Stormont Ministers insist East-West Council does not undermine Belfast Agreement

Michelle O’Neill rejects suggestion that council’s creation could be seen as undermining peace deal, saying she would not allow anything to do so

Sinn Féin First Minister of Northern Ireland Michelle O’Neill and DUP Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly have insisted that a new body aimed at strengthening links across the UK does not undermine existing political structures of the Belfast Agreement.

The two were commenting after attending the inaugural meeting of the East-West Council in London, chaired by UK levelling up secretary Michael Gove.

The forum is designed to improve business and educational links between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK and was created under the deal that restored powersharing at Stormont earlier this year.

The alignment of UK government funding streams with stated priorities of the Stormont Executive was a focus of the meeting. Two funding announcements aimed at improving adult numeracy and supporting business innovation in the North were made during the gathering.


Ms O’Neill said the East-West Council did not have the same status or powers as any of the intergovernmental bodies created under the Belfast Agreement. She rejected the suggestion that the creation of the council could be seen as undermining the terms of the peace deal, saying she would not allow anything to do that.

She said the Executive is “back up and running” and that the North South Ministerial Council would meet on April 8th, followed by a meeting of the British-Irish Council in June.

Ms Little-Pengelly rejected the suggestion the council was her party’s attempt to bypass the structures of the Belfast Agreement.

“I think this will be something that complements and supplements what’s there. It’s not designed to replace it, it’s not a threat to anybody else,” she said.

She dismissed characterisations of the council as a “talking shop”, as did Northern Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris. “We tackled many priorities actually that are important to making sure that we strengthen the bonds between Northern Ireland and the rest of Great Britain,” he said. – PA