THE relationship between Ireland and Scotland has many aspects. We have strong cultural, political, economic, sporting and community links, which bring significant benefits for both countries. Among these areas, recent developments in the Irish-Scottish economic and cultural relationship really stand out.
The last year has seen a number of initiatives that will enhance the strong business and trading relationship between Ireland and Scotland even further, supporting employment and economic prosperity on both sides of the Irish Sea.
Readers of The Irish Voice will be familiar with the work of the Irish Business Network Scotland, which was launched in Edinburgh Castle in June 2016 by Ireland’s Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Paschal Donohoe TD and Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop MSP. The network was established with the support of the Consulate to bring together businesses and business people with Irish connections active in the Scottish market.
In the year or so following its launch, the network made an enormous contribution to the development of the Irish-Scottish economic relationship. I know that its events, seminars and networking opportunities in Edinburgh and Glasgow have been of real value to companies and entrepreneurs seeking to grow their businesses and take advantage of new market opportunities. Figures such as the then-Taoiseach, Enda Kenny TD, and senior government ministers from Ireland and Scotland participated in the network’s events and supported its work. It was a privilege to have been able to join the IBNS in celebrating a very successful first year in operation at the Network’s inaugural awards dinner, held at Edinburgh City Chambers in June, at which Ireland’s then-Minister for Diaspora Affairs, Joe McHugh TD, was the guest of honour.
Now, the IBNS is building on its initial success and placing a new focus on work in Ireland as well as in Scotland, as it re-launches as Causeway: Ireland Scotland Business Exchange. I was pleased to be back in Ireland in late October for the formal launch of Causeway at the Scottish Government’s Innovation and Investment Hub in Dublin. The enhanced initiative recognises the huge potential that exists in economic and business cooperation between Ireland and Scotland, and will focus not only on assisting Irish-linked businesses in Scotland, but also on supporting Scottish enterprises active in the Irish market and companies operating in both jurisdictions.
Causeway will work in the months and years ahead to facilitate better communication, connectivity and collaboration between the business communities in Ireland and Scotland; to provide a forum to assist entrepreneurs and companies operating or seeking to operate in Ireland or Scotland; and to form a two-way platform for engagement between business and government. It will continue to be a major driver of the growth of Irish-Scottish business links.
A clear sign of the value and potential of the initiative is the fact that it is being strongly supported by both the Irish and Scottish Governments. This is evidence of a determination on the part of both governments to realise the enormous potential in the Irish-Scottish economic relationship. The Irish Government is strongly committed to the further enhancement of our economic links. I cannot speak for the Scottish Government, but I am conscious of the words of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon when she addressed the Dublin Chamber of Commerce during her visit to Ireland last month. In that speech, she noted when speaking about Scotland’s economic relations that ‘few places are more important to us than Ireland.’ The First Minister also highlighted the value of those economic ties, noting that Ireland is already Scotland’s sixth-biggest export market, and that more than 100 Irish companies currently invest in Scotland.
The fact that last month’s visit to Ireland was the First Minister’s second visit in less than twelve months, and the fact that Dublin was the very first overseas city in which the Scottish Government decided to establish an Innovation and Investment Hub, speaks volumes about the extent of the priority that is being attached on the Scottish side to the Irish-Scottish economic relationship. And it is a priority which is very much shared by the Irish Government.
Of course, while governments can support the development of strong economic relations and create a positive enabling environment for the growth of trading links, it is often business-to-business cooperation and partnership that actually delivers the real economic results. That’s why the work of Causeway is so valuable. And it is why other initiatives, like the programme of cooperation recently agreed between West Lothian Chamber of Commerce and South Dublin Chamber of Commerce, offer so much potential. Through this cooperation agreement, West Lothian and South Dublin chambers will work together to provide a range of supports for Scottish enterprises seeking to expand their business into Ireland, and Irish businesses looking to explore the potential of the Scottish market.
Recent months have also seen the launch of the Scottish-Irish Finance Initiative, a collaboration between industry experts and academics in the finance sector. This initiative seeks to foster cooperation between the financial services industries in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dublin, building on the cities’ complementary strengths and areas of focus.
All of this activity is evidence of real momentum in the Irish-Scottish economic relationship. Initiatives like these will help to create and sustain jobs and enhance prosperity in both countries. It is clear that businesses in Scotland can see the real opportunities that the Irish market presents, and the value that can be derived from partnerships with Irish firms. Market opportunities in Ireland in the years ahead are likely to be significant, with extremely strong economic growth expected to continue in a country that Forbes magazine ranks as the best country in the Eurozone in which to do business.
Irish-Scottish cultural cooperation, too, is going from strength to strength. Culture Ireland supported an extensive programme of events featuring Irish artists and performers in this year’s Edinburgh Festivals, showcasing Irish artistic excellence in the Edinburgh International Festival, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and the Edinburgh International Book Festival. The Consulate was very pleased to work with Scotland GAA and Conradh na Gaeilge to host the very first Edinburgh Irish Culture and Heritage Day (above) in late September, an initiative which drew many hundreds of enthusiastic supporters of Irish culture to the Grange Cricket Club in Stockbridge for Gaelic football matches, Irish language taster sessions, traditional music, Irish dancing, and advice on tracing family histories in Ireland. Representatives of the National Library of Ireland visited Edinburgh in early November for an event exploring some of the literary treasures in the National Library’s collection, from the time of William Butler Yeats to that of Seamus Heaney.
We are looking forward, of course, to great cultural and community engagement around St Patrick’s Day, with festivals in Coatbridge, Glasgow and Edinburgh, assisted by the Irish Government’s Emigrant Support Programme, delivering diverse and engaging cultural programmes year after year.
Next year will see an even stronger focus on the promotion of Irish culture and arts here in Scotland, as Ireland takes on the mantle of international partner country for Glasgow’s Celtic Connections Festival, which will run from January 18 to February 4, 2018. The 2018 festival will mark the 25th anniversary of Celtic Connections, and the partnership with Ireland will build on rich traditions of Irish involvement in the festival since it began in 1994. As well as introducing Scottish audiences to new Irish artists and performers, the partnership will showcase Irish musicians and bands to international delegates, including numerous industry professionals, agents, and festival and venue programmers from across the globe.
Ireland’s role at Celtic Connections next year is one element of a broader initiative by Culture Ireland to place a strategic focus on the promotion of Irish arts in Britain during 2018. The year-long programme will aim to showcase Irish artistic excellence in partnership with significant institutions, venues and festivals across Britain, to build on our unique cultural relationship and expand the reach of Irish culture to new audiences. The initiative reflects the priority the Irish Government is placing, through the Creative Ireland programme, on culture and creativity as the key outward expression of Irish identity and as a critical basis for those wishing to engage with Ireland. It will also highlight the value of culture and the arts in fostering and maintaining links with Irish communities across Britain.
So at many levels—business, economic, cultural —the ties that bind Ireland and Scotland are strengthening. Cooperation in one area reinforces that in another, and leads to benefits for both countries. As we look ahead to the future of the Irish-Scottish relationship, and to the challenges that Brexit will undoubtedly pose for us, we can at least be assured that the foundations for Irish-Scottish cooperation are exceptionally strong. We at the Consulate here in Edinburgh are determined to continue to build on those foundations, so that communities across Ireland and Scotland can benefit from the full potential of that relationship.
Mark Hanniffy is the Consul General of Ireland in Scotland