I am pleased to have the opportunity to discuss with the committee the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and the important developments relating to the ongoing peace process. As the Chairman will be aware, this is the first time that I have participated in the committee's proceedings since it was formed with new members and a new Chairman following this year's Dáil and Seanad elections. I look forward to continuing my regular and positive engagement with the committee in our collective task of supporting and assisting the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.
I am pleased to see a number of colleagues from their respective constituencies in Northern Ireland and I thank them for their attendance. They are welcome. They make an important and valued contribution to this committee and I look forward to their observations and questions on issues.
I will commence by addressing the UK referendum decision and the Government's view on its implications for the Good Friday Agreement. The result sent a political shock across Europe and beyond and registered in both parts of this island in particular and fundamental ways. The Government's four headline concerns are known: Northern Ireland and the peace process; the Border and common travel area; the economy and trade; and the importance and future of the EU. Since the day of the result, the Government has implemented its published contingency plan. As part of that, I carried out a round of contacts over the summer with all of my 27 EU counterparts to outline the unique circumstances that exist on the island of Ireland and the major concerns of the Irish Government. The Taoiseach met Prime Minister May, Chancellor Merkel, President Hollande, President Tusk and other Heads of Government in Europe in order to do the same. The Government's intensive engagement with our EU partners, including the UK Government, continues and we are further deepening the analysis and preparations across the whole of Government for the eventual UK-EU negotiation process, which we expect will commence in the spring of next year.
As part of this, I have already met the British Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, David Davis, and, of course, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, James Brokenshire. In Northern Ireland, a majority voted to remain and this wish was particularly pronounced among the nationalist community, although not by any means exclusively so. Many people across both communities are now understandably concerned that leaving the European Union would have implications for political stability and the ongoing process of reconciliation and prosperity.
In addressing this concern since the result of the referendum, the Government has clearly and consistently emphasised that the Good Friday Agreement is an international agreement that remains in force regardless of the decision of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union and that the Good Friday Agreement remains the basis for engagement by both governments in Northern Ireland. This was confirmed by the Taoiseach and British Prime Minister May at their first discussion on the issue on 13 July and their first meeting in Downing Street on 26 July. The continued political commitment to the Good Friday Agreement by both Governments, the Executive, other parties in the North and by virtually all quarters of society across these islands provides a very important source of stability and consensus at this challenging time. As a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement and succeeding agreements, the Government is determined that its institutions, values and principles be fully protected throughout and at the end of the UK's negotiation of its new relationship with the European Union.
It is vital the agreement in all its dimensions can be relied upon by people and our political systems throughout the uncertainties and challenges that are undoubtedly presented by the proposed exit of the UK from the European Union. The work of this committee, in supporting the full and continuing implementation of the agreement, therefore has an added fundamental importance as we deal with the full range of issues covered in the agreement, from provisions and consent in constitutional status to human rights protection, parity of esteem and identity to the institutions reflecting the totality of relationships on this island and between Britain and Ireland. Doing that will clearly require effective North-South and east-west co-operation, and the institutions of the agreement have already proven their value and indispensability in this regard.
The North-South Ministerial Council plenary meeting was hosted by the Taoiseach in Dublin on 4 July and I was present, together with my Government colleagues, the First Minister and deputy First Minister and all the Executive Ministers. At this meeting, the Government and the Northern Ireland Executive agreed to work closely to ensure Northern Ireland's interests are protected and advanced and that the benefits of North-South co-operation are protected in any new arrangements emerging as regards the future of the UK and its relationship with the European Union. It was also agreed that a full audit would be undertaken across all sectors of co-operation to identify the possible impacts, risks, opportunities and contingencies arising in the phases preceding and following the UK's withdrawal from the European Union. This work commenced immediately and is progressing across all the North-South co-operation sectors. A number of the serious implications raised by Brexit are fundamentally cross-Border in nature and these were highlighted and agreed by the Government and the Executive at that North-South Ministerial Council plenary session in July. Protecting European Union funding, sustaining the economy and trade and maintaining the common travel area are priority areas where we agreed a need to work closely.
