Tuesday, 10 May 2022
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
117. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the discussions that he has had recently with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in relation to security affairs in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22655/22]
As the Deputy will be aware, I meet regularly with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to discuss security co-operation in the framework of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. The British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference is an important institution of the Good Friday Agreement, bringing together the British and Irish Governments under Strand Three of the Good Friday Agreement to promote bilateral co-operation on matters of mutual interest within the competence of both Governments. The Agreement provides for meetings of the Conference concerned with non-devolved Northern Ireland matters on which the Irish Government may put forward views and proposals. It also provides that the Conference may consider all-island cross-border co-operation on non-devolved issues.
At the most recent meetings of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference (held in Dublin on 23 March 2022 and in London on 2 December 2021 which Minister McEntee also attended), there was a discussion on the current security situation in Northern Ireland with the Secretary of State. At these meetings both the Irish and British Governments noted the importance of the ongoing high level of co-operation in tackling terrorism, paramilitarism and associated criminality. Meetings of the Conference are in addition to the frequent engagements that I have with the Secretary of State on a range of issues concerning Northern Ireland. In addition, Irish officials based in Belfast at the British-Irish Intergovernmental Secretariat meet on an ongoing basis with their British counterparts to discuss security matters in Northern Ireland.
The New Decade, New Approach agreement reached in January 2020 was a significant shared achievement in restoring the power-sharing institutions of the Good Friday Agreement to full operation. As we have set out in the Programme for Government, we will work to ensure that the New Decade, New Approach agreement is implemented in full.
For our part, the Government published a series of commitments, at the time of NDNA, focused on working with the Executive through the North South Ministerial Council to deliver projects that benefit people across the island, including greater connectivity between North and South; investing in the North West region and in border communities; supporting the Irish language in Northern Ireland; and supporting reconciliation as an integral part of the Peace Process. Although Covid 19 has been the understandable focus for much of the time since the NDNA agreement was reached, nevertheless progress has been made to implement those important commitments.
The package of language and identity legislation agreed in New Decade New Approach was detailed and balanced and should be implemented without delay – as should all the commitments in NDNA. This would have been better done in the Assembly as intended but there is no reason for further delay or deadlock over the positive measures agreed in support of linguistic diversity and cultural expression in Northern Ireland. It should be advanced on the basis of the legislative provisions negotiated, agreed and published at the time of NDNA. I look forward to seeing progress on this legislation in Westminster as soon as possible, as committed to by the Secretary of State.
As part of the NDNA, it was also agreed that there would be regular review meetings involving the two Governments at Ministerial level and the parties to monitor progress on its implementation, and the delivery of commitments by each Government. On 11 January 2021, I participated in the first Implementation Review Meeting alongside the First Minister, deputy First Minister, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and party leaders in Northern Ireland. It is regrettable that a second review meeting has not been able to take place to date; however, it is hoped that a second review meeting can take place in the period ahead.
Of course, Assembly Elections have just taken place and the formation of an Executive is now the important focus for the parties, and we will continue to work in full support of the institutions. The full implementation of the NDNA is a key priority for the Government in the period ahead, and we will work with a new Executive and the British Government to this end. We will also work to ensure a resumption of full and regular meetings of the North South Ministerial Council as part of these efforts.