British-Irish Council to focus on Brexit

Political leaders from across the UK and Ireland are to discuss how to deal with “shared issues” such as Brexit and tackling drug abuse at a meeting in Dublin.

The latest British-Irish Council (BIC) summit will be attended by senior figures from the UK and devolved governments, along with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

The council was set up 20 years ago to bring the UK and Irish governments together, alongside various devolved administrations on the islands.

While Friday’s talks will focus on the impact of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union, another key topic will be tackling the misuse of drugs.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it will be “extremely beneficial” for her administration to find out more about the approach adopted in Ireland.

A record 1,187 drugs deaths were recorded in Scotland in 2018, with Holyrood ministers seeking to reduce the toll of substance abuse.

Scottish public health minister Joe Fitzpatrick will travel to Dublin with the First Minister, and will visit a health hub in the city which provides help and support for people dealing with substance abuse.

The First Minister, who will also be joined by Scottish Constitutional Relations Secretary Mike Russell for the trip, said: “The British-Irish Council has always played a significant role in intergovernmental relations but never more so than now against the backdrop of the ongoing uncertainty around Brexit.”

She also said the summit will “provide an opportunity to discuss the best way to tackle shared issues which affect all member administrations, this time focusing on how we deal with substance misuse and reduce the serious harm caused by drugs”.

Ms Sturgeon said: “The approach the Irish Government is taking to tackle drug misuse, which tailors treatment around the individual, is something we are already progressing in Scotland but it will be incredibly beneficial to learn from their first-hand experience as we take this work forward.”

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As well as taking part in the summit, Ms Sturgeon will hold bilateral talks with both Mr Varadkar and Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford.

Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith will represent the UK Government at the event.

Senior figures from the Crown Dependencies of the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey will also be in Dublin for the summit.