We must be clear that there are no silver bullets for any of these issues and they will only be effectively dealt with through concerted North-South co-operation in addition to the wider strategic engagement by the Government with all 27 EU partners, with the Executive working closely with the UK Government. The next North-South Ministerial Council plenary session is scheduled for 18 November and that will provide an important opportunity to build on the discussions between Ministers with the North-South sectors and explore further the agreed key priorities for both the Government and the Northern Ireland Executive in dealing with the UK's exit from the Union.
I look forward to the continued positive, practical and effective work of the council in helping both administrations, North and South, to deal with these issues as raised by Brexit. This will be an ongoing dialogue between our two administrations for some time to come. This is in addition, of course, to the important standing work of the council, which is ongoing. The British-Irish Council has also taken on an added significance as a forum for addressing the implications of the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. Both the Taoiseach and I participated in the extraordinary summit of the council in Cardiff on 22 July that was convened to consider the outcome of the UK referendum.
There was consensus among the eight members on the importance of the council as an institution of the Good Friday Agreement and as a forum to share views and to enhance co-operation at this challenging time. The next summit meeting of the British-Irish Council will be in November. The Good Friday Agreement affords us institutions, principles and procedures that will prove invaluable in managing the complex process of the UK exit from the European Union in a way which preserves and sustains the enormous level of progress made on this island in recent times. However, as the committee is well aware, there remain a number of important elements of the Good Friday Agreement which still have not been implemented. These include the Irish Language Act, the Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland and the North-South consultative forum. Full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and the successor agreements is a priority for me, as Minister, and for the Government, as it has been for previous Governments. We will continue to work with all parties to seek progress on the implementation of the outstanding provisions. The prospect of the UK's exit from the European Union gives an added reason to implement all provisions of the agreement fully in order that its full balance and integrity protects and sustains the peace process into the period ahead.
With the permission of the Chairman, I wish to add a final point on the implementation of the Stormont House and Fresh Start agreements. As the committee will be aware, these two agreements, in 2014 and 2015, together address a range of issues that were hampering and, indeed, threatening the continued operation of the political institutions in Belfast. Although we are not yet there, I have to acknowledge that there has been sustained and significant progress with the implementation of each of these agreements since they were concluded. This has been driven by the political commitment and a determination on all sides and overseen in the quarterly review meetings by the two Governments and the parties to the Executive. Like the Good Friday Agreement, anything short of full implementation will leave important issues still effectively unaddressed.
The major outstanding area from the Stormont House agreement is dealing with the legacy of the past. This is a critical agenda for Northern Ireland in order that the needs of victims and survivors of the Troubles can be fully met and deeper reconciliation in society can be fostered with positive and active participation of the political, police and judicial systems. Despite extensive effort, it did not prove possible to agree the establishment of the Stormont House legacy institutions in the talks that led to the Fresh Start agreement in November. Since then Government has undertaken extensive consultations with a range of victims groups, civil society representatives and the political parties. The British Government has also undertaken a range of meetings, including by the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland following his appointment in July.
Given the importance of addressing the legacy of the past to our goal of genuine healing and reconciliation, I emphasise to this committee the continued strong commitment of the Government to getting the legacy institutions established as soon as possible. I discussed the legacy issues in detail with the Secretary of State at our bilateral meeting in Dublin two weeks ago. While I acknowledge that there are still outstanding issues to be resolved, I agreed with the Secretary of State that concerted efforts should be made to find a way forward in the period ahead. Dealing with the legacy of the past is essential to allow politics and society to focus on the challenges of today and to bring whatever truth and healing is possible to individual victims and survivors in Northern Ireland and throughout the island of Ireland.
This concludes my opening statement. I thank the committee for its time and engagement and look forward to dealing with its queries and listening to its observations, advice and guidance regarding the matter of the agreement.