Need for new formal structures for dialogue to be established between the Irish and British Governments in view of Brexit
To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if consideration has been given to the need for new formal structures for dialogue to be established between the Irish and British Governments in view of Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
- Darragh O'Brien.
For PRIORITY answer on Wednesday, 12th April, 2017.
Ref No: 18553/17
Ireland has a strong and constructive relationship with the UK and with our EU partners, and we are fully committed to maintaining both in the new set of circumstances which will emerge once the UK leaves the EU.
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 will all be used to the full, not least given the UK’s exit from the European Union.
These channels include the British-Irish Inter-Governmental Conference (BIIGC), the British Irish Council (BIC), the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly (BIPA) 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 government departments in Dublin and London.
At political level, there are ongoing and frequent contacts across all policy areas. As well as regular meetings the Taoiseach and I would have with our counterparts, government colleagues recently meeting their UK counterparts have included the Minister for Finance, the Minister for Social Protection and the Minister for Education and Science.
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 EU and with a view to helping strengthen bilateral links in a post-Brexit context, two additional diplomatic officers have been assigned to the Embassy. We also have a Consulate General in Edinburgh, for which I approved an additional diplomat in 2015, while our trade, tourism and investment agencies’ footprint in Britain is significant and will continue to be.
Regarding formal structures, the next summit of the British Irish Council is scheduled to take place in Northern Ireland in June 2017, with the previous meeting having taken place in Cardiff in November 2016. BIC meetings such as these provide Ireland with valuable opportunities to engage with devolved administrations in the UK, while there are twelve 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.
In terms of individual devolved administrations, I would point to the fact that the Irish Government has taken particular care to maintain close contacts with the Scottish and Welsh governments, with First Minister Sturgeon visiting Dublin in November 2016 and the Taoiseach meeting with Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones in Cardiff last month.
The formal structures also include the British-Irish Inter-Governmental 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.