Northern Ireland

East-West Council set for inaugural meeting

The new body was set up as part of the deal between the British government and the DUP that saw powersharing return to Northern Ireland.

Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove will chair the inaugural session of the East-West Council
Michael Gove Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove will chair the inaugural session of the East-West Council (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

A new body to improve business and educational links across the UK, which was created under the deal that restored powersharing in Northern Ireland, will meet for the first time on Tuesday.

Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove will chair the inaugural session of the East-West Council in Dover House in London.



The establishment of the forum was pledged in the British government’s Safeguarding the Union command paper.

Northern Ireland First Minister Michelle O’Neill and deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly will attend the council meeting
Strule Shared Education Campus Northern Ireland First Minister Michelle O’Neill and deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly will attend the council meeting (Liam McBurney/PA)

Published in late January, the paper was the product of months of negotiations between the British government and the DUP that ultimately convinced the north’s largest unionist party to end its two-year blockade of powersharing at Stormont.

The party had been vetoing the functioning of the institutions in protest at post-Brexit trading barriers on trade moving from Britain to Northern Ireland.

Sinn Féin First Minister Michelle O’Neill and her DUP counterpart and deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly will attend the council meeting, as will Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris and a number of other ministers from the Stormont Executive.

The Safeguarding the Union command paper said the council would seek to harness “significant potential” to strengthen co-operation between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK to “address shared challenges and to grasp shared opportunities”.

It will comprise representatives from the political, business and education sectors.

The council’s priorities include tackling economic inactivity; improving east-west trade flows; increasing international investment to Northern Ireland; and bolstering institutional connectivity and enhancing professional development by leveraging academic and skills expertise across NI and GB.

The new body will produce an annual report that will identify concrete actions for business, education or government to take forward to improve growth in Northern Ireland and across the UK.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris with the Safeguarding the Union command paper
Stormont Assembly DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris with the Safeguarding the Union command paper (Niall Carson/PA)

The Good Friday Agreement saw the creation of several new political bodies – some aimed at improving north-south relations on the island of Ireland and others focused on enhancing east-west linkages between Ireland and Britain.

Nationalist critics of the new council have expressed concern about the creation of an additional east-west body outside the terms of the delicately balanced Good Friday deal.

Ahead of Tuesday afternoon’s meeting, Mr Gove, who has responsibility for intergovernmental relations, said: “The creation of the East-West Council was an important part of the agreement that helped restore devolved government to Northern Ireland earlier this year.

“I am pleased that we have been able to hold the inaugural meeting in the early part of 2024.

“The government is committed to working with our partners in the Northern Ireland Executive and across the UK to address shared challenges and opportunities including with an east-west dimension.”