North-South Ministerial Council
The British-Irish Agreement (Good-Friday Agreement) provided for the establishment of a North-South Ministerial Council to bring together those with executive responsibilities in Northern Ireland and Irish Government, to develop consultation, co-operation and action within the island of Ireland, including through implementation on an all-island and cross-border basis in relation to matters of mutual interest within the competence of the administrations, North and South.
The bodies are international cooperation bodies which may share sovereignty. Further bodies to those specified may be agreed and the scope of those already specified may be expanded.
All the Council decisions are to be by agreement of both sides. The Northern Ireland government is to be represented by executive members of Northern Ireland administration, First Minister, Deputy First Minister and any relevant Ministers. The Irish Government is to be represented by the Taoiseach, relevant Ministers, operating in accordance with the rules for democratic authority and accountability in force in the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Oireachtas.
Participation in the Council is one of the essential responsibilities attaching to governmental posts in the two Administrations. If the holder of a relevant post will not participate in the Council, the Taoiseach in the case of the Irish Government, and the First and Deputy First Minister in the case of the Northern Ireland Administration, may make alternative arrangements.
The agreement declares that the North-South Ministerial Council and the Northern Ireland Assembly are interconnected and that one cannot function without the other. Therefore, it has not functioned while the Northern Ireland Assembly has been suspended.
The Council is to meet in plenary format twice a year, with Northern Ireland representatives led by the First and Deputy First Minister and the Irish Government led by the Taoiseach. It is to meet in sectoral formats on a regular and frequent basis with each side represented by the appropriate Minister.
It is to meet in appropriate format to consider institutional or cross-sectoral matters. Each side is represented by the appropriate minister. It is also to meet in an appropriate format to consider institutional or cross-sectoral matters.
Agendas for all meetings are to be settled by prior agreement. It is open to either side to propose any matter for consideration or action.
The Council is to exchange information, discuss and consult with a view to co-operation on matters of mutual interests within the competence of both administrations. They are to use best endeavours to reach agreement on the adoption of common policies, in the listed areas where there is a mutual cross-border and all-island benefit, and which are within the competence of both administrations, North and South, making determined efforts to overcome any disagreements.
The costs of the council on the implementation bodies is funded by the two administrations. They are jointly ownership by the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Northern Ireland Audits Office.
The Council is supported by a standing Secretariat, which staffed by members of the Northern Ireland Civil Service and the Irish Civil Service.
The Council has to consider the European Union dimension of matters, including the implementation of EU programmes. Arrangements are to be made to ensure that the views of the Council are taken into account and represented at relevant EU meetings.
The Council is to take decisions by agreement in specified areas on policies for implementation separately in each jurisdiction, in relevant meaningful areas within the competence of both administrations. In other specified areas, it is to take decisions by agreement on policies and action at an all-island and cross-border level to be implemented by the bodies to be established.
Each side is to be in a position to make decisions in the Council within the authority of those attending, through the arrangements in place for coordination of executive functions within each jurisdiction. Each side is accountable to the Assembly and Oireachtas respectively for decisions which require their authority and are outside the scope of those attending.
Each government is obliged under the Agreement that the bodies are to have a clear operational remit to implement on an all-island and cross-border basis, policies agreed in the Council. They have to report to the Council, while remaining subject to accountability to the Northern Ireland Assembly and Oireachtas.
Disagreements within the Council are to be addressed in a particular format or in a full agreement. Each side may agree to appoint experts to consider a particular matter or to report.
The Areas for co-operation and implementation by the North-South may include:
- Agriculture / animal and plant health
- Education / teacher qualific
- ations and exchanges
- Transport / strategic transport planning
- Environment / environmental protection, pollution, water quality, and waste management
- Waters/ inland waterways
- Social security / social welfare entitlements of cross-border workers and fraud control
- Tourism / promotion, marketing, research, and product development
- Relevant EU programmes such including Leader, INTERREG and successors
- Inland fisheries
- Aquaculture and marine matters
- Health: accident and emergency services and other cross-border issues
- Urban and rural development
There was agreement on six areas of cooperation:
- Environment and;
There was agreement on implementation bodies in the areas of:
- Inland waterway;
- Food safety
- Trade and business development;
- Language (Irish/ Ulster Scots);
- Aquaculture and marine;
- Special EU programs
The bodies established were:
- Waterways Ireland
- The Food Safety Promotion Board
- The Trade and Business Development Body (InterTrade Ireland)
- Special EU Programs Body
- The North-South language Body
- The Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission
The implementation bodies were implemented by statutory instrument by the United Kingdom Parliament.
