Northern Ireland

Agenda for first meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference in a decade shrouded in secrecy as ministers gather in London

Tomorrow will mark 18 months since the assembly was mothballed. Picture by Mal McCann
Tomorrow will mark 18 months since the assembly was mothballed. Picture by Mal McCann

THE agenda for today's meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference - the first in a decade - remains shrouded in secrecy.

Despite requests, neither government would release the agenda for the meeting, which Sinn Féin has urged be "the beginning of an intergovernmental process... to clear a pathway back to re-establish the Good Friday Agreement institutions".

However, both Fianna Fáil and the DUP have expressed doubts that anything significant will emerge from the meeting at Westminster chaired by Cabinet Office minister David Lidington.

Gathered round the table will be Secretary of State Karen Bradley, the Tániste Simon Coveney, and Irish Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan.

The Irish government has indicated that it will discuss the political stalemate in the north that tomorrow marks 18 months since the assembly was mothballed.

A joint communiqué is expected to be issued after the meeting.

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald welcomed the meeting as "a first step in the governments acting to resolve outstanding issues".

The party's northern leader Michelle O'Neill urged the Irish government to remember, along with the British government, "they too are co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement".

"When the Conference meets today, the Irish government must assert itself in the national interest and in defence of all citizens on the island," she said.

"They must insist that previous agreements are honoured. They must insist that all citizens are treated fairly and equally.

"And they must finally address the cancer at the heart of this process and demand that the rights of citizens and the agreements that underpin our entire peace process are prioritised above self-serving party pacts."

The last is a reference to the `Confidence and Supply Agreement' between the Conservative Party and DUP, which sees the latter back the minority government in key House of Commons votes.

However, DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds insisted that it is Sinn Féin that "has denied the people of Northern Ireland a ministerial-led

government for 18 months, putting their narrow political interests above the needs of the entire community".

He also dismissed the notion that anything substantial or significant could come from today's meeting, reiterating his party's position that the institution is merely "a glorified talking shop with no decision making function".

"The British Irish Intergovernmental Conference... has no decision making power as clearly set out in the Belfast Agreement and will focus solely on non-devolved Northern Ireland matters."