Belfast Telegraph

British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference set to take place next month

By Michael Sheils McNamee

The British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference (BIIGC) is set to meet next month for the first time in over a decade.

On Thursday evening the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade announced the body would be convened on July 25 in London.

The last meeting of the conference took place in 2007, ahead of devolution being restored in March of that year.

Established under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, the BIIGC focuses on bilateral agreement between the United Kingdom and Ireland.

The Irish government will be represented at the meeting by Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney and Irish Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan.

The Conservative Government will be represented by David Lidington MP and Secretary of State Karen Bradley.

Mr Coveney said: “We look forward to this meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement. 

"Both governments as co-guarantors of the Agreement are fully committed to working together to achieve the earliest operation of the devolved institutions, and to working together for the mutual benefit of all of the peoples of these islands."

Reacting to the announcement, DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said: "We strongly value a good British-Irish relationship but our constituents, really want to see a working Assembly and Executive. 

"They want to see decisions made about their broadband, roads, schools and hospitals. The BIIGC has no power to take decisions. Arlene Foster understandably described it as a ‘talking shop’."

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald welcomed the announcement, and noted her party had been calling for it for the past number of months.

"We have been clear that the focus of the Intergovernmental Conference must produce a plan to bring forward the legislation on Marriage Equality, the Irish Language and Legacy Inquest and provide resources to secure these rights," she said.

"It must also set out a mechanism for the implementation of the existing  agreements."

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said the meeting was the UK government "putting the cart before the horse".

"We should be concentrating on talks in Belfast to restore the Executive and Assembly," he said.

“This is where the energy and focus should be.  Given the structure of the BIIGC, which must focus on non-devolved issues within the three stranded approach, it is hard to see how it will move us any closer to restoring devolution."

The BIIGC was convened on a regular basis between 1999 and 2007, but lost relevance after the restoration of power-sharing.

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