Northern Ireland news

British Irish Inter-Governmental Conference to meet amid bid to restore powersharing

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has welcomed plans to hold the British Irish Inter-Governmental Conference next month

The British Irish Inter-Governmental Conference is set to meet next month for the first time in more than a decade.

The body, which brings together the Irish and UK governments is to be revived amid efforts to restore powersharing.

It is due to meet in London on July 25.

The mechanism, which gives the Irish a consultative role on non-devolved issues affecting the north, last met in 2007.

Sinn Fein and the SDLP have long been calling for the re-establishment of the conference as a way to inject fresh impetus into the stalled political process.

Some unionists have been wary of the conference amid concerns of handing too much influence to the Dublin government.

DUP leader Arlene Foster has previously dismissed it as a "talking shop".

The Irish government will be represented by Tániste Simon Coveney and Justice minister Charlie Flanagan while Secretary of State Karen Bradley and Cabinet Office minister David Lidington will represent the British.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood last night welcomed the move.

"We have been consistently clear that the conference must be used to clear the decks to allow for the return of the assembly and devolution,” he said.

Mary Lou McDonald said: "I would urge the British government to approach the conference with common sense and put the imperative of restoring the executive ahead of its dependency on the DUP."

DUP Deputy Leader Nigel Dodds MP said: “We strongly value a good British-Irish relationship but our constituents really want to see a working assembly and executive.

UUP leader Robin Swann struck a cautious note.

“The UK Government is putting the cart before the horse," he said.

"We should be concentrating on talks in Belfast to restore the executive and assembly."

Mr Coveney said: "We look forward to this meeting of the British-Irish Inter-Governmental Conference in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement.

In a statement last night the Cabinet Office said the conference would focus on "east west" issues.

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