The British-Irish Council (BIC) was established under a British-Irish (Good Friday) Agreement to promote the harmonious and mutually beneficial development of the totality of relationships among the peoples of these islands.
Membership of the BIC comprises representatives of the British and Irish Governments, devolved institutions in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales and, if appropriate, elsewhere in the United Kingdom, together with representatives of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.
The BIC meets in different formats: at summit level, twice per year; in specific sectoral formats on a regular basis, with each side represented by the appropriate Minister; in an appropriate format to consider cross-sectoral matters.
Representatives of members are to operate in accordance with whatever procedures for democratic authority and accountability are in force in their respective elected institutions.
The BIC exchanges information, discuss, consult and use best endeavours to reach agreement on co-operation on matters of mutual interest within the competence of the relevant Administrations.
Suitable issues for discussion in the BIC could include transport links, agricultural issues, environmental issues, cultural issues, health issues, education issues and approaches to EU issues. Suitable arrangements to be made for practical co-operation on agreed policies.
It is open to the BIC to agree on common policies or common actions. Individual members may opt not to participate in such common policies and common action.
The BIC normally operates by consensus. In relation to decisions on common policies or common actions, including their means of implementation, it operates by agreement of all members participating in such policies or actions.
The members of the BIC, on a basis to be agreed between them, provides such financial support as it may require.
A secretariat for the BIC is provided by the British and Irish Governments in coordination with officials of each of the other members.
Further Arrangements and Review
In addition to the structures provided for under the Belfast Agreement, it is open to two or more members to develop bilateral or multilateral arrangements between them. Such arrangements could include, subject to the agreement of the members concerned, mechanisms to enable consultation, co-operation and joint decision-making on matters of mutual interest; and mechanisms to implement any joint decisions they may reach. These arrangements do not require the prior approval of the BIC as a whole and operate independently of it.
The elected institutions of the members are encouraged to develop interparliamentary links, perhaps building on the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body.
The full membership of the BIC keeps under review the workings of the Council, including a formal published review at an appropriate time after the Agreement comes into effect and contributes as appropriate to any review of the overall political agreement arising from the multi-party negotiations.
British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference
The Belfast Agreement provides for a British-Irish Agreement dealing with the totality of relationships. It established a standing British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, which subsumed both the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Council and the Intergovernmental Conference established under the 1985 Agreement.
The Conference brings 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 meets as required at Summit level (Prime Minister and Taoiseach). Otherwise, Governments are represented by appropriate Ministers. Advisers, including police and security advisers, attend as appropriate.
All decisions are by agreement between both Governments. The Governments make determined efforts to resolve disagreements between them. There is to be no derogation from the sovereignty of either Government.
In recognition of the Irish Government’s special interest in Northern Ireland and of the extent to which issues of mutual concern arise in relation to Northern Ireland, there are to be regular and frequent meetings of the Conference concerned with non-devolved Northern Ireland matters, on which the Irish Government may put forward views and proposals. These meetings, to be co-chaired by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, also deal with all-island and cross-border co-operation on non-devolved issues.
Co-operation within the framework of the Conference includes facilitation of co-operation in security matters. The Conference also addresses, in particular, the areas of rights, justice, prisons and policing in Northern Ireland (unless and until responsibility is devolved to a Northern Ireland administration) and seeks to intensify co-operation between the two Governments on the all-island or cross-border aspects of these matters.
Relevant executive members of the Northern Ireland Administration are involved in meetings of the Conference, and in the reviews referred to in paragraph 9 below to discuss non-devolved Northern Ireland matters.
The Conference is supported by officials of the British and Irish Governments, including by a standing joint Secretariat of officials dealing with non-devolved Northern Ireland matters.
The Conference is to keep under review the workings of the new British-Irish Agreement and the machinery and institutions established under it, including a formal published review three years after the Agreement comes into effect. Representatives of the Northern Ireland Administration is to be invited to express views to the Conference in this context. The Conference is to contribute as appropriate to any review of the overall political agreement arising from the multi-party negotiations but has no power to override the democratic arrangements set up by the Agreement.