of over €2 billion by the end 2022.

The Social Insurance Fund is used to pay for the State Pension, as well as the likes of illness, disability and jobseeker’s payments.

The minister is expected to tell colleagues that the performance of the SIF can be attributed to the strong condition of the labour market.

Humphreys will confirm that expenditure on jobseekers payments was almost €50 million below target due to fact the Live Register has reached a record low.

In a memo going to Cabinet, she will also outline how her Department spent €1.3 billion in 2022 through once-off measures to help families with the cost-of-living.

Humphreys will also confirm that her department spent €4.5 million more than originally estimated on the school meals programme during the year – this can be attributed to an expansion of the Hot School Meals Programme last September.

Health claims 

In addition, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly will seek Government approval to establish a group to examine the rising cost of health-related claims.

A new interdepartmental group is to be formed with the former Master of the National Maternity Hospital, Dr Rhona Mahony as independent chair.

Cabinet will be told that there has been a very significant rise – over 500% – in the cost of health-related claims since 2010.

Claims have gone up by €385.7 million from €75.3 million in 2010 to €461 million in 2021, with a further 20% increase projected for 2022.

Ministers will be told that the main driver is damages payments on clinical claims, particularly those in excess of €4 million.

It is understood the new group will examine the rising cost of claims, with a focus on high value claims, and make suggestions on measures that could be taken to reduce costs in future.

Work will get underway on measures to reduce costs with a focus on minimising incidents of avoidable harm. The department says it plans to do this through improving patient safety and reducing risks. 

The group will be established as the Government progresses with the Patient Safety Bill which aims to provide for open disclosure in health settings.

It is understood that Donnelly is keen that the establishment of the group will identify measures that could be put in place to reduce costs in future, with the group producing a final report within nine months of its first meeting.

Donnelly will also update Cabinet on the situation in the Emergency Departments today. His update is expected to show numbers on trolleys are stable.

Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman will also bring a memo seeking approval to bring forward legislation for better enforcement powers of the Tusla Early Years Inspectorate.

The proposals brought to Cabinet seeks to ensure that Tusla has the appropriate enforcement powers to address cases where serious non-compliance by early learning and childcare services occurs.

The reforms also provide that parents will have access to key information in relation to such enforcements.

As part of the same legislation, the minister will bring proposals to change the legal status of childminders, which would make possible the future regulation of childminders and allow for access to the National Childcare Scheme to be opened in future to parents who use registered childminders.

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