Officials from British–Irish Council (BIC) Member Administrations today attended a reception at Thistle House to mark the establishment of the new BIC Standing Secretariat in Edinburgh. Scotland’s First Minister the Rt Hon Alex Salmond MSP visited the new Secretariat, the establishment of which is a significant milestone in the implementation of the Belfast and St Andrews Agreements.
The Secretariat will be jointly headed by UK (Jeremy Martin) and Irish Government (Ciarán Byrne) officials.
Jeremy Martin, the UK Joint Head said:
“The Secretariat aims to support and add impetus to the work of the British – Irish Council and looks forward to working closely with the eight different Council Member Administrations over the coming years. Our first priority will be the development of a business plan for publication in the coming months”.
Ciarán Byrne, the Irish Joint Head added:
“We would like to warmly thank the Scottish Government for hosting the Secretariat and for the support they have provided to us in the set-up phase”.
Under the Belfast Agreement of 1998, it was agreed to establish a British – Irish Council which would “promote the harmonious and mutually beneficial development of the totality of relationships among the peoples of these islands”. The BIC would “exchange 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. It will be open to the BIC to agree common policies or common actions. Individual members may opt not to participate in such common policies and common action”.
Subsequently the St Andrews Agreement of 2006 provided that “Following consultation with its other members, and with a view to giving further impetus to its work, the two Governments would facilitate the establishment of a standing secretariat for the British-Irish Council, if members agree”. At the BIC Summit in February 2008, recognising the potential to strengthen relations between members, the Council agreed to the establishment of a standing secretariat.
The Secretariat is funded by contributions from all eight Member Administrations. It is jointly headed by a UK and an Irish official and has full-time policy officials on assignment from the Northern Ireland Executive, Welsh Government and Scottish Government and in due course from Guernsey, the Isle of Man and Jersey.