Leading article

Return of BIIGC a positive move

It is probably fair to say that the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference (BIIGC), since its creation under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, was never regarded with the slightest degree of affection by unionist politicians.

The BIIGC was specifically designed to encourage bilateral cooperation between Dublin and London, a phrase which tended to bring out a cold sweat among DUP figures in particular.

Regular sittings of the body took place from 1999 onwards at a number of venues, with delegates sometimes sitting down together as often as four times in the course of a single year.

However, just before devolution was restored in 2007 as a result of the negotiations at St Andrews, the BIIGC meetings came to an abrupt and unexplained halt.

No formal announcement was ever made about a suspension, but it was clearly an example of the DUP using its growing influence to sideline a process which was intended to develop cross-border links on a range of fronts.

Since the Stormont executive was again suspended 17 months ago, nationalists from all backgrounds have been pressing for the return of the BIIGC.

The DUP resisted this prospect firmly, relying on its close relationship with the Conservative administration which it effectively keeps in power at Westminster, but found itself decisively outmanoeuvred.

A statement from the two governments on Thursday said that the BIIGC would resume its deliberations for the first time in over a decade at a gathering scheduled for London on July 25.

The body was often dismissed by the DUP as a `talking shop', although the same description could be applied to some other institutions and the BIIGC actually had a potentially important role to play over such diverse issues as policing, prisons and the fight against the drug trade.

It will be widely concluded that the return of the BIIGC is another indication that the tide is beginning to flow against the position of the more intransigent elements in the DUP and in favour of representatives from all traditions who support the politics of partnership and equality.

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