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.

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  • DK

    Salmond’s coming to power in Scotland has changed the dynamic of this from a Labour dominated talking shop to one where real business can get done: This is probably the only arena where he will appear as an international head of state, so it is very important to the SNP and the whole scottish independence project. Who would have thought that the Sop to David Trimble would be a driver for Scottish self-determination!

    It also has the potential to eclipse the North-South meetings – not only in terms of the big guns at BIC versus the minor politicos at North-South; but also anything in the North-South meetings could conceivably be covered at BIC.

  • Phil

    “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 eight members being Guernsey, Jersey, The Isle of Man, The Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and The United Kingdom. As I pointed out yesterday, who is representing England?

  • Chris Donnelly

    “…but also anything in the North-South meetings could conceivably be covered at BIC.”

    Not really, DK. The scope, detail and enthusiasm of and for North-South issues goes far beyond the BIC remit, in spite of the spin on yesterday’s proceedings. And anyone who doesn’t believe me, just wait for another couple of BIC meetings and watch as the big hitters go from making polite excuses for their absences to simply ignoring their occurences.

    And there are good reasons, at least from a British government point of view. Yesterday’s kerfuffle over seating/ standing arrangements illustrates how the SNP view this as an opportunity to be perceived as equals with Westminster, elevating Scotland’s status as a nation in the process. Why would Labour want any part of that?

    Ironically, those with reason to be most enthusiastic will be the Scots Nationalists for the reasons I’ve already outlined. Republicans are quite content to work the institution, but it really doesn’t compare to the potential of the North/ South Council, though I did enjoy Ian Og’s spin to the contrary yesterday.

  • DC

    Let’s not get too carried away about just what Republicans can do in the North-South set-up.

    In an ideal world the possibilities of the North-South Council to apply change to Northern Ireland is only restricted by the boundaries of innovate political thought. Remits could be widened and policy harmonised with Ireland as best as praticable mindful of any constraints arising from UK membership responsibilities.

    But the likelihood of this happening in an Unionist vs Nationalist hung Assembly is apparently unlikely, which may restict the haste at which change could be actioned depending if political point-scoring is the case. And in any case it will be a case of integrating best practice across the remits – a win-win for Northern Ireland’s constituents.

  • Prince Eoghan

    >>Who would have thought that the Sop to David Trimble would be a driver for Scottish self-determination!<

  • Gréagóir O’ Franclín

    ‘The Ice Age is over’ is a much welcome statement from Big Ian today……but some people might take that bit longer to thaw out!

  • Dewi

    Phil – England does not have an elected body to be represented – or a means of implementing decisions.

  • DK

    “’The Ice Age is over’ is a much welcome statement from Big Ian today”

    A bit unrelated, but there doesn’t appear to have been much anti-paisley stuff, predicted by many, over the 12th.

  • Phil

    Dewi,

    That is precisely the point I’m making. It wasn’t right when an MP from County Durham was running England alongside his responsibilities for reseved matters in Scotland, Wales and NI, but now that role is being done by the member for Kirkaldy and Cowdenbeath it rather emphasises England’s lack of political representation does it not?

  • Dewi

    Completely 100% agree Phil – England is the different one with a bizarre constitutional arrangement.

  • Phil

    Dewi,

    Bizare it certainly is. But with Labour choosing to ignore the issue, the Liberal Democrats prefering England’s partition into federal “regions” and the Conservative fudge that is English votes on English laws, how do we get the politicians to listen to what the majority of English people are asking for, parity with the other nations of the UK in the shape of a national parliament? If they really want to preserve the union, as they frequently tell us they do, then you would think that equality in each of the nations would be a top priority. The government embarked upon a devolution programme that gives political recognition on a national basis to Scotland and Wales. They have accepted the sovereign right of the Scots to determine the best framework of government to suit her people. It is also accepted that is up to the people of Northern Ireland to decide its constitutional arrangements. Surely if the union has any sort of future then the Welsh and Northern Ireland assemblies must become legistative parlaiments equal to Scotland’s and the same courtesey must be applied to England? Personally I have no love for the union or the concept of “Brittishness” and would not mourn its demise, but I find it strange that people who call themselves unionists choose to treat the people of its largest constituent country with such contempt and their sovereign right completely ignored.