A meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference (BIIGC) took place in London on 2 December 2021. The Communiqué which was made public after the meeting is attached for your reference.
Minister McEntee and I represented the Irish Government while the British Government was represented by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis MP, and Conor Burns MP, the Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office.
The Conference was established under Strand Three of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement “to promote bilateral co-operation at all levels on all matters of mutual interest within the competence of the UK and Irish Governments”. The Conference is also an important forum for discussions on the broader British-Irish relationship: both Governments agree on the deep value of strong bilateral cooperation at all levels.
The most recent meeting of the Conference had a wide ranging agenda which covered; East-West matters; Economic Cooperation; Rights and Citizenship; Security Cooperation; Legacy; Political Stability; Covid; and for the first time, we also discussed energy cooperation and the outcomes of the recent COP26 Conference in Glasgow.
At the Conference I took the opportunity to note, and express appreciation for, the strong levels of cooperation and partnership between our respective Consular teams in Dublin, London and across the world during 2021.
Looking at our significant and important economic relationship, we each agreed to work to explore synergies between the UK and Ireland’s respective Levelling Up initiative and the National Development Plan to ensure maximum benefit for the peoples of these islands.
In our first discussion about the environment, in this particular forum, we noted the positive outcome at COP26 in Glasgow, and recognised the ongoing importance of cooperation between the United Kingdom and Ireland to act on the agreement in Glasgow, and accelerate climate action in this critical decade.
The Forum provided an opportunity to discuss the current security situation and the threats posed by terrorism, paramilitarism and the associated criminality. We paid tribute to the ongoing high levels of cooperation between the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Security Services and An Garda Síochána which are central to effectively combatting these threats.
The Conference provided a timely opportunity to engage with Secretary of State Lewis on the British Government’s legacy proposals set out in its command paper. We reviewed the discussions to date as part of the multiparty legacy engagement process agreed at the meeting of the Conference in June and had an exchange of views on next steps. This was an important engagement where we were able to speak in depth about the issues. I also took the opportunity to raise issues of concern in respect to a number of individual legacy cases.
The political strain of Brexit, the Protocol and COVID has weighed on the NI Executive and Assembly for some time. It is incumbent on the two Governments to work in support of all of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement institutions given their interdependent and interlocking nature. As a Conference and as the two Governments, we reinforced our commitment to continuing close co-operation.
I look forward to the next meeting of the Conference in early 2022 and to building on the work undertaken since regular meetings of the Conference resumed in 2018.