THE relationship between Scotland and Ireland is set to enter a new phase, with governments of both countries undertaking an unprecedented joint strategic review to enhance existing areas of co-operation and identify new areas for collaborative work.
As part of the review, consultation workshops will be held both in Scotland and Ireland, with Irish community and cultural organisations in attendance to share their perspective on the relationship, while an online questionnaire will survey stakeholders who wish to participate.
It is hoped that by such participation in workshops and by seeking the views of both individuals and organisations with an interest in the bilateral relationship that both governments can build a more accurate strategy for developing links across the Irish Sea.
In announcing the participation of the Irish Government