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Joint Communiqué of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference (BIIC), London, 27 June 2005



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Text: British and Irish Governments ... Page compiled: Brendan Lynn

Joint Communiqué of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference (BIIC),
10 Downing Street, London, 27 June 2005

 

A Summit level meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference was held at 10 Downing Street, 27 June 2005. This was the second Summit level meeting of the Conference.

The British Government was represented by the Joint Chair, the Rt. Hon Tony Blair MP, Prime Minister, who was accompanied by the Rt. Hon Peter Hain MP, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, 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, An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern TD, who was accompanied by Dermot Ahern TD, Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Michael McDowell TD, Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

 

Review of political developments

Both Governments reaffirmed their commitment to the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. It remains the template for political progress in Northern Ireland.

The Conference reviewed recent political developments, including the results of the Westminster and local government elections in early May and contacts since then with the parties in Northern Ireland. The Conference acknowledged that all political parties with significant electoral mandates had important contributions to make in advancing progress and looked forward to continued dialogue with each of them.

The Conference agreed that any prospect of restoring devolved government on an inclusive basis was dependent on the rebuilding of the necessary trust and confidence. This required the IRA to definitively end all paramilitary and criminal activity and to fully and verifiably decommission its weapons. In the context of such an outcome being secured and verified by the IICD and IMC, it would expect all parties to fully play their part in the restoration of devolved and inclusive government in Northern Ireland and in the operation of all of the institutions of the Agreement.

 

Security and Criminal Justice

The Conference noted the contents of the fifth IMC report published at the end of May 2005 and the two Governments expressed their concern at the continuing high level of paramilitary activity and capability. The Conference welcomed the recent announcement by the Chief Constable of a significant drop in the overall level of crime recorded last year, and reviewed progress in the area of normalisation, including the recent closure of Girdwood Barracks. The launch of the new Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland was welcomed, as was the recent fortnight of events highlighting progress in criminal justice: these included the establishment of the new Judicial Appointments Commission, the initiation of Causeway electronic case management and the Community Safety Week. The Conference noted the publication of local action plans by all 26 Community Safety Partnerships.

The Conference recognised the importance of working together to establish robust and compatible systems to deliver effective safeguards for children and young people. It noted that officials were considering the implications of the Bichard Report, the recently published review of vetting by the Children’s Commissioner in Northern Ireland , and the report of the working group on Garda vetting.

 

Parades

The Conference discussed parades, and was pleased to note that the weekend had passed peacefully. The Governments expressed regret at the violence which occurred in North Belfast on 17 June and agreed that all those with influence, on all sides, should work to ensure a peaceful summer across Northern Ireland. The Conference commended the Parades Commission and the PSNI for their contribution to easing tensions surrounding contentious parades.

 

Policing

The Conference reviewed progress in the implementation of the Patten report and welcomed the recent report of the Policing Oversight Commissioner, Al Hutchinson. The Governments noted with satisfaction the Commissioner's finding that the majority of the Patten recommendations had been implemented. There was a discussion about the outstanding issues to be addressed, including addressing the equality issue surrounding the composition of the PSNI civilian workforce, measures to affirm the primary role of the District Policing Partnerships in community policing, and the accountability and integration of national security structures and arrangements. The Conference re-iterated the commitment of both Governments to ensuring that the full vision of the Patten Commission would be completely implemented.

 

Human Rights and Equality issues

The Conference welcomed the appointment of a new Chief Commissioner and seven Commissioners to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. The British Government confirmed its intention to grant additional powers to the Commission and to consult widely on the matter. The Conference also encouraged the political parties and civic society to work together to establish a roundtable forum on the Bill of Rights.

The Conference welcomed a paper prepared by the British Government following discussion at the previous Conference about the commitment in the Belfast Agreement to a "range of measures aimed at combating unemployment and progressively eliminating the differential in unemployment rates between the two communities by targeting objective need". The Conference agreed to continue to keep the matter under active review, particularly in the light of ongoing research, and would return to the subject at its next meeting.

 

North/South and East/West Matters

The Conference commended the ongoing work of the North/South bodies.

The Conference discussed the significant potential for effective cooperation for mutual benefit on strategic issues such as infrastructure development and spatial planning. It was agreed that the modalities of taking forward such co-operation would be explored with a view to a further discussion at a future meeting of the Conference. The Conference also noted that the relevant Ministers had agreed to meet to discuss social policy issues of mutual concern, including the Irish Government's proposals in relation to an all-island concessionary travel scheme. The Conference noted the recent meeting of Ministers to review progress on the all-island energy market and welcomed the ongoing work to create a single electricity market by July 2007.

The Conference noted, and supported, the joint bid put forward by the Northern Ireland Events Company and Failte Ireland to host a round of the World Rally Championship in 2007.

The Conference noted that, since the discussion at its last meeting, the two Governments had announced their decision in principle to provide over €15/£10 million financial assistance to City of Derry Airport. The Conference welcomed this decision as an example of practical, effective, North/South cooperation.

With a view to further enhancing and promoting North/South economic and social cooperation of mutual benefit, the Conference asked officials to examine the possibility of a joint contribution in the reporting on the EU's Lisbon Strategy aimed at supporting growth and employment in the EU.

The Conference noted the success of the seventh Summit meeting of the British-Irish Council, which took place in the Isle of Man on 20 May, focusing on the subject of telemedicine. It welcomed the Council’s continuing development, including the ongoing programme meetings across the Council's key work sectors.

 

Electoral Issues and Political Donations

The Conference took note of the British Government’s intention to introduce legislation in 2006 to enhance the comprehensiveness of the electoral registration arrangements in Northern Ireland while preserving their accuracy. In the light of work undertaken to date, the Conference considered a range of options for new arrangements for donations to political parties which would be fair, inject increased transparency and be in accordance with the spirit of the Agreement. The British Government noted the short time frame in which legislation would have to be enacted to set these arrangements in place, and signalled its intention to consult the political parties in Northern Ireland shortly.

 

Any other business

The Conference noted that the public inquiries into the deaths of Rosemary Nelson, Robert Hamill and Billy Wright had all held their initial public hearings, and looked forward to the formal opening of the inquiry established into the murders of Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Robert Buchanan. The Conference also discussed the case of Pat Finucane. The Irish Government raised its concerns regarding the Dublin/Monaghan bombings.

Recalling the commitment by the Irish Government in the Agreement to take further active steps to demonstrate its respect for the different traditions in the island of Ireland, the Conference welcomed the recent announcement of the development plans for the Battle of the Boyne site.

 

Date of next meeting

It was agreed that the Conference would meet again after the summer.

 


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