I am pleased to open the statements on Northern Ireland on behalf of the Government and to add the topic of Brexit to our discussions on this occasion. It has been asked for by a number of other parties. We are all aware that Brexit creates additional challenges in many areas, not least for Northern Ireland. I am glad to update the House on the Government's engagement, as we work at all times to protect and advance the Good Friday Agreement in all contexts.
I will first address the latest development in the Brexit negotiations. There have been two notable developments in recent weeks. First, at the June European Council, EU leaders took stock of the state of play. Their conclusions were forthright and robust, as they needed to be, and they set out in clear terms what must be achieved in the coming months. Concern was expressed that no substantial progress has yet been achieved on agreeing a backstop solution for Ireland and Northern Ireland and it was reiterated that the UK must respect in full the commitments made in December and again in March. Importantly, EU leaders made it clear that in the absence of agreement on a backstop, it would not be possible to finalise the withdrawal agreement as a whole, including transition arrangements.
This reflects the Government's and the EU's position that, while our preference is still for an overall EU-UK relationship that would resolve all issues, it remains essential that a backstop be agreed which provides certainty that in any circumstances, and no matter what the outcome of the negotiations on the EU-UK future relationship, a hard border would be avoided. We retain the full support and understanding of our EU partners in this regard. EU leaders also urged the UK to come forward with workable and realistic proposals on the framework for the future relationship, noting the EU's willingness to revisit its approach should the UK's position evolve.
This brings me to the second development. Last week, at its meeting at Chequers, the UK Government reached internal agreement on its approach to the future EU-UK relationship. The detail of this position has been elaborated upon in the UK White Paper published earlier today and which my officials are now studying closely. Today's White Paper is clearly primarily focused on the future relationship but it also includes a welcome confirmation that the UK will agree to a legally operable backstop as part of the withdrawal agreement. We look forward to considering today's proposals together with our EU partners, guided by the mandate provided by the European Council in March. Taking account of an assessment of the proposals by Mr. Michel Barnier and his team, we will have an opportunity to exchange views with our EU 27 counterparts at the forthcoming meeting of the General Affairs Council in Brussels on 20 July. My officials and I remain in intensive contact with Mr. Barnier and his team, as Deputies might expect. I will, of course, continue to keep this House informed of developments as we approach the final stages of the negotiations. The Government has placed the protection of the Good Friday Agreement and the gains of the peace process at the heart of our response to Brexit and this will continue to be the case.
In turning to consider the political position in Northern Ireland, I acknowledge that today, 12 July, is a sensitive and difficult day for many and I take this opportunity to commend the important work that is undertaken each year by the Parades Commission, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, PSNI, and by leaders in both communities to see that issues around parades are anticipated and addressed in a constructive way for the benefit of everyone. I call for calm and respect on all sides this evening. The majority of bonfires in Northern Ireland last night passed without serious incident, although there were a number of disturbances in east Belfast, which the PSNI have indicated were orchestrated. I acknowledge the leadership shown by unionist political representatives and representatives of the Orange Order in condemning the violent actions seen in east Belfast last night and calling for respect for identity and religion. Although it concerns the actions of a small number of individuals, I put on record the Government's condemnation of the sectarian attacks and the violence against the PSNI that we have seen in Derry - in the Bogside and at the interface with the Fountain - in recent days.
I strongly welcome the statement from the leaders of all of the main political parties in Northern Ireland that called for communities to stand together to protect the rule of law. The people of Derry are rightly proud of their work in building bridges between communities and in sustaining peace and reconciliation in the city. It was heartening to see that the Bogside community took a stand on Monday evening, showing their support for their neighbours on the Fountain Estate, as did church leaders on Tuesday. The determination that we see in Derry to uphold our shared peace serves as an inspiration to all of us in government and in politics to continue to do all that we can to see that the Good Friday Agreement can operate to its full potential through its political institutions.
The devolved power-sharing institutions are at the heart of the Agreement and they are the best means for achieving accountable, representative decision making for all the people of Northern Ireland. This is a critical time for Northern Ireland. There are many challenges and questions raised by Brexit that should be considered and addressed by elected representatives in Northern Ireland through the devolved institutions. There are also now many important decisions that have an impact on public services and people's lives that are waiting to be taken by a new Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly. The leadership at community level by the political parties in Northern Ireland that we have seen in recent days should also be represented in the Assembly and delivered on by a power-sharing Executive. It is of fundamental importance - most directly for all of the people of Northern Ireland - that the devolved institutions can operate again, and this needs to happen as soon as possible.
I remain in regular contact with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Ms Karen Bradley, as we seek a way beyond the current impasse. We met in Cork on 11 June and again in London last week, on 4 July. The Secretary of State and I have each conducted contacts with the parties to hear their views on how, at this stage, the two governments can support the political process in accordance with the Agreement. In light of these consultations, the Secretary of State and I are considering how best the two governments can chart a way forward that will give the best prospects for getting the devolved institutions operating again without delay. As an important part of that engagement, a meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, BIIGC, will take place on 25 July in London. The Minister for Justice and Equality and I will participate for the Government in this meeting of the conference with our British counterparts. The meeting will be co-chaired by Mr. David Lidington and me. The BIIGC will discuss the effective operation of the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement, North-South security co-operation and bilateral cooperation between the British and Irish Governments. 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.
I will conclude with a brief word on dealing with the legacy of the Troubles. I had a good meeting with the family of the late Mr. Pat Finucane on Tuesday and reassured them of the Government's continued and complete support for the holding of a public enquiry consistent with the Weston Park Agreement. The Government remains determined to see that there is definitive progress in the period ahead on the implementation of the Stormont House Agreement legacy framework and other outstanding legacy issues, including the three all-party motions adopted by this House on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. The Government welcomed the launch of the UK Government's consultation on addressing the legacy of Northern Ireland's past on 11 May, which is an important step forward. We are also working on drafting the proposals for the legislation required in this jurisdiction to provide for co-operation with the Stormont House legacy bodies. This work is being led by the Minister for Justice and Equality. I have met families, considered unionist or nationalist, which believe equally strongly in the need for truth and reconciliation through legacy structures.
The Government will continue to engage with the British Government and the political parties to seek continued progress on legacy issues and we will also continue to prioritise reconciliation in Northern Ireland in our ongoing work. To underline the Government's commitment in this area, I was pleased to announce in May that from 2019, an additional €1 million will be made available through my Department's reconciliation fund. My officials will also undertake a study to identify the challenges facing reconciliation in Border communities, paying particular attention to the needs of minorities in Border counties. I look forward to hearing the views of colleagues.