Belfast Telegraph

British-Irish Council summit focuses on Brexit and tackling drug abuse

The council was set up 20 years ago to bring the UK and Irish governments together, alongside various devolved administrations on the islands.

Leo Varadkar hosted the British-Irish Council meeting in Dublin (Brian Lawless/PA)
Leo Varadkar hosted the British-Irish Council meeting in Dublin (Brian Lawless/PA)

By Aoife Moore, PA

Political leaders from across the UK and Ireland have met in Dublin to discuss how to deal with “shared issues” such as Brexit and tackling drug abuse.

The British-Irish Council (BIC) summit on Friday was attended by senior figures from the UK and devolved governments, along with Irish premier Leo Varadkar.

The council was set up 20 years ago to bring the UK and Irish governments together, alongside various devolved administrations on the islands.

As well as the summit, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon held bilateral talks with both Mr Varadkar and Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford.

Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith represented the UK Government at the event.

The group said they spent time discussing Britain’s exit from the EU and the potential fall-out for each of their jurisdictions.

We are all expressing our deep regret that Northern Ireland is absent, as there is no First Minister, or Deputy First Minister to attend. Leo Varadkar

“We also touched on Brexit,” Mr Varadkar said in his opening remarks.

“Much of the next steps depends on what happens in the UK elections.

“I think we’ll all reassess the situation when we receive the results of the election.

“Whatever happens, we’re all very keen to ensure that there is a close relationship between Ireland and the UK.

“We also spoke about the future of the British-Irish Council which was established under the Good Friday Agreement, is 20 years old, and we all believe it could have an enhanced role in a post-Brexit environment, and we’ve asked the secretariat to do some thinking with regards to that in advance of the next summit.”

The group also expressed “deep regret” that no representatives of Northern Ireland could attend the event as Stormont remains deadlocked.

“We are all expressing our deep regret that Northern Ireland is absent, as there is no First Minister, or Deputy First Minister to attend,” Mr Varadkar added.

“The British Council was agreed to in the Good Friday Agreement and the council is not whole without being able to hear from Northern Ireland.

“Efforts as you know continue to re-establish the executive assembly.

“There is a deadline of January to do that, and opportunities potentially and hopefully rising after the elections and before Christmas to speak to the parties and encourage them to come together again.”

The group, which they joked had become an “ex-health minister’s club”, as four out five of those present held the role, also discussed substance and alcohol abuse.

“The focus was very much an issue of substance misuse and the British-Irish Council very often is an opportunity for us to learn from each other and to hear about those policies, what works, what doesn’t work, to get advice from each other on very practical issues,” Mr Varadkar said.

“Today was on the issue of substance misuse which affects our jurisdictions in different ways but affects us all.

“We certainly were of the view, as a consensus, is that the approach should be primarily health-led but not health only.”

He said there was also a useful discussion on the way different jurisdictions were dealing with alcohol which “gets misused very frequently”.

“Scotland has already led the charge on that, and has implemented minimum-unit pricing and seen a reduction in sales,” he said.

Senior figures from the Crown Dependencies of the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey also attended the summit.

PA

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