British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference - Joint Communiqué
1 February 2006
A meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference was held at Millbank, London on 1 February 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 David Hanson MP, Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office, and Shaun Woodward 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.
Political Developments and the Way Ahead
The Conference reviewed political developments in the light of the recent meeting between the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister in Dublin.
Both Governments stressed their commitment to the full restoration of the devolved institutions as soon as possible. They have invited the parties to meetings next Monday to discuss how they can work with them over the coming months to achieve that aim.
The task of building confidence and restoring normal politics demands effort, support and a willingness to take risks by all parties. It demands that the commitment to pursue politics exclusively through peaceful, democratic and lawful means is fully adhered to. It demands that all parties engage actively and collectively in restoring the devolved institutions needed to secure long-term peace and prosperity.
The IMC and IICD continue to play an important role in building confidence. The Conference noted the contents of the eighth IMC report, published today. It welcomed confirmation by the IMC that PIRA paramilitary activity has ceased since 28 July and that the PIRA leadership has taken the strategic decision to end its armed campaign and pursue the political path. The Conference expressed concern about the reports of continued criminal activity and intelligence gathering and stressed that these issues must continue to be addressed.
The Conference also noted the latest IICD Report published today, and welcomed its confirmation regarding the decommissioning of PIRA arms. The Conference noted the IICD's ongoing engagement with representatives of loyalist paramilitary groups and called on these groups to make early progress on decommissioning their weapons.
The Conference reviewed the current security situation. The continuing excellent co-operation between the PSNI and An Garda Siochána was noted.
The Conference welcomed the continuing progress in implementing the programme of normalisation and looked forward to the report by the IMC on security normalisation and demilitarisation, due in February.
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 welcomed the establishment of the new PSNI Historical Enquiries Team and the prospect this held of bringing a measure of resolution and closure for families bereaved since 1968.
The Conference noted that a new Policing Board will be appointed in time to take up their responsibilities in April. The British Government reaffirmed its commitment to ensuring that the new Board is representative of the community.
The Conference agreed that the support of all political parties for the PSNI and the new policing dispensation would not only be of great benefit to all the people of Northern Ireland, but is crucial to the efforts to make political progress in 2006.
The Conference noted that, since its last meeting in October 2005, a new Parades Commission had been appointed. It called on all those involved in the parades issue, on both sides, to begin to work now on addressing the parades issue and on ensuring that there is no recurrence of the serious public order incidents which occurred in 2005.
The Conference agreed that representatives of the loyalist community who are genuinely committed to making progress should be supported in their efforts at transformation. In that context, it noted an update from the British Government on the work of the new Delivery Team, reporting to David Hanson.
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. The Irish Government provided an update on the establishment of the Breen and Buchanan Inquiry. The Irish Government emphasised that it is important that any such Inquiries enjoy the support of victims' families and command public confidence. It reiterated its concerns in this regard in relation to the proposed Finucane Inquiry.
Protecting the Vulnerable
The conference considered recent developments in this area, particularly around the issue of providing effective safeguards for children. Both Governments agreed that it was now more important than ever to work together to ensure that the vulnerable on both sides of the border were protected by the most robust systems possible.
North/South and East/West Matters
The Conference commended the ongoing work of the North/South bodies, and of the British-Irish Council.
The Conference discussed a joint paper on infrastructure development and spatial planning on the island. The Conference commended the wide-ranging and successful co-operation already underway in sectors such as health, energy, telecoms, transport and waste management infrastructure.
The Conference agreed that there is significant potential for further co-operation on a range of infrastructure and spatial planning issues and requested responsible Departments and Agencies/Regulators to identify further projects for North/South co-operation and bring these forward. The Conference agreed that sectoral Ministers would review progress in their meetings as appropriate. The Conference will consider a further report on progress within the next six months.
The Conference also noted the scope for further practical co-operation on the development of an all-island economy and agreed that a comprehensive study should be undertaken to identify areas where future co-operation would deliver mutual benefits and examine how such co-operation might best be taken forward. This work could also draw on the common contribution by the British and Irish Governments under the Revised Lisbon Strategy. The Conference looked forward to reviewing the progress of this study at its next meeting.
The Conference welcomed the recent initiative by the Irish Government to include Northern Ireland businesses in the trade delegation accompanying the Taoiseach to India in January 2006. The Conference agreed that further opportunities for joint trade promotion would be explored.
The Conference noted the broad scope of North/South co-operation underway and recognised the importance of engagement between relevant Ministers, North and South, in driving forward this co-operation.
Recognising that they face many of the same challenges either side of the border in the North West of the island, the two Governments reiterated their commitment to explore ways in which they could more closely co-operate to maximise the potential of the region. They welcomed the work now underway to identify potential interventions that might be undertaken on a North/South basis.
The two Governments reiterated their determination to resolve the problem of inadvertent mobile phone roaming in border areas. They welcomed the work being done by the relevant Ministers with the Regulators and operators and noted that a report from the Regulators is due before the end of March. They look forward to concrete actions by mobile operators to address this problem and will come back to the issue at the next BIIGC.
The Conference took note of the meeting of the British-Irish Council which took place at Ministerial level in Dublin on 12 December 2005 focusing on the misuse of drugs. The next Ministerial meeting, on Transport, will take place in Belfast on 9 February when Ministers will consider, inter alia, the mutual recognition of driver disqualifications.
Equality and Human Rights
The Conference welcomed a paper by the British Government on progress in combating unemployment and progressively eliminating the differential in unemployment rates between the two communities in Northern Ireland. The Conference welcomed the considerable progress made in recent years in tackling the overall level of unemployment in Northern Ireland. The Conference noted that while the percentage gap in the employment rates between the two communities has reduced considerably, the ratio of Catholic unemployment to Protestant unemployment has remained broadly static and is still approximately 2:1. The British Government reiterated its commitment to tackling continuing labour market inequalities and removing barriers to participation in the labour market. The Conference agreed to keep this matter under continuing review.
The Conference also discussed human rights issues and specifically the question of a roundtable forum on a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. The British Government will work with the political parties and civic society to determine how best to build cross-community consensus on the issue.
The Conference welcomed the recent publication of “Sharing this Space – A Strategic Framework for Action 2006-2010” by the International Fund for Ireland.
The Conference noted the recent publication of the British Government's response to the consultation exercise on electoral registration and donations to political parties in Northern Ireland. The Conference noted that the proposed new arrangements for donations to political parties were designed to be fair, more transparent and in accordance with the spirit of the Agreement.
The Conference also discussed progress on an update of the Shared Future strategy and ways to address difficulties arising as a result of current nationality requirements for public sector posts.
It was agreed that the Conference would meet again in April.