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British-Irish Relations

The Embassy plays an important role in the strong partnership between the British and Irish Governments that supports reconciliation, recovery and prosperity for both countries.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar with Prime Minister Theresa May

A strong partnership

Britain is our closest neighbour and most important economic partner, in trade, investment and tourism. €1 billion of trade in goods and services flows across the Irish Sea every week.

The visit of Queen Elizabeth to Ireland in May 2011 was the first visit of a British Head of State to Ireland since independence. The State Visit of President Higgins to the UK in April 2014 marked another momentous milestone in our history. Since then, both Governments have been working closely to build on the success of the visits and to deepen our working relationship.

Joint Statement 2012

The joint statement issued by the Taoiseach and Prime Minister Cameron following a summit meeting in Downing Street in March 2012 sets out the key areas for British-Irish co-operation over the next decade.

The statement was significant because it was the first such statement not primarily concerned with the situation in Northern Ireland.

Statement highlights

  • The success of the Queen's visit
  • The 'uniquely close political relationship' between Britain and Ireland
  • The commitment by both governments to mark upcoming centenary anniversaries in a spirit of historical accuracy, mutual respect, inclusiveness and reconciliation
  • Both Governments' support for the full implementation of the Good Friday and St Andrew's Agreements
  • A call for deeper economic co-operation, with particular emphasis on energy (including the All-Ireland energy market, the East-West interconnector and renewable energies), research and development, the agri-food sector, professional and financial services and the creative sectors. This resulted in the preparation of a joint evaluation of British-Irish economic co-operation
  • The relationship as partners within the European Union, and in other international organisations, including in addressing global challenges such as climate change and global hunger and poverty

British-Irish Council

The British-Irish Council (BIC) was created under the Good Friday Agreement to promote positive and mutually beneficial relationships among the people of these islands and to provide a forum for consultation and co-operation.

The Council is made up of representatives of the Irish and British Governments, of the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and of the Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey.

The standing secretariat to the British-Irish Council was established on 4 January 2012 and operates in Edinburgh. It is headed jointly by two officials, appointed by the Irish and British Governments.

British-Irish Council summit meetings are held twice a year, rotating between the different member administrations. You can find details of past summit meetings on the British-Irish Council website.

British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly

The British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly (BIPA) was set up in February 1990 to act as a link between the Oireachtas and the Houses of Parliament at Westminster.

Originally called the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body, it was made up of 25 Irish and 25 British parliamentarians from the Upper and Lower Houses of the Oireachtas and Westminster.

Then, in 2001, it was enlarged to include five members from the Scottish Parliament, five members from the National Assembly for Wales, five members from the Northern Ireland Assembly and one member each from the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey Parliaments.

The BIIPB was renamed as the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly during the 37th Plenary at Newcastle in October 2008.

BIPA's members meet in plenary session twice a year.  Between these sessions, the main work of the Assembly falls to four Committees, which deal with the following subjects:

Committee A Sovereign Matters
Committee B European Affairs
Committee C Economic Affairs
Committee D Environment and Social Affairs

Historic decade

Centenaries of a series of events which impacted on the foundation of the Irish State occur in the decade 1912-1922. The Embassy is involved in a number of key events during this period as part of the Government's commemorative programme commemorations of events that helped shape our political destinies. This series of commemorations offers us an opportunity to explore and reflect on key episodes of the past for Britain and Ireland and we are working with the British Government to do so in a spirit of historical accuracy, mutual respect, inclusiveness and reconciliation.

A historic decade

During the decade 2012 – 2022, we are witnessing the centenaries of a number of seminal events in modern Irish history including:

  • The introduction of the Third Home Rule Bill in Westminster in April 1912
  • The signing of the Ulster Covenant in September 1912
  • The Dublin Lockout (1913-1914)
  • The foundation of the Irish Volunteers in 1913
  • The First World War (1914-1918)
  • The Easter Rising (April 1916)
  • The formation of the First Dáil (January 1919)
  • The War of Independence (1919-1921)
  • The signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty (December 1921)
  • The partition of Ireland (May 1921)
  • The foundation of the Free State (December 1922)

Remembering our history

The Government is committed to commemorating these events in a peaceful and inclusive manner, based on principles of historical accuracy and in co-operation with key partners, at home and abroad.

Over the course of the decade, the Embassy will be organising many different events to mark these anniversaries, as part of the Government commemorative programme overseen by Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys T.D.

Global Irish community

The global Irish community will also have a vital role to play in commemorating our shared history. Our Embassies will host various events to mark the anniversaries.

Learn more

More information on commemorative events is available in Comóradh, the commemorations newsletter for the Irish Abroad, on the Decade of Centenaries website, which is managed by the Department of Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht and on events organised by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Northern Ireland

The Embassy plays a role in the Irish Government’s work with the British Government, the Northern Ireland Executive and with civil society to foster reconciliation and develop opportunities for co-operation.

The Peace Process

The Northern Ireland peace process brought about an end to decades of conflict. The Irish Government played a central role in this process and our work continues today.

A short history

Political division in Ireland, which has its origins in the various Plantations by English and Scottish settlers, and particularly the Plantation of Ulster, was consolidated geographically with the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which was signed in 1921. This divided the island of Ireland into two separate entities, with Northern Ireland remaining a part of the United Kingdom. From 1921 to 1972, Northern Ireland had its own devolved Government, separate from the Parliament in Westminster.

