British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference Joint Communique, 25th July 2006
A meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference was held at Hillsborough on 25 July 2006.
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 Paul Goggins MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Northern Ireland Office. The Irish Government was represented by the Joint Chair, Dermot Ahern TD, Minister for Foreign Affairs, who was accompanied by Michael McDowell TD, Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
The two Governments reiterated their determination to make every effort to achieve restoration of the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland by 24 November 2006 and stressed that this deadline is firm and immovable. They recalled the workplan and timetable for restoration published by the Taoiseach and Prime Minister at Stormont on 29 June and once again urged the political parties to use the period between now and 24 November to engage constructively, and in good faith, on those issues which need to be agreed before the devolved institutions can be restored.
The Governments are determined in all circumstances to ensure the Good Friday Agreement is implemented to the fullest possible extent and for the benefit of all communities in Northern Ireland. In that regard, the Conference noted that work was going on to prepare the new partnership arrangements which will need to be put in place to bring forward full implementation of the Agreement in the event that the parties are unable to agree to share power by the deadline.
The Conference reviewed the current security situation. The two Governments reaffirmed their belief that the PIRA leadership is committed to exclusively peaceful means. The two Governments condemned the continued activities of loyalist and dissident republican paramilitary organisations and 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 Conference welcomed the fact that the marching season has passed off peacefully to date and that there has been no recurrence of the serious violence which occurred in 2005. In this regard the two Governments welcomed, in particular, the commitment of community representatives, political parties and other interested parties, to dialogue and negotiated resolution of differences. It noted the efforts of the Parades Commission and called on all those involved in the parades issue, on both sides, to continue to work together, and with the Commission, in the months ahead to achieve satisfactory resolutions to outstanding parades disputes.
While noting with concern that loyalist paramilitaries continued to engage in a variety of violent and other criminal activities, the Conference commended the efforts being made within loyalist paramilitary organisations to move away decisively from such activities and to steer the organisations towards positive community development. The Governments reiterated their commitment to support these efforts at transformation.
The Conference condemned recent sectarian incidents across Northern Ireland and recalled with deep regret the killing of Michael McIlveen in May. The two Governments called on all those in positions of influence and leadership to work to combat all manifestations of sectarian hatred in their communities. For their part, they undertook to do all in their power to foster good community relations and to tackle the scourge of sectarianism.
The Conference noted the current position in relation to the Nelson, Wright, Hamill, and Breen and Buchanan inquiries. The British Government explained its position and the Irish Government reiterated its concerns in relation to the Finucane inquiry. The Irish Government also provided an update in relation to the Barron Reports.
The two Governments discussed a range of issues in relation to policing and the continuing implementation of the Patten reforms, noting in particular the progress identified in the 16th Report of the Oversight Commissioner.
The excellent co-operation between the PSNI and An Garda Síochána 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.
Criminal Justice Matters
The International Agreement on North/South cooperation on criminal justice
matters was signed one year ago. The Conference welcomed the first report on the implementation of the Agreement. Progress was noted in relation to cooperation on public protection, registered sex offenders, forensic science, victims and personnel exchanges.
The Conference noted the publication by the British Government of the draft Protocol in relation to the operation of community-based restorative justice schemes and the further consultation period.
Human Rights, Equality and Community Relations
The Conference discussed the allocation of public sector housing in Northern Ireland following the publication of recent statistics.
Prospects for progress on the establishment of a roundtable forum on a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland were reviewed. The British Government confirmed its intention, pursuant to the recent consultation process, to legislate for new powers for the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.
The Governments noted the ongoing work of the Joint Committee (of the Human Rights Commissions, North and South) established under the Agreement and agreed that officials would consider how that work might best be supported.
North/South and East/West Matters
In discussion on North/South matters, the Conference focused on economic issues and agreed that the development of a more competitive and prosperous all-island economy will remain a priority for both Governments in the period ahead.
- agreed to pooling resources in trade promotion - specifically opening all trade missions to companies across the island and making the facilities of Invest NI and Enterprise Ireland overseas offices available to all companies on the island.
- agreed an all-island approach to labour market skills forecasting - recognising that a skilled workforce will be a key resource for a globally competitive all-island economy, and agreed to work together to identify skills gaps and propose how these should be addressed.
- agreed a new an all-island approach to international collaboration in science and technology - including taking advantage of EU funds which can be jointly accessed on an all-island basis to significantly enhance the opportunities for companies to collaborate on research and development.
- agreed an all-island approach to business development through knowledge exchange – including an all-island conference in the autumn to kick start a new joint approach to business development and collaboration through network and clusters.
- noted the appointment of the expert consultants to assist with the comprehensive study on the all-island economy and reviewed progress on the study.
- agreed that the final report will be comprehensive and ambitious with proposals for specific actions and initiatives.
The two Governments agreed to work together to maximise the contribution of renewable and sustainable energy to the future energy needs of the island and reaffirmed their commitment that nuclear power stations will not be built on the island of Ireland.
The two Governments reiterated their joint commitment to the establishment of the all-island centre of excellence for the education of children with autism in Middletown, Co. Armagh. Recognising that a number of complex issues had delayed the project they agreed to work intensively together to ensure that further slippage is avoided, so that the Centre will begin offering services by mid 2007.
The Conference reviewed progress on the new cross-border North West Gateway Initiative.
Both Governments welcomed the recent announcement made by the FIA that Rally Ireland would be included as a round of the 2007 World Rally Championship. They noted the potential of this event to showcase the island of Ireland as a tourism and sporting destination and reiterated their commitment to delivering a safe and successful event.
The two Governments commended the ongoing work of the North/South Bodies.
The Conference noted that the eighth Summit of the British Irish Council took place on 2 June in London focusing on the theme of Climate Change. It also acknowledged that, subject to positive political developments in Northern Ireland, the next BIC Summit would be held in Belfast. A follow-up meeting of BIC Environment Ministers is scheduled for 26 July. The two Governments commended the ongoing work of the Council.
International Fund for Ireland
The Conference noted the ongoing valuable work of the IFI in promoting peace and reconciliation on the island of Ireland and agreed that further work be undertaken at official level looking at the long term future of the Fund.
In relation to the Disappeared, the Conference noted that the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains reported to the Governments earlier this year on the findings of a forensic consultant employed as an agent of the Commission. The Governments have now agreed to move forward on these recommendations and the families concerned will be informed shortly. The Governments are deeply mindful of the sensitivities of the families, and remain committed to doing all that is reasonably possible to assist in the location of the remains, while bearing in mind that expectations have been unrealistically raised in the past.
The Conference discussed the issue of rural planning and noted that the public consultation responses are now being considered.
The Conference noted with satisfaction the positive FIFA decision regarding Irish passport holders playing for the Northern Ireland football team.
Date of next meeting
It was agreed that the Conference would meet again in the autumn.