Edinburgh council base opposed by Hain

Sat, Nov 14, 2009, 00:00

MOVES TO establish a permanent secretariat in Edinburgh for the British-Irish Council failed yesterday due to the opposition of the British government representative, secretary of state for Wales Peter Hain.

The council was set up under the Belfast Agreement of 1998 and comprises representatives from the British and Irish governments, the devolved institutions of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and the British crown dependencies of the Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey.

The St Andrews Agreement of 2006 provided for the establishment of a standing secretariat and the council was presented with four alternative locations: Edinburgh, Cardiff, the Isle of Man and Belfast.

Three votes were held on the issue at the 13th summit meeting of the council in St Helier, Jersey yesterday. Although it was nominally a secret ballot, informed sources said Taoiseach Brian Cowen consistently voted for Edinburgh as the location.

In the final round of voting the choices had narrowed down to Scotland and Wales: Edinburgh received six votes and Cardiff two, from Mr Hain and Welsh first minister Rhodri Morgan.

Sources in attendance at the meeting said the Welsh delegation were prepared to support the Edinburgh option but Mr Hain said he could not agree to it.

Mr Hain was unable to attend the press conference which took place after the summit because of his travel schedule. Scotland’s first minister Alex Salmond said: “We were delighted there was overwhelming support for Edinburgh.”

Commenting that, “these things sometimes take time”, he said he was hopeful that there would be unanimous agreement on the issue by the time of the council’s next summit meeting, which takes place in Guernsey on June 25th next year.

Mr Salmond said afterwards that a standing secretariat would help to maintain the council’s impetus. He said the Scottish administration would provide the accommodation for the secretariat which would be staffed by “four to six” officials seconded by the membership of the council.

Mr Cowen told The Irish Timeshe had “no problem” with any location. “In the absence of a consensus we have to look at this again, so I am reflecting on it,” he said.

The main theme of the summit was Indigenous, Minority and Lesser-Used Languages and the Taoiseach said the Government’s 20-year strategy for the Irish language would be published shortly.