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British and Irish leaders to discuss Covid-19 recovery British and Irish leaders to discuss Covid-19 recovery
(32 minutes later)
The meeting is being held at the Lough Erne ResortThe meeting is being held at the Lough Erne Resort
Political leaders from across the UK and Ireland will gather in County Fermanagh later for the latest meeting of the British-Irish Council.Political leaders from across the UK and Ireland will gather in County Fermanagh later for the latest meeting of the British-Irish Council.
It is being hosted by the Stormont Executive and will focus on recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.It is being hosted by the Stormont Executive and will focus on recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.
It will be one of Arlene Foster's last official engagements as first minister.It will be one of Arlene Foster's last official engagements as first minister.
Mrs Foster, Michelle O'Neill and other Stormont ministers will be joined by Taoiseach (Irish PM) Micheál Martin and Cabinet Officer Minister Michael Gove.Mrs Foster, Michelle O'Neill and other Stormont ministers will be joined by Taoiseach (Irish PM) Micheál Martin and Cabinet Officer Minister Michael Gove.
Arlene Foster said it would be a "nice circle to finish off my local political career" in County FermanaghArlene Foster said it would be a "nice circle to finish off my local political career" in County Fermanagh
On Thursday, Mrs Foster said it would be a "nice circle to finish off my local political career" in Fermanagh.On Thursday, Mrs Foster said it would be a "nice circle to finish off my local political career" in Fermanagh.
She is expected to step down as first minister at the beginning of next week.She is expected to step down as first minister at the beginning of next week.
It's Arlene Foster's swan song.It's Arlene Foster's swan song.
There was a doubt at one point whether she would still be around to host this event but everybody cooled their jets and she's still here, probably her last big gig.There was a doubt at one point whether she would still be around to host this event but everybody cooled their jets and she's still here, probably her last big gig.
The agenda today is supposed to be the relaxing of Covid restrictions, which still do affect this event. While the meeting is primarily non-virtual, there are still a couple of people who are not here and attending virtually.The agenda today is supposed to be the relaxing of Covid restrictions, which still do affect this event. While the meeting is primarily non-virtual, there are still a couple of people who are not here and attending virtually.
Undoubtably, whether it comes up at the meeting or not, we will be asking at the post-meeting press conference around lunch time about the protocol.Undoubtably, whether it comes up at the meeting or not, we will be asking at the post-meeting press conference around lunch time about the protocol.
Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar will be there, as will the new DUP leader Edwin Poots, who seems to favour Mr Martin's approach to the protocol and Brexit over Mr Varadkar's.Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar will be there, as will the new DUP leader Edwin Poots, who seems to favour Mr Martin's approach to the protocol and Brexit over Mr Varadkar's.
There are some interesting relationships to be worked on in the room today.There are some interesting relationships to be worked on in the room today.
Scottish and Welsh First Ministers Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford will take part via Zoom.Scottish and Welsh First Ministers Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford will take part via Zoom.
Government representatives from the Isle Of Man, Jersey and Guernsey will also be involved.Government representatives from the Isle Of Man, Jersey and Guernsey will also be involved.
It will be the 35th meeting of the British-Irish Council, which was set up under the Good Friday Agreement as part of efforts to boost and strengthen east-west relations.It will be the 35th meeting of the British-Irish Council, which was set up under the Good Friday Agreement as part of efforts to boost and strengthen east-west relations.
UK and Ireland 'must align on Covid response'UK and Ireland 'must align on Covid response'
It meets every six months.It meets every six months.
On Friday, it will meet at the Lough Erne Golf resort.On Friday, it will meet at the Lough Erne Golf resort.
Secretary of State Brandon Lewis and Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney are also due to attend.Secretary of State Brandon Lewis and Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney are also due to attend.
SDLP MLA Nichola Mallon said the meeting must be opportunity for facing down political challenges.SDLP MLA Nichola Mallon said the meeting must be opportunity for facing down political challenges.
"My clear message will be that Northern Ireland isn't a bargaining chip nor is it acceptable that our businesses and communities are left with ongoing uncertainties," she said."My clear message will be that Northern Ireland isn't a bargaining chip nor is it acceptable that our businesses and communities are left with ongoing uncertainties," she said.
'Now is the time to work together'
Cabinet Officer Minister Michael Gove said the meeting will be looking at "what we can do collectively in recovering from the pandemic".
"When we have NHS waiting lists in the UK the length that they are and we have lost learning for all of our children across the UK, that has to be the priority," he told BBC's Good Morning Ulster.
Mr Gove said the UK government has been working with the EU to try and "make sure the Northern Ireland Protocol works as it should when it was originally agreed".
He said that if it is the case that Northern Ireland citizens "feel the protocol is no longer in their interest it can be rejected a the ballot box".
Mr Gove also paid tribute to Mrs Foster, saying that while her tenure as first minister was coming to an end "her contribution to public life in Northern Ireland and across the UK, and perhaps beyond, has not ended".
"I love Arlene, I think she's fantastic, I think she's a wonderful person, she's an open hearted, public spirited, problem solving, go-getting leader and she has been a great voice for Northern Ireland as first minster."