Joint Communiqué, British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, Iveagh House, 24 October 2006
A meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference was held at Iveagh House, Dublin, on 24 October 2006.
The Irish Government was represented by the Joint Chair, Dermot Ahern TD, Minister for Foreign Affairs, who was accompanied by An Tánaiste, Michael McDowell TD, Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The British Government was represented by the Joint Chair, the Rt. Hon Peter Hain MP, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who was accompanied by David Hanson, MP, Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office and Paul Goggins, MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Northern Ireland Office.
The two Governments paid tribute to the work of the political parties at St. Andrews and welcomed the major progress made to clear the way to restoration of the power-sharing institutions. They reiterated their belief that all parties should be able to endorse the St. Andrews Agreement and to implement it in good faith, building the trust and confidence necessary for a stable and lasting settlement. They also restated their position, as set out at St. Andrews, that support for policing and the rule of law should be extended to every part of the community; and that such support includes endorsing the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the criminal justice system, encouraging the community to co-operate with the police in tackling crime, and actively supporting all the policing and criminal justice institutions, including the Policing Board.
The Conference urged the parties to now work together to resolve any outstanding issues, so that they can confirm acceptance of the St. Andrews Agreement by 10 November and ensure that the timetable for nomination of the First and Deputy First Minister in November, and for restoration of the Executive in March is met.
The two Governments remain convinced that all parties wish to see devolution restored. The Governments reiterated that their deadline for progress remains firm and that in the event of failure to agree, they will proceed on the basis of the new British Irish partnership arrangements to implement the Belfast Agreement.
The Conference reviewed the current security situation. The two Governments noted the very positive report published by the IMC on 4 October, welcoming its conclusion that the PIRA leadership remains committed to following the political path and does not consider a return to violence a viable option, that it continues to direct its members not to engage in criminal activity, and that the Sinn Féin leadership has delivered on the intent set out in the statement of April 2005.
The two Governments condemned the continued activities of loyalist and dissident republican paramilitary organisations and again stressed that such activities will continue to be tackled robustly by the relevant criminal justice agencies in both jurisdictions. In this context the Conference reiterated its expectation that all paramilitary groups, from both sides of the community, will cease their paramilitary and criminal activities, fully commit to the peace process and take the necessary steps to put their arms beyond use.
The Governments discussed the major challenge of sectarianism and underscored their determination to take all necessary measures to foster good community relations.
The Conference welcomed the ongoing implementation of the Security Normalisation Programme, as confirmed by the Independent Monitoring Commission in its 11th Report, and looked forward to its completion by end-July 2007.
The Conference welcomed the fact that the marching season had passed off peacefully and that, for the first time in over thirty years it had not been necessary to deploy the Army on the twelfth of July. The two Governments noted that this achievement would not have been possible without the determined efforts of many people across the community. It was to be hoped that the precedent of this summer would provide a strong foundation for the coming years.
The Conference commended the efforts of the Parades Commission. The Conference noted the intention of the British Government to develop an agreed longer term strategic approach to parading, taking into account the views of the many stakeholders. The Conference noted that the role of the Parades Commission would remain central throughout this process.
The Conference commended the efforts being made within loyalist paramilitary organisations to move away decisively from such activities and towards positive community development. Acknowledging that such transformation is neither easy, nor risk-free, the Conference noted the recent announcement by the British Government of funding for six months for the development stage of a conflict transformation initiative in loyalist areas.
Policing and Criminal Justice
The continuing excellent co-operation between the PSNI and An Garda Síochána in many areas of operational policing was welcomed. The high level of ongoing co-operation between the various agencies on both sides of the border, and in particular between the ARA and the CAB, in relation to combating organised crime was noted.
Recalling the British Government's commitment to repeal counter-terrorist legislation particular to Northern Ireland by 31 July 2007, the Conference noted the launch by the British Government of a consultation on replacement arrangements for the Diplock Court System and the Irish Government's comments, and looked forward to the results of the consultation.
Human Rights, Equality and Community Relations
The Governments reiterated their full support for the human rights and equality agenda laid down in the Good Friday Agreement, including the right to equal opportunity in all social and economic activity.
The Conference noted the British Government's commitment to bring forward legislation before the end of this year to reform entry requirements to ensure access for EU nationals to posts in the Civil Service.
Having regard to previous discussions on the issue, the Conference welcomed the British Government's commitment to establish a forum on a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland and to convene its inaugural meeting in December. The British Government also confirmed its intention, pursuant to the recent consultation process, to bring forward legislation for new powers for the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, including powers to compel evidence, access places of detention and rely on the Human Rights Act when bringing judicial proceedings in its own name.
The British Government updated the conference on progress in implementing the Shared Future policy.
North/South and East/West Matters
The Conference welcomed the important study on the all-island economy to be published on Thursday and endorsed its key outcomes which include a clear and strong economic rationale for all island economic activity. As both economies, North and South, face challenges relating to the increased pace and intensity of global competition, all-island collaborative action is identified as an important source of competitive advantage.
The study sets out high-level goals in infrastructure; science, technology and innovation; trade and investment promotion; labour market and skills and enterprise and business development; all areas where co-ordinated policy intervention will deliver benefits to citizens and businesses North and South. A range of initiatives have been identified as first steps towards implementation and some of these were announced by the Conference at its last meeting in July.
The two Governments, along with key stakeholders, will jointly develop a more detailed programme of work in each of the areas identified as well as scope out further opportunities for co-operation in the education and health sectors. Recognising the significant practical benefits of all-island economic collaboration, the two Governments look forward to this work forming an important part of the agenda of the restored institutions.
The Conference noted progress on joint work under the North West Gateway Initiative. They welcomed the creation of a cross-border North West Workforce Development Forum to address the skills needs of the region; the commencement from 1 November of radiotherapy services in Belfast for patients from Donegal; the forthcoming launch of the pilot cross border GP out of hours scheme; and the commencement of phase one of the non statutory spatial planning framework which will assist in identifying the long term strategic priorities for investment in the region. The two Governments agreed to continue to review progress under this initiative.
The Conference welcomed the commitment by both Governments to develop the recently launched energy efficiency awareness campaign on an all-island basis. The two Governments noted with interest the work underway on the development of the Dundalk Sustainable Energy Zone. They noted the potential for this initiative to provide a model for future cross-border renewable energy initiatives.
The two Governments commended the ongoing work of the North/South Bodies and the British-Irish Council.
Date of next meeting
It was agreed that the Conference would meet again in December.Top