Belfast accord treaties to be signed today


The signing of four treaties this morning at Dublin Castle will be one of the last formal acts in implementing the terms of the Belfast Agreement.

The treaties - establishing the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, the British-Irish Council, the North-South Ministerial Council and the North-South Implementation Bodies - will be followed by the introduction of legislation in the Dail and at Westminster, probably later this week.

Once that legislation is passed, it will remain only for the Northern executive to be established.

Until the executive is set up, however, none of the other institutions will take effect.

The treaties, to be signed by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Northern Secretary, will be internationally binding. The setting-up of the intergovernmental conference, replacing the conference established under article 2 of the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, requires no legislation.

The new intergovernmental conference will co-operate on security matters. It will also address the areas of rights, justice, prisons and policing in Northern Ireland (unless and until responsibility is devolved to the Northern administration). It will intensify co-operation between the two governments on the all-island or cross-Border aspects of these matters.

The second and by far the most detailed of the treaties - running to more than 20 pages - paves the way for the creation of six North-South implementation bodies, agreed in the early hours of December 18th last year.

The bodies concern inland waterways, food safety, trade and business development, special EU programmes, languages (Irish and Ulster Scots), and aqua-culture and marine matters.

The treaty also covers the six further areas identified for North-South co-operation: transport, agriculture, education, health, environment, and tourism - the latter heading including the creation by Bord Failte and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board of a publicly-owned limited company to cover island-wide tourism promotion.

The other treaties, like the one on the intergovernmental conference, will be simple, operational documents. One of them establishes the North-South Council, which is expected to be based in Armagh, and which will bring together ministers in Northern Ireland and the Irish Government.

The last document concerns the British-Irish Council, which will promote the totality of relationships among the people of these islands, and will comprise representatives of the British and Irish governments, devolved institutions in the North, Scotland and Wales and representatives of the Isle of Man and Channel Islands.