The Britishâ"Irish Council (BIC) is an international organisation established under the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Its membership comprises representatives from:
- the two sovereign governments of Ireland and the United Kingdom;
- the three devolved administrations of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales
- the Crown dependencies of Guernsey, the Isle of Man and Jersey.
The Council was formally established when the British-Irish Agreement was signed on 2 December 1999. Its stated aim is to "promote the harmonious and mutually beneficial development of the totality of relationships among the peoples of these islands". The BIC has a standing secretariat, located in Edinburgh, Scotland, and meets in semi-annual summit session and more frequent ministerial meetings.
Membership and operation
The nine heads of government meet at biyearly summits. Additionally, there are regular meetings that deal with specific sectors and are attended by the corresponding ministers. Representatives of members operate in accordance with whatever procedures for democratic authority and accountability are in force in their respective elected legislatures. Because England does not have a devolved government, it is not represented on the Council as a separate entity.
The work of the Council is financed by members through mutual agreement as required. 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 included the potential for a permanent standing secretariat, which was established in Edinburgh, Scotland, on 4 January 2012.
At its June 2010 summit, the Council decided to move forward on recommendations to enhance the relationship between it and the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly (BIPA). The British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly is made up of members from the parliaments and assemblies of the same states and regions as the members of the Britishâ"Irish Council. The Council tasked its secretariat with moving this work forward in conjunction with the BIPA's secretariat.
In addition to the above members Cornwall has been a full observer member since 2010 due to the Cornish language falling under the Council's areas of work.
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. However, 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 any of these.
The current list of work areas and the member responsible are:
- Collaborative spatial planning (Northern Ireland)
- Demography (Scotland)
- Digital inclusion (Isle of Man)
- Early years policy (Wales)
- Energy (United Kingdom - Elec Grids, and Scotland - Marine)
- Environment (United Kingdom)
- Housing (Northern Ireland)
- Indigenous, minority and lesser-used languages (Wales)
- Misuse of Substances (drugs and alcohol) (Ireland)
- Social inclusion (Scotland and Wales)
- Transport (Northern Ireland)
- Creative Industries (Jersey)
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. Past work sector areas included knowledge economy, e-health / telemedicine and tourism.
Name of the Council
Initial suggestions for the council included the names Council of the British Isles or Council of the Isles, and the council is sometimes known by these names. However, owing to sensibilities around the term British Isles, particularly in Ireland, the name British-Irish Council was agreed.
The official name of the Council is represented in minority and lesser-used languages of the council as:
- Irish: Comhairle na Breataine-na hÃireann
- GuernÃ©siais: Conseil Britannique-IrlÃ ndais
- JÃ¨rriais: Conseil Britannique-Irlandais
- Manx: Coonceil Ghoaldagh-Yernagh
- Scottish Gaelic: Comhairle Bhreatainn-Ãirinn
- Scots: Brits-Airis Cooncil
- Welsh: Cyngor Prydain-Iwerddon
- Cornish: Konsel Predennek-Iwerdhonek
- Council of Ireland
- North/South Ministerial Council
- British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference
- Britishâ"Irish Parliamentary Assembly
- Official website