However, this Government was controlled by the Unionist majority in Northern Ireland and Nationalists suffered discrimination, both politically, through the gerrymandering of electoral districts, and also in the jobs market and the allocation of public housing. In 1969, heavy-handed policing of peaceful civil rights campaigners led to civil unrest and a revival of paramilitary organisations.

Anglo-Irish Agreement

Following more than a decade of violence, in the early 1980s, the Irish and British Governments began working closer together to find a political settlement that would be acceptable to the whole community in Northern Ireland.

This resulted in the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which was signed by both Governments in November 1985. It allowed the Irish Government to put forward views and proposals on Northern Ireland affairs.

It also put in place structures to help the two Governments work towards finding a lasting solution to the conflict.

Joint Declaration

In 1993, the two Governments issued a Joint Declaration, which set out a charter for peace and reconciliation in Ireland.

It established the principles of self-determination and consent in relation to the Constitutional status of Northern Ireland. This meant that it was up to the people of Northern Ireland to decide on the future status and this could not be imposed from the outside. The Declaration also gave those associated with paramilitary violence a route into the political process.

Multi-Party Talks

The IRA and Loyalist paramilitaries announced a ceasefire in 1994. In December 1995, an international body was set up under the chairmanship of US Senator George Mitchell to independently assess the decommissioning of paramilitary arms. This body reported on progress in 1996.

However, in February 1996, the IRA ended its ceasefire and resumed violence.

Multi-party talks began in 1996, chaired by Senator Mitchell and involving the Irish and British Governments and all the parties elected in Northern Ireland. Sinn Fein was excluded until 1997, when the IRA announced a further ceasefire.

These talks resulted in the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998.

The Good Friday Agreement

The Good Friday Agreement is the cornerstone of our commitment to peace and stability on this island. It was agreed on 10 April 1998 and overwhelmingly approved in 2 referendums in both parts of Ireland in May 1998. The Good Friday Agreement has been almost entirely implemented and most domestic matters are now dealt with by the Northern Ireland Assembly. Although there remain some challenges to stable and lasting peace in Northern Ireland, the institutions of the Agreement are now working to ensure a peaceful and stable future for the benefit of all the people on the island of Ireland.

Scotland and Ireland

The Consulate plays an important role focused on the specific Ireland-Scotland dimension of the strong partnership across our islands. We work closely with the Embassy to support reconciliation, recovery, and prosperity for both countries. Ireland attaches great importance to our friendship with Scotland and our excellent partnership with the Scottish Government.

There are strong two-way economic links between Scotland and Ireland, generating growth, jobs, and new opportunities for both communities. There are significant two-way investments such as SSE’s ownership of Airtricity and Cantrell and Cochrane Group’s ownership of Tennents. Irish exports to Scotland are growing and Scottish exports to Ireland are also expanding, and our companies work together to innovate and grow global business opportunities. Characters in this very positive story include Irish companies such as Sisk, Glennon Brothers, AIB, and FTC Consulting, and Scottish firms Holland & Sherry, Aggreko, Standard Life, and many others. More Irish tourists are visiting Scotland and more Scottish tourists are visiting Ireland – it’s a win-win situation for both of us.

There are a number of areas where there is particularly strong potential for cooperation to achieve mutual economic benefit in the future, including education and scientific research, renewable energy, transport infrastructure, creative industries, healthcare, and new technologies.

Scottish and Irish Universities and researchers are collaborating across a range of disciplines and sectors, from language to renewable energy to archaeology.

We both benefit from sharing the wonderful creativity of our writers, artists, musicians and performers, including when they all come together in Edinburgh in August!

There is a very good relationship between the Irish and Scottish Governments and Parliaments, both bilaterally and within the frameworks of the British Irish Council and the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly. High-level political visits are exchanged regularly and there is also very close and regular contact between officials across a range of policy areas. Recent notable visits have included;

President Michael D Higgins previously visited Scotland in July 2013. He travelled to the isle of Iona to take part in events to mark the 1450th anniversary of the arrival there from Ireland of St Columcille.

Speaking in Iona, the President said ‘Throughout Scotland, the influence of Ireland is deeply felt. Likewise in Ireland many of our people have Scottish ancestry. We have had a long tradition of migration between our two nations.

We in Ireland never forget to recall the legacy of famous Irish-Scots, including socialist revolutionary James Connolly, author Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle, footballers Aiden McGeady, Ray Houghton, Owen Coyle, and James McCarthy, and actors Sean Connery, Brian Cox, and Gerard Butler.

The Irish have worked here in government, public bodies, the arts, finance, and construction and so many other sectors, as well as with the many diverse religious communities throughout Scotland.

Societies benefit from hearing many voices, but surely no benefits are to be derived from voices raised against one another in hate or intolerance based very often on an abuse of myth and history.

While we must not fall for any false amnesia, as well as celebrating what we value, we must reflect on what holds us back. A shared story after all can be the repository and place of diverse and ever changing narratives.

The past holds many lessons, not just of what is fine and good in our heritage, but also it can be ransacked and abused to facilitate the development of stereotypes which obstruct us, which hurt us and deplete, or even poison our future. The positioning or sourcing of that poison in completing religious interpretations is a serious abuse, a contradiction of what Columcille and monasticism stands for.

I applaud the individuals and the communities who have the courage to examine the damaged elements and distortions of both our shared and divided pasts, and who are devoting themselves to finding ways out of the old cycles of belief and behaviour, and taking others with them along that path of creating a creative peaceful present and a joyful future.