Joint Communiqué of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference
A meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference was held at Iveagh House, Dublin on 2 May 2006.
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 British Government was represented by the Joint Chair, the Rt. Hon Peter Hain MP, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
Political Developments and the Way Ahead
The Conference reviewed political developments in the light of the recent statement made by the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister in Armagh setting out the Governments’ joint strategy for restoration of the devolved institutions in 2006.
The two Governments reiterated that their primary objective is the achievement of a fully functioning Executive and Assembly at the earliest opportunity and not later than the deadline of 24 November 2006. They urged the parties to grasp the opportunities in the coming weeks and months to work together to restore partnership government to Northern Ireland. They underlined their commitment to the Good Friday Agreement, as the indispensable framework for British-Irish relations, and confirmed their intention, in all circumstances, to ensure the Agreement is implemented to the fullest possible extent for the benefit of all communities.
The Conference noted with satisfaction the current enhanced context for political engagement, and noted the efforts of the Provisional IRA leadership to implement the commitments outlined in its statement of July 2005. In that context, it welcomed the findings of the recent IMC Report in respect of the Provisional IRA.
The conference reviewed the current security situation and particularly welcomed ongoing progress in implementing the normalisation programme as evidenced by the IMC’s March Report.
The continuing excellent co-operation between the PSNI and An Garda Síochána was welcomed.
The Conference condemned the barbaric murder of Denis Donaldson and commended the efforts of An Garda Síochána to bring those responsible to justice.
The Conference also called on those, on both sides of the community, who continue to seek to progress their goals through violence, to commit to the peace process and to put their arms beyond use.
In the context of their continuing commitment to the full implementation of all the recommendations of the Patten report, the two Governments discussed a range of issues in relation to policing.
The Conference again commended the high level of co-operation between the Assets Recovery Agency and the Criminal Assets Bureau and their ongoing successful efforts to combat organised crime.
The Conference expressed its support for the new Parades Commission, and its ongoing work, as the marching season commences. The Conference called on all those involved in the parades issue, on both sides, to continue to work to ensure that there is no recurrence of the serious public order incidents which occurred in 2005.
The Conference noted with concern the continuing incidence of loyalist paramilitary activity and exhorted those with influence to continue to use this influence to persuade the paramilitary groups to move away definitively from violence and other criminal activity.
The Governments reiterated that representatives of the loyalist community who are genuinely committed to making progress should be supported in their efforts at transformation. In that context, the conference noted the recent announcement by David Hanson of measures to tackle deprivation in loyalist areas. The British Government’s commitment to tackling disadvantage across Northern Ireland, wherever it appears and on the basis of objective need, was welcomed.
The British Government reported on the position in relation to the establishment of the Finucane Inquiry and the ongoing work of the Hamill, Wright and Nelson Inquiries, and noted that the Bloody Sunday Inquiry’s work on its final report continues. The Irish Government reiterated its position in relation to the Finucane Inquiry.
Human Rights, Equality and Community Relations
The British Government updated the Conference on recent meetings with the political parties on the establishment of a roundtable forum on a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. The Conference reaffirmed the importance of community relations in Northern Ireland and discussed the implementation of the “Shared Future” policy in that context. The Conference also reviewed progress in tackling poverty and social exclusion in Northern Ireland and the British Government outlined the measures being introduced under its Anti-Poverty Strategy – New Targeting Social Need.
North/South and East/West Matters
The Conference had a substantive and detailed exchange on progress in North/South co-operation across a broad range of practical issues.
The two Governments have committed to working together to explore ways in which they could more closely co-operate to maximise the potential of the North-West region. The Conference approved a new cross-border North West Gateway Initiative, to include: a non-statutory integrated spatial planning and development framework focusing on the Derry-Letterkenny gateway and the four local council areas of Derry, Strabane, Limavady and Donegal; an examination of the potential for joint investment in key infrastructure projects; joint analysis and actions by agencies in areas such as trade and investment promotion, tourism, skills/training, further and higher education, innovation and business development; better co-ordination of public services, notably in health, education and information services. In drawing up programmes under the new round of EU structural funds the two Governments will give due consideration to the particular needs of the North West. The Conference recognised that any public expenditure will be subject to normal scrutiny procedures in each jurisdiction. The Conference will consider a further report on progress within the next six months.
The Conference reviewed progress on the comprehensive study underway on the opportunities for further practical co-operation on the development of a more competitive and prosperous all-island economy for the benefit of all, including businesses and consumers North and South. The Conference welcomed the involvement of the business community in this study. The Conference agreed that the initial focus of this work should be on potential for further co-operation around the areas of science, technology and innovation: labour market skills: enterprise and business development: and trade and investment promotion. A more detailed report will be tabled at its next meeting and the Conference looks forward to a broad ranging and strategic discussion on that occasion.
The Conference discussed ongoing co-operation on infrastructure and spatial planning and noted the forthcoming formal launch of the report from the International Centre for Local and Regional Development (ICLRD) on spatial strategies for the island of Ireland. The Conference welcomed this work and endorsed its recommendation for the development of a framework for collaborative action between the two spatial planning strategies on the island. Relevant Government Departments, together with other key stakeholders, are to take forward the preparation of the new collaborative framework and update the Conference in the Autumn.
The Conference discussed the development of sustainable energy on an all-island basis, including progress on a 2020 Vision for renewable energy, the commencement of a study into how renewable energy technologies might be accommodated in grid systems and the development of an integrated, all-island communications strategy on sustainable energy and energy efficiency.
The Conference highlighted the positive results of the two Governments' co-operation in tackling mobile roaming charges on the island. This is a clear example of practical co-operation of real benefit to consumers and businesses North and South. The two Governments welcomed the introduction of all-island tariff options by a number of mobile phone companies. The Conference noted, however, that there is more work to be done and agreed to ask the Regulators to continue working with the companies and report back before late summer.
In view of the ongoing threat posed by avian flu, and the associated need for public health contingency planning, particularly in relation to pandemic flu, the Conference took note of the continuing co-operation between the relevant departments on both matters. The Conference stressed the need to ensure that the commonalities and differences in plans, North and South, are identified at an early stage and addressed, where necessary.
The Conference welcomed the ongoing co-operation between the two Governments and Translink in relation to the All-Ireland Free Travel Scheme. The Conference noted the progress being made in this area and the intention to announce details of a scheme before the summer.
The Conference noted the work underway by the two Governments to host a cross border child protection conference in the early autumn focusing on major themes such as systems, structures and vetting. Both Governments acknowledged the necessity of continuing to work together to ensure that the vulnerable on both sides of the border were protected by the most robust systems possible.
The Conference commended the ongoing work of the North/South bodies and the British Irish Council. The Conference took note of the meeting of the BIC which took place at Ministerial level in Belfast on 9 February focusing on transport and also noted that the eighth Summit of the Council will take place in London on 2 June when the issue of climate change will be considered.
The Conference discussed the recent Review of Public Administration announcement concerning the review of QUANGOs in Northern Ireland and noted that a range of non-core housing functions such as environmental matters and some aspects of housing repairs will transfer to local government, but that the core functions such as housing allocation would remain with the NI Housing Executive for the foreseeable future. The Conference also discussed the current position regarding nationality requirements for public sector posts.
Date of next meeting
It was agreed that the Conference would meet again in the summer.Top