Ireland has a strong and constructive relationship with the United Kingdom and with our EU partners and we are fully committed to maintaining both in the new set of circumstances which will emerge once the United Kingdom leaves the European Union.
There are numerous channels for Irish-British engagement and both Governments are making extensive and effective use of them. Some of these fora were developed in the context of the Good Friday Agreement and some of them were established more recently or have evolved and developed over the years to reflect the close relationship between these islands. They all will be used to the full, not least given the UK's withdrawal from the European Union.
These channels include the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, the British-Irish Council, the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly and a formal process established in 2012 involving summits between the Taoiseach and the UK Prime Minister, supported by a joint work programme managed at official level by the heads of all Departments in both Dublin and London.
At political level, there are ongoing and frequent contacts across all policy areas. In addition to regular meetings the Taoiseach and I would have with our counterparts, Government colleagues meeting their UK counterparts recently have included the Minister for Finance, the Minister for Social Protection and the Minister for Education and Skills.
In terms of our diplomatic resources, our embassy in London is and will remain our largest bilateral embassy in the world. In fact, given the UK exit from the European Union and with a view towards helping to strengthen bilateral links in a post-Brexit context, two additional diplomatic officers have been assigned to the embassy in London. We also have a consulate general in Edinburgh, for which I approved an additional diplomat in 2015, while the footprint of our trade, tourism and investment agencies in Britain is and will continue to be significant.
Regarding formal structures, the next summit of the British-Irish Council, BIC, is scheduled to take place in Northern Ireland in June of this year, with the previous meeting having taken place in Cardiff in November last. BIC meetings such as these provide Ireland with valuable opportunities to engage with devolved Administrations in the UK, while there are 12 specific work sectors being addressed at ministerial and official level all year round. The summit meetings since the UK referendum have also included specific sessions on Brexit, in doing so, reflecting a capacity for flexibility in issues being discussed at them.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
In terms of individual devolved Administrations, I point to the fact that the Irish Government has taken particular care to maintain close contacts with the Scottish and Welsh Governments, with the First Minister, Ms Sturgeon, visiting Dublin in November 2016 and the Taoiseach meeting the Welsh First Minister, Mr. Carwyn Jones, in Cardiff last month.
The formal structures also include the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, which comes within the architecture of the Good Friday Agreement and whose function is to bring together the British and Irish Governments to promote bilateral co-operation at all levels on all matters of mutual interest within the competence of both Governments.
The conference has traditionally focused on issues of mutual concern relating to Northern Ireland where its remit is non-devolved matters, that is, those which are reserved to the British Government and Westminster rather than the Northern Ireland Executive and assembly. As the scope of non-devolved matters in Northern Ireland has become quite narrow over recent years, there has been no business need for the conference to meet at political level. However, its secretariat - made up of Irish and British civil servants - continues to be an important day-to-day channel of contact between both Governments and the Irish officials assigned to the secretariat constitute the Irish Government presence in Belfast.
Parliamentary links are also vitally important and will be more crucial than ever once the UK departs from the EU. I myself will be delivering an address at the next plenary meeting of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, to be held in Kilkenny in May 2017. This Assembly and its committees meet regularly to examine areas of shared importance across the member jurisdictions - Ireland, the UK, Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and what are known as the Crown dependencies - and this includes Brexit. I am also heartened by the regular interaction between other parliamentary committees, which is to be welcomed and encouraged as the withdrawal process continues.
Overall, as Deputies can see from what I have set out, there are extensive arrangements for dialogue with Britain - including ones which offer flexibility in terms of management and policy focus. We will, of course, keep matters under review, including as the details of the UK's new relationship with the EU emerge in the period ahead.