Joint Communiqué British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference - Dundalk
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 Irish Government was represented by the Joint Chair, Dermot Ahern TD, Minister for Foreign Affairs.
The Conference reviewed progress in implementation of the St Andrews Agreement and towards restoration of the power-sharing institutions by 26 March.
In that context, the two Governments welcomed the decision by Sinn Féin at its January Ard Fheis to support policing and the criminal justice system, and for its representatives to take their places on the policing oversight institutions. They also welcomed the steps taken by the party’s leadership in the intervening period to give effect to the Ard Fheis decision.
The Governments confirmed that this has removed a major obstacle to restoration of devolved accountable government and looked forward to the formation of a power-sharing Executive on 26 March following the 7 March Assembly election. The two Governments reiterated their determination to work closely with the parties over the next month to that end. They reaffirmed the absolute nature of the 26 March date for devolution, or, failing that dissolution.
They underlined their commitment at St Andrews to facilitate a favourable financial climate for a newly restored Executive, and noted the discussions which have already taken place in that regard.
The Conference urged all political leaders to act with courage and determination to seize the initiative in bringing the political process in Northern Ireland to completion and in pursuing a shared future for all.
The Conference reviewed the current security situation The two Governments welcomed the continuing evidence of the commitment of the Provisional IRA leadership to exclusively peaceful means, and to following the political path, as confirmed by the Independent Monitoring Commission in its most recent report of 30 January last.
The two Governments noted with concern, the IMC’s assessment that dissident republican groups – while small, isolated and fragmented – continue to prepare for an engage in paramilitary activity and that the loyalist groups, while moving in the right direction are still engaged in violent and criminal actions. All individuals and organisations engaged in such activities will continue to be actively pursued by the relevant agencies in both jurisdictions.
The Conference considered progress in efforts to transform loyalism, and encouraged those with influence in loyalist areas to continue to show courage and leadership as they seek to persuade the paramilitary organisations to commit fully to the peace process and leave violence once and for all.
The Conference reiterated the importance of securing closure in relation to past cases arising from the conflict in Northern Ireland and acknowledged the important work currently being undertaken by the Historical Enquiries Team and the Police Ombudsman in this regard.
The Irish Government raised once again, its serious concerns in relation to the findings of recent reports of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the various Barron Inquiries and noted that the report of the MacEntee Commission of Investigation in the Dublin-Monaghan Bombings would be completed in the near future. The British Government noted that they had provided information to both the Barron and MacEntee enquiries and were continuing to examine what further assistance could be provided on these issues. The Conference also considered the implications of the Police Ombudsman’s recent report into the circumstances surrounding the death of Raymond McCord Junior and related matters and the implementation of the Report’s recommendations.
The Conference noted that the review of parading aimed at developing an agreed longer term strategic approach to this issue, would shortly begin its work.
The Conference welcomed the continuing progress made in relation to security normalisation and noted that the IMC would shortly be reporting on the implementation to date of the agreed Normalisation Programme. The two Governments looked forward to the full implementation of the Security Normalisation Programme and its completion on schedule by end-July 2007.
The Conference welcomed agreement on the re-opening of two cross border roads and noted the fact that planning work has already been initiated.
Policing and Justice
The two Governments discussed a range of issues in relation to policing. The Conference noted the launch of the competition for independent members of the Policing Board. The continuing implementation of the Patten report’s recommendations was welcomed, including developments in relation to the establishment of the new PolicingCollege. The two Governments undertook to examine way sin which co-operation in training between An Garda Siochána was highlighted. Both Governments reiterated their determination that all the relevant agencies in both jurisdictions will continue to work closely together to combat organised crime.
The two Governments noted the continued progress in strengthening practical Criminal Justice Cooperation, particularly within the framework of the Inter-Governmental Agreement on Cooperation on Criminal Justice Matters.
Human Rights and Equality Issues
The Conference welcomed the holding of the first meting of the Forum on a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland in December and noted the positive way in which all members of the Forum approached the first meeting.
The British Government confirmed that equality, social need, good relations and human rights were key threads woven into the development of the RPA reforms and the Conference agreed that this should continue to be the case throughout its implementation phase. In respect of the reform of local government, the Conference noted the importance of ensuring strong power-sharing arrangements at local level.
The Conference noted that the consultation exercise on legislation on the Irish language was underway.
North/South and East/West Matters
The Conference discussed positive progress on North/South co-operation across a broad range of issues and commended the ongoing work of the North/South Bodies.
The Conference noted ongoing discussions on issues in relation to access by southern based students to Further Education Courses in Northern Ireland. Both Governments agreed to prioritise this work particularly as students are now beginning to address their options for the next academic year.
The two Governments welcomed the joint report on North/South co-operation on social inclusion and agreed to work together in alleviating social exclusion, poverty and deprivation to help create a more inclusive society on the island of Ireland.
The Conference welcomed progress made in identifying further areas for mutually beneficial co-operation in the health and further and higher education sectors. The two Governments reiterated the potential for co-operation in these sectors to deliver real benefits to citizens both North and South.
The Conference noted the ongoing work being carried out on proposals to restore and re-open the Lough Erne to Clones stretch of the UlsterCanal.
The Conference warmly welcomed the Irish Government’s innovative proposals in the National Development Plan for significant investment in North/South projects for mutual benefit.
The Conference noted the continuing and helpful work being taken forward by the British-Irish Council across the range of sectoral areas of work.
Date of next meeting
It was agreed that the Conference would meet again in the Spring.