William reflects on the work of the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly 2011 - 2016
I became the Welsh Liberal Democrat member of the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly (BIPA) when I was first elected as an Assembly Member in 2011 - and I have made my BIPA work a priority throughout this 4th Assembly.
During this time I have attended and spoken in every BIPA Plenary - from the Grand Hotel, Brighton in October 2011 to the most recent Plenary at Cheltenham Racecourse as well as playing a full part in the work of Committee B, the European Committee. It has been an enormous privilege to meet and debate with younger and veteran politicians from both Dublin, Westminster and every devolved administration in the British Isles.
During our Committee B discussions, I have contributed to several Inquiries, including being co-rapporteur on our Inquiry on the role of the Irish EU Presidency in delivering CAP reform under Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney TD. This is of particular relevance to my work as Liberal Democrat Shadow Minister for the Environment, Food and Farming and reinforces my own strong conviction that continued UK membership of the European Union is profoundly in the interest of all the nations of the British Isles. My membership of BIPA - and participation in Committee B - has also given me greater insights into the detrimental consequences for British -Irish relations of any UK vote to leave the European Union. After all, our shared membership of the European Community since 1973 has been the very cradle of the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the Peace Process.
I particularly enjoyed contributing to our Committee B Inquiry into the European Investment Bank - and, alongside the work of colleagues on the Committee of the Regions - I feel that we have gained a useful understanding of the potential that we in Wales have to learn from Ireland's experience of harnessing innovative funding. We had a most informative visit to the European Investment Bank in Luxembourg in January 2014, hosted by the EIB Vice President, Jonathan Taylor.
The BIPA Plenary sessions, in many locations around the British Isles, including the Senate Chamber, in Dublin; Church House, Westminster and in Ashford, Kent, ahead of a solemn act of Remembrance at the Mennen gate. I had never imagined I would get the opportunity to question the Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD, to lobby Michael O'Leary, CEO of RyanAir on flight links to Cardiff Airport - or to challenge the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Rt Hon Theresa Villiers MP on the impact of Brexit, which she apparently favours, upon the precious - but at times fragile - Peace Process.
The final BIPA Plenary in Cheltenham saw all members bid each other a fond farewell. Some Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland parliamentarians not seeking re-election, others hoping to continue. I have several BIPA friends who have served in the Dail since 2011 - and are currently battling it out in the Irish General Election campaign.
All in all, my membership of BIPA since 2011 has been one of the richest experiences of the Fourth Assembly and it has been an honour to represent my party and my country within this unique parliamentary assembly.