British Irish Council (finally) gets underway…

Once thought to be a sop to David Trimble for the North South Ministerial Council (meeting today), the British-Irish Council took an extraordinary full shape yesterday with both British and Irish premiers and three devolved First Ministers taking part. The Irish Times notes, there may be some strategic value for unionists in such formal joining up of the constituent parts of the Union:

Yet while the SNP leader offers Mr Brown a non-confrontational approach in the interest of delivering prosperity for the Scottish people, Mr Salmond also provides the DUP with an opportunity to shape an “islands-wide” approach to co-operation on a wide range of issues. Some observers tend to see this as a “Celtic” ganging-up against Westminster. Its real potential, however, might be in enabling unionists to counter an exclusively North-South focus which republicans hoped would presage further constitutional change.

The communique in full:

The council reviewed and discussed how the BIC might develop its work, now that all eight members are again represented by their respective administrations.

The BIC tasked the secretariat, in consultation with member administrations, to undertake a strategic review of the council’s work programmes, working methods and support arrangements, including arrangements for a standing secretariat, and report back with firm proposals as soon as possible.

Transport: Heads of administrations discussed the current state and future of transport infrastructure links. They recognised that the provision of well-planned infrastructure is critical to the economic and social development of these islands and that this is particularly the case in respect of transport.

Fast, efficient and integrated transport links are important for all the member administrations to enable the movement of people and goods and the further promotion of investment, trade and tourism between them and the rest of the world.

The council agreed to examine the potential for further co-operation and collaboration in relation to transport planning and investment to strengthen further the integration of transport networks across its boundaries and transport modes.

Misuse of Drugs: At their last ministerial meeting in December 2006, the ministers focused on the challenges presented by cocaine use. Ministers found that similar issues arose in relation to cocaine in each administration but that the problem was at various stages of development in the different jurisdictions.

They resolved to continue to co-operate and exchange experiences, with particular emphasis on initiatives that have led to successful outcomes and that may lend themselves to broader application in other administrations.

Environment: The BIC is continuing to intensify co-operation and exchange of information between the members in this and other important areas, including understanding extreme weather events, integrated coastal zone management and managing radioactive waste.

Health: Work is continuing on interoperable technical standards, on a relevant clinical governance framework, on protocols for the secure exchange of confidential data and on quality standards for e-health on the internet.

The BIC is also examining legal, regulatory and ethical issues within the sector which have come to the fore recently and will require firm guidelines to allow the sector to continue its current rapid development.

Tourism: The tourism work sector has completed several projects, including a model to measure the economic impact of tourism in the regions and training programmes for staff working in the sector. A review of the future work and direction of this group will be carried out by the next ministerial meeting in this sector.

Knowledge Economy: Work is under way within the group to assess the sustainability of business faced with potential serious threats. Possible preventative measures and business continuity planning are being developed to strengthen the sustainability of business.

An assessment of the readiness of small, medium and micro-sized businesses has been carried out. A common set of best practice guidelines on preventative measures and business continuity planning is being developed.

Indigenous, Minority and Lesser- Used Languages: The ministers agreed that while the approach adopted and the support for adult education provision will vary from one administration to another, there are valuable opportunities to be gained in continuing to share and exchange experiences in this area.

The indigenous, minority and lesser-used languages group continues to advance work in these areas and is also working on two new areas: planning and linguistic considerations and research, data and language use surveys.

Social Inclusion: The group is now examining the issue of child poverty with a focus on lone parents. The work is focused on transition points in peoples’ lives and the proper provision of support at these times. The BIC is also looking at how administrations identify and take into account, the views of parents, young people and children when formulating their policies.

Demography: The group has recently commenced work and has agreed to focus its efforts on the issue of migration which has a broad and varied impact on the eight members.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty