The Belfast/Good Friday Agreement (1998) provided that at least 12 subject areas would be identified for co-operation and implementation for mutual benefit under the aegis of the North South Ministerial Council (NSMC). Co-operation in these areas is implemented in two ways - in the case of at least six of them by means of existing mechanisms in each jurisdiction separately, and in the case of at least six others by means of North South Implementation Bodies operating at a cross-border or all-island level.
The six Areas identified as those in which co-operation would be taken forward by the North South Bodies, are as follows:
- Food Safety
- Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission (FCILC) Sector
- Inland Waterways
- Language (Irish and Ulster-Scots)
- Special EU Programmes
- Trade and Business Development
Aspects of six other Areas, listed below, were identified as those in which co-operation would be taken forward by existing mechanisms in each jurisdiction separately.
The North South Ministerial Council is supported by a standing Joint Secretariat which is based in Armagh. The Secretariat is staffed by personnel from the Irish Civil Service and the Northern Ireland Civil Service
The Formats of North South Ministerial Council Meetings
The NSMC meets in a number of formats. It meets in Plenary format, with the Northern Ireland Executive delegation led by the First Minister and deputy First Minister and the Irish Government delegation led by the Taoiseach. The task of the Plenary is to take an overview of co-operation on the island and of the North South institutions.
The NSMC also meets in Sectoral format to oversee co-operation in the agreed 12 Areas or Sectors. The NSMC meets regularly in relation to each of the 12 Sectors. At these meetings, the Irish Government is represented by the Minister or the Minister of State responsible for that Sector, and the Northern Ireland Executive is represented by two Ministers nominated by the First Minister and deputy First Minister on a cross-community basis, one normally being the Minister with responsibility for that Sector within the Executive. This is in line with the requirements of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement (1998) and the Northern Ireland Act 1998 that participation by the Executive in the NSMC must be on a cross-community basis.
In addition to Sectoral and Plenary formats, the NSMC also meets in Institutional formats, with the Northern Ireland Executive represented by the First Minister and deputy First Minister and the Irish Government represented by the Minister for Foreign Affairs. In this format, the NSMC considers institutional and cross-sectoral issues, including in relation to the EU, and endeavours to resolve disagreements and difficulties in the operation of the NSMC.