North / South Ministerial Council

The  North/South Ministerial Council was established to bring together those with executive responsibilities in Northern Ireland and the Irish Government, to develop consultation, co-operation and action within the island of Ireland – including through implementation on an all-island and cross-border basis – on matters of mutual interest within the competence of the Administrations, North and South.

All Council decisions are to be by agreement between the two sides. Northern Ireland to be represented by the First Minister, Deputy First Minister and any relevant Ministers, the Irish Government by the Taoiseach and relevant Ministers, all operating in accordance with the rules for democratic authority and accountability in force in the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Oireachtas respectively.

Participation in the Council to be one of the essential responsibilities attaching to relevant posts in the two Administrations. If a holder of a relevant post will not participate normally in the Council, the Taoiseach in the case of the Irish Government and the First and Deputy First Minister in the case of the Northern Ireland Administration to be able to make alternative arrangements.

Functioning of Council

The Council is to meet in different formats

  • in plenary format twice a year, with Northern Ireland representation led by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister and the Irish Government led by the Taoiseach;
  • in specific sectoral formats on a regular and frequent basis with each side represented by the appropriate Minister;
  • in an appropriate format to consider institutional or cross-sectoral matters (including in relation to the EU) and to resolve the disagreement.

Agendas for all meetings to be settled by prior agreement between the two sides, but it is open to either to propose any matter for consideration or action.

The Council:

  • to exchange information, discuss and consult with a view to co-operating on matters of mutual interest within the competence of both Administrations, North, and South;
  • to use best endeavours to reach agreement on the adoption of common policies, in areas where there is a mutual cross-border and all-island benefit, and which are within the competence of both Administrations, North, and South, making determined efforts to overcome any disagreements;
  • to take decisions by agreement on policies for implementation separately in each jurisdiction, in relevant meaningful areas within the competence of both Administrations, North and South;
  • to take decisions by agreement on policies and action at an all-island and cross-border level to be implemented by the implementation bodies.

Each side to be in a position to take decisions in the Council within the defined authority of those attending, through the arrangements in place for coordination of executive functions within each jurisdiction. Each side to remain accountable to the Assembly and Oireachtas respectively, whose approval, through the arrangements in place on either side, would be required for decisions beyond the defined authority of those attending.

Any further development of these arrangements to be by agreement in the Council and with the specific endorsement of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Oireachtas, subject to the extent of the competences and responsibility of the two Administrations.

Various Council NSMC Issues

The North/South Ministerial Council and the Northern Ireland Assembly are mutually inter-dependent, and that one cannot successfully function without the other.

Disagreements within the Council to be addressed in the format described above or in the plenary format. By agreement between the two sides, experts could be appointed to consider a particular matter and report.

Funding to be provided by the two Administrations on the basis that the Council and the implementation bodies constitute a necessary public function.

The Council to be supported by a standing joint Secretariat, staffed by members of the Northern Ireland Civil Service and the Irish Civil Service.

The Council to consider the European Union dimension of relevant matters, including the implementation of EU policies and programmes and proposals under consideration in the EU framework. Arrangements to be made to ensure that the views of the Council are taken into account and represented appropriately at relevant EU meetings.

The Northern Ireland Assembly and the Oireachtas to consider developing a joint parliamentary forum, bringing together equal numbers from both institutions for discussion of matters of mutual interest and concern.

Consideration to be given to the establishment of an independent consultative forum appointed by the two Administrations, representative of civil society, comprising the social partners and other members with expertise in social, cultural, economic and other issues.

Areas of For Co-operation and Implementation

The areas for North-South co-operation and implementation may include the following:

  • Agriculture – animal and plant health.
  • Education – teacher qualifications and exchanges.
  • Transport – strategic transport planning.
  • Environment – environmental protection, pollution, water quality, and waste management.
  • Waterways – inland waterways.
  • Social Security/Social Welfare – entitlements of cross-border workers and fraud control.
  • Tourism – promotion, marketing, research, and product development.
  • Relevant EU Programmes such as SPPR, INTERREG, Leader II and their successors.
  • Inland Fisheries.
  • Aquaculture and marine matters
  • Health: accident and emergency services and other related cross-border issues.
  • Urban and rural development.

The areas for co-operation where implementation is carried out separately:

  • Agriculture: Common Agricultural Policy issues, animal and plant health, agricultural research and rural development.
  • Education: Education for children with special needs, educational under-achievement, teacher qualifications and school, youth and teacher exchanges.
  • Environment: Environmental protection, pollution, water-quality management and waste management.
  • Health: Accident and emergency planning, co-operation on high-technology equipment, cancer research and health promotion.
  • Tourism: The promotion of the island of Ireland as a tourist destination for overseas visitors via the establishment of a new company, known as Tourism Ireland.
  • Transport: Co-operation on strategic transport planning including road and rail infrastructure and public transport services and road and rail safety.

Implementation Bodies

The six all-Ireland implementation bodies are:

  • Waterways Ireland: Management of specific and chiefly recreational inland waterways.
  • Food Safety Promotion Board: Food safety awareness.
  • Special European Union Programmes Body: Management and oversight of EU programmes and common chapters of the National Development Plan (Republic of Ireland) and the Northern Ireland Structural Funds Plan.
  • The North/South Language Body: Promotion of the Irish and Ulster Scots languages through two separate agencies, Foras na Gaeilge (Irish) and Tha Boord o Ulstèr-Scotch (Ulster Scots).
  • InterTradeIreland: Northern Ireland-Republic of Ireland trade and business development.
  • Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission: The management and development of Lough Foyle and Carlingford Lough and coastal lights through two separate agencies, The Loughs Agency and Lights Agency

Tourism Ireland is a de facto seventh implementation body. Additional areas for co-operation may be added by agreement between the Council and with the endorsement of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Oireachtas.

Originally, a new jointly owned agency, Lights Agency, was intended to replace the Commissioners of Irish Lights, which is funded from the UK Department for Transport-managed General Lighthouse Fund to provide coastal aids to navigation throughout the island of Ireland. However, complexities arising from the transfer of functions have meant that this has had to be reconsidered.

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