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The British-Irish Council (BIC) is an international organisation[1] established under the Belfast Agreement in 1998, and formally established on 2 December 1999 on the entry into force of the consequent legislation. Its membership comprises representatives from the governments of Ireland; the United Kingdom; three of the four countries of the UK (Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales); and three British Crown dependencies: Guernsey, the Isle of Man and Jersey. Its stated aim is to "promote the harmonious and mutually beneficial development of the totality of relationships among the peoples of these islands". Because England does not have a devolved government, it is not represented on the Council as a separate entity.[2]


Membership and operation

Membership of the Council consists of the following governments (with current head of government, as of December 2009):

Member Body Representative Post Status
 Guernsey Policy Council of Guernsey Lyndon Trott Chief Minister Crown dependency
 Ireland Government of Ireland Brian Cowen Taoiseach Sovereign state
 Isle of Man Isle of Man Government Tony Brown Chief Minister Crown dependency
 Jersey Council of Ministers of Jersey Terry Le Sueur Chief Minister Crown dependency
Northern Ireland Northern Ireland Executive Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness[3] First Minister and deputy First Minister UK constituent country
 Scotland Scottish Government Alex Salmond First Minister UK constituent country
 United Kingdom Her Majesty's Government Gordon Brown Prime Minister Sovereign state
 Wales Welsh Assembly Government Carwyn Jones First Minister UK constituent country

The eight heads of government meet at twice yearly summit. Additionally, there are regular meetings that deal with specific sectors and are attended by the corresponding ministers. The work of the Council is financed by members through mutual agreement as required, and a secretariat is provided by the UK and Irish governments in co-ordination with officials of each of the other members.[4] Representatives of members operate in accordance with whatever procedures for democratic authority and accountability are in force in their respective elected legislatures.

At the ninth meeting of the Council, it was decided that with devolved government returned to Northern Ireland that an opportune time existed "to undertake a strategic review of the Council’s work programmes, working methods and support arrangements." This decision including the potential for a permanent standing secretariat.

Work areas

The Council agrees to specific work areas for which individual members take responsibility. The Belfast Agreement suggested transport links, agriculture, environmental issues, culture, health, education and approaches to the European Union as suitable topics for early discussion. These work areas can be expanded or reduced as the Council decides. It is also open to the Council to make agreement on common policies. These agreements are made through consensus, although individual members may opt not to participate in implementing these. The current list of work areas and the member responsible are:

Demography was adopted as a work area at the 2006 meeting of the Council. It was proposed by the Scottish Executive, who also took responsibility for it. During the 2007 meeting of the Council the Scottish Government further proposed that energy become a work area of the Council and offered again to lead the area. No decision will be reached on whether to add energy as a work area or who should take responsibility for it until after the strategic review returns its findings.

Name of the Council

In represented minority and lesser-used languages the council is known as:

See also

External links


  1. ^ Jesse, Neal G., Williams, Kristen P.: Identity and institutions: conflict reduction in divided societies.Publisher SUNY Press, 2005, page 107. ISBN 0791464512
  2. ^ See Vernon Bogdanor, 'The British–Irish Council and Devolution', in Government and Opposition: An International Journal of Comparative Politics, volume 34, issue 3, July 1999, pp.291-295.
  3. ^ The First Minister and deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland is a diarchy. While other members of the organization are represented at Summit Meetings by their respective chief ministers, or on occasions have sent their deputies, Northern Ireland is represented by both the First Minister and deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland. The website of the British-Irish Council describes the heads of government of Northern Ireland as follows: "The Assembly has elected, on a cross-community basis, a First Minister and a Deputy First Minister who act jointly." See also Paul Carmichael, 2002, "The Northern Ireland Civil Service: Characteristics and Trends Since 1970" in Public Administration, Volume 80 Issue 1 Page 23-49, Spring 2002: "Within this executive, there is a 'synchronised diarchy' (Wilford 1998,. p. 3) whereby the First Minister's position is inextricably linked to that of the Deputy First Minister."
  4. ^ Belfast Agreement - Strand Three, Articles 8 and 9.
    British-Irish Council website, Frequently Asked Questions: Who pays for the British-Irish Council?


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