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20 February 2015
The Good Friday Agreement

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Intergovernmental Relations
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Image of Stormont Buildings
Stormont Buildings, the seat of government in Northern Ireland

Under Strand Two of the Good Friday Agreement provision was made for a North-South Ministerial Council (NSMC) to be set up under a new British-Irish Agreement. This Council, or the "Irish dimension", was the institution that persuaded the nationalist/republican community to support the Agreement.

The NSMC brings together those with executive responsibilities in Belfast and Dublin "to develop consultation, co-operation and action within the island of Ireland" on matters of mutual interest. Each delegation in the Council is accountable to the Assembly and the Dublin parliament or Oireachtas respectively and ministers will require the approval of their parliaments for decisions that go beyond their "defined authority".

The Agreement stipulates that the North-South Council and the Assembly are "mutually interdependent" and "one cannot successfully function without the other". There is, therefore, no incentive for unionists to undermine the Council or nationalists the Assembly.

Audio and Video
Links to audio and video selections can be found on the last page.
Key Academic Opinions
Seeing it through?
Image of the Secretary of State Mo Mowlam and the Irish Foreign Affairs Minister David Andrews signing the treaties regulating the North-South Ministerial Council, 8 March 1999
Secretary of State Mo Mowlam and Irish Foreign Affairs Minister David Andrews sign the treaties regulating the North-South Ministerial Council, 8 March 1999

To ensure the Council would be up and running by the time power was devolved to the Assembly, the Agreement made provision for representatives of the "Northern Ireland transitional administration" and the Irish government, in co-operation with the British government, to identify "at least 12 subject areas" for North-South co-operation. Existing bodies in each jurisdiction would be the mechanism for co-operation in "at least six matters" while co-operation in six other matters would take place through "agreed implementation bodies". Agreement on these issues should have been reached by 31 October 1998 but unionist difficulties with decommissioning delayed the decision until 18 December 1998.

The treaties regulating the North-South Ministerial Council and the implementation bodies in the Strand Two section of the Good Friday Agreement were signed in Dublin on 8 March 1999 but only took effect when power was eventually devolved to the Assembly at midnight on 1 December 1999. The DUP boycotted the inaugural meeting which took place in Armagh on 13 December 1999.

The six cross-border bodies responsible for implementing decisions on an all-island basis are:

 -  inland waterways,
 -  food safety,
 -  trade and business development,
 -  special EU programmes,
 -  the Irish and Ulster Scots languages, and
 -  agricultural and marine matters.
Key Newspaper Articles
DUP Ministers snub all-Ireland council meeting
Unionist ease with change of scenery
Invasion of the Mercs
New bodies pose threat to the Union
There was also agreement on six other areas for co-operation that include aspects of transport, agriculture, education, health, the environment and in the case of tourism, a joint North-South public company is to be established.  
Key Academic Opinions
The North-South institutions
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