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David Porter, Westminster Correspondent
"Proof that devolution is still an ongoing process"
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Friday, 17 December, 1999, 15:32 GMT
Dewar welcomes 'problem solving' forum

Wallace, Dewar and Blair Jim Wallace and Donald Dewar meet the PM at Lancaster House

The Scottish Executive is to take the lead role in discussions within the British Irish Council on matters relating to social exclusion.

The announcement came at the inaugural meeting of the new body, set up as a result of the Good Friday Agreement.

It will be a forum for discussing matters of mutual interest to the newly devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The body will also involve the governments in London, Dublin, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.

Donald Dewar Dewar: "A great deal to learn from each other"
Prime Minister Tony Blair opened the meeting of the so called Council of the Isles and hailed it as a "partnership for the next century".

Scotland's First Minister Donald Dewar said he believed the council was good news for all the devolved bodies and that he was committed to making it work.

Mr Dewar added: "It will be enormously helpful for me, as a Scottish politician to have a forum where we can exchange views, where we can discuss common problems, where we can move perhaps towards a unity of thought about how problems might be tackled."

He said the various devolved bodies had "a very great deal to learn from each other" and could act as "a very valuable exchange and contact point".

Mutual interest

The council is due to meet formally at least twice a year, and although the inaugural meeting brought little substantive discussions, the delegates did decide which areas of mutual interest should be placed on the agenda.

Ahern Trimble Bertie Ahern and David Trimble met later at Downing Street
There are several priorities, with the Irish Government taking the lead on drugs, Scotland and Wales on proposals concerning social exclusion, while the UK government will focus on the environment, and Northern Ireland on transport.

The prime minister and Mr Dewar were joined at the gathering at Lancaster House by Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson, Northern Ireland First Minister David Trimble, his deputy Seamus Mallon, and Welsh First Secretary Alun Michael.

Mr Ahern, Mr Trimble and Mr Mallon later joined Mr Blair at Downing Street for the first British-Irish intergovernmental conference.

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See also:
17 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
Historic UK-Irish meeting
17 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
Blair opens historic council
16 Dec 99 |  Northern Ireland
'British-Irish Council step forward'
02 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
A guide to devolved powers
17 Dec 99 |  Wales
Wales pledged to 'Council of the Isles'
17 Sep 99 |  UK Politics
Labour 'divided' on English devolution

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