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A British-Irish top-level meeting is happening for the first time in 11 years, but what is it about?

The meeting is supposed to be “regular and frequent”.

Simon Coveney and Charles Flanagan arriving at Whitehall.
Simon Coveney and Charles Flanagan arriving at Whitehall.
Image: Yui Mok/PA Images

FOR THE FIRST time in 11 years, the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference is meeting today.

The meeting is between both governments and holding it is a requirement under the Good Friday Agreement but what exactly does it do?

Here’s a quick guide.

What’s it about?

The British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, let’s call it BIIC for short, is held in part recognition that the Irish government has “a special interest in Northern Ireland”.

The meeting is designed to include the Taoiseach and UK Prime Minister but, if they’re not in attendance, both governments must be represented by “appropriate ministers”.

Leo Varadkar and Theresa May are not in attendance at today’s BIIC, something that has been criticised by some including Fianna Fáil.

Leader Micheál Matin said he was “highly disappointed” that neither would be in attendance “given the scale and importance” of what’s to be discussed.

Ireland’s primary representatives at the meeting are Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan.

The UK government is being represented at the meeting by Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Karen Bradley and the Minister for the Cabinet Office David Lidington.

Under the GFA, the meeting is supposed to be “regular and frequent” so the 11-year delay has been criticised.


BIIC is supposed to discuss a whole range of things including issues around rights and justice, but among its primary focuses is the review the operations of the Northern Ireland institutions.

At the moment, these institutions are not operating since the collapse of power-sharing 18 months ago. This is therefore likely to dominate this particular meeting.

There have been calls from some quarters, including Sinn Féin, for both governments to take a more direct role in re-establishing the NI Executive. Party leader Mary Lou McDonald TD has said that she is hopeful this meeting can secure progress.

“This is a first step in the governments acting to resolve outstanding issues,” McDonald said yesterday.

The DUP is not enthusiastic about the meeting between both governments, however, describing it as “a talking shop”.

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“The British Irish Intergovernmental Conference, has no decision-making power as clearly set out in the Belfast Agreement and will focus solely on non-devolved Northern Ireland matters,” Nigel Dodds MP said ahead of the meeting.

The DUP says that both governments should focus solely on non-devolved issues, i.e. issues that are not under the control of the executive.

Of those that are under the executive’s remit, rights issues surrounding the Irish language have been central to the stalemate between the DUP and several other parties.

It’s likely that the Irish language will be discussed during the BIIC meeting and the London-based branch of Conradh na Gaeilge today presented the British government with an open letter turning them to address the issue.

Of course, the elephant in the room during this particular BIIC meeting is the shadow of Brexit and the ongoing negotiations.

In his comments ahead of the meeting, Micheál Martin criticised the plan for the talk and said there appeared to be an attempt to keep Brexit issues “off the agenda”.

Coveney is certain to be asked about Brexit repeatedly during his time in London but it is unclear whether a joint press conference will be held involving the Irish and British sides.

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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