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Paisley and McGuinness for North South talks

By Noel McAdam

The first full meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council is expected to follow today's Stormont proceedings within weeks.

First Minister Ian Paisley - in what would be at least his second official cross-border function following the tree-planting ceremony with Bertie Ahern at the Boyne this week - and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness are due to attend the first meeting which is speculated to take place in Armagh or Dundalk.

The North/South body, which has remained in existence over the almost five years of mothballed politics, was established in Armagh on December 2, 1999.

It is designed to bring together those at an Executive level at Stormont and in the Irish Government - an arrangement which may change after the Republic's election and subsequent anticipated horse-trading.

The Council has joint North and South secretaries and a staff of 24 drawn from the civil service in Ulster and across the border.

Its aim is "to develop consultation, co-operation and action within the island, on matters of mutual interest within the competence of both administrations".

Acting jointly, Mr Paisley and Mr McGuinness are required, to provide both the power-sharing Executive and Assembly with the dates and the names of Ministers due to attend Council meetings as far in advance as possible and report back both to the Executive and the Assembly following each North/South Council meeting.

Mr McGuinness said that Sinn Féin and DUP ministers from the north sitting down with Ministers from the south, taking government decisions on the All-Ireland Ministerial Council would be a hugely important development " which will fundamentally change politics on this island.

"Among our priorities in government will be the completion of a Green Paper on Irish Unity within one year, identifying steps and measures to promote and assist a successful transition to a United Ireland.

"We will also appoint a Minister of State with the specific responsibility to oversee this work and to direct and co-ordinate the Government's all-Ireland policies across Departments."

Belfast Telegraph


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