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BBC Wales's David Cornock
"Mr Michael urges his colleagues to make the most of devolution"
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BBC Wale's Political Correspondent David Cornock
"It reminds people that Wales is still a functioning part of the UK."
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First Secretary Alun Michael
"It gives us an opportunity to punch above our weight."
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Friday, 17 December, 1999, 21:16 GMT
Wales pledged to 'Council of the Isles'

Peace process graphic The Council is a result of the Northern Ireland "Good Friday Agreement"

The First Secretary, Alun Michael, is to commit Wales to play a full role in a new forum set up to link the National Assembly with other parts of the United Kingdom.

After the conclusion of the Northern Ireland peace process, the British-Irish Council meets for the first time.

The Council - the so-called "Council of the Isles" - brings together representatives of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the British and Irish Governments, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly.

The Belfast or "Good Friday" Agreement of 1998 established the British-Irish Council as part of the peace process.

Alun Michael Alun Michael: An ideal forum
"The British-Irish Council has great potential to forge links between all parts of the British Isles on matters which affect us all," said the First Secretary.

"Devolution and the peace process in Northern Ireland have radically changed the political landscape of the UK over the past two and a half years.

"But the basics of good policy-making remain the same.

"Co-operating with others who share our concerns means we can learn from each others' experiences and, where appropriate, develop co-ordinated approaches to policy issues which do not respect national boundaries.

"The council is an ideal forum for doing that.

"For the first time, we have a body which reflects the very strong economic, social and cultural ties that exist between all parts of the British Isles."

'Neutral venue'

The inaugural meeting is to be hosted by the Prime Minister.

Among those attending the symbolic first session will be Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern and Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson, Northern Ireland First Minister David Trimble and his deputy Seamus Mallon.

Also present at the gathering at Lancaster House will be Scottish First Minister Donald Dewar.

The forum will look at issues such as transport, agriculture, environment, culture, health, education and Europe.

Its aims are for the members to share experiences and to develop co-ordinated approaches to issues.

The full Council will meet twice a year, but ministers will liaise on a regular basis.

The first meeting will be in Dublin in 2000, but there are no firm venues for subsequent meetings.

The National Assembly has already offered to host meetings as a "neutral venue".

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See also:
16 Dec 99 |  Northern Ireland
'British-Irish Council step forward'

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