The Assembly and the Oireachtas are to consider developing a joint parliamentary forum, bringing equal numbers from each institutions for discussion of matters of mutual interest and concern. Consideration is to be given to the establishment of an independent consultative forum appointed by the two administrations, representative of civil society, comprising the social partners and other members with expertise in social, cultural, economic and other issues.
The Belfast Agreement established a British-Irish Council (Strand 3). The British-Council was established to promote the harmonious and mutually beneficial development of the totality of relationships between the peoples of the islands. Membership comprises representatives of the British and Irish governments, devolved institutions in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, together with representatives of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.
The British-Irish Council has to meet at least twice a year at summit level, with other meeting on sectoral issues comprising appropriate representives. The procedures are to be in accordance with democratic authority and accountability in their respective elected institutions.
The BIC will consider and promote consultation and co-operation on matters of common interest fairly within the competence of the relevant administration. Suitable issues for discussion are to include transport links, agricultural issues, environmental issues, cultural issues, minority languages, health, education issues and approaches to EU issues.
It is open to the BIC to agree common policies or common actions. Individual members may opt not to participate in such common policies or action.
The BIC is to operate normally by consensus. In relation to decisions on common policies and actions, it is to operate by agreement of all members’ participation in such policies and actions.
The members of the British-Irish Council are to provide financial support on a basis to be agreed by them. A secretariat is to be provided by the British and Irish Governments in co-ordination with officials of each of the other members.
In addition to the structures under the Agreement, one or two or more members may develop bilateral or multilateral arrangements. This may include mechanisms to enable consultation, co-operation and joint decision-making on matters of mutual interest; and mechanisms to implement any joint decisions. These arrangements will not require the consent of the British-Irish Council as a whole.
The elected institutions were encouraged to develop inter-parliamentary links, building at the British-Irish parliamentary Body.
The full membership of the Council is to keep under review the workings of the Council, including reviews from time-to-time.
British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference
The addition to the British-Irish Council, Strand 3 includes the British-Irish inter-governmental conference. In contrast to the British-Irish Council which involves the islands (Isle of Man and Channel Islands) and the devolved administrations within the United Kingdom (Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland), the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference involves the British and Irish governments only. It is the successor to the 1985 Intergovernmental Conference by the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 15 November 1985.
There is provisions for Northern Ireland ministers to attend in relation to matters excepted and reserved from the powers of the Northern Ireland Parliament and reserved to the UK government and parliament.
The British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference is to bring together the British and Irish Governments to promote bilateral co-operation on all matters of mutual interest within the competence of Government.
Functioning of Conference
It is to meet as required at Summit level between the Prime Minister and Taoiseach. Otherwise, the Governments are to be represented by appropriate Ministers. Advisers may attend including police and security advisers as necessary. Decisions are to be made by agreement between the Governments. The Governments are to make determined efforts to resolve disagreements.
In recognition of the Irish Government’s special interest in Northern Ireland and to the extent to which interests of mutual concern arise in relation to Northern Ireland, there are to be regular and frequent meetings of the Conference concerned with non-devolved Northern Ireland matters. The Irish Government may put forward views and proposals. Meetings are to be chaired by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Meetings are also to deal with all-island and cross-border co-operation matters on non-devolved issues.
Co-operation within the framework of the Conferences to include facilitation on co-operation and security matters. The Conference was to address areas of rights, justice, prisons and policing in Northern Ireland until responsibility was devolved to Northern Ireland. It is to intensify co-operation on all-island or cross-border aspects of these matters. Justice and security matters were devolved in 2010
Executive members of the Northern Ireland Administration are to be involved in the meetings of the Council in relation to non-devolved issues.
The Conference is supported by officials of the British and Irish Governments, including a standing joint Secretariat of officials dealing with non-devolved Northern Ireland matters.
The Conference is to keep under review the workings of the British-Irish Agreement and the machinery and institutions established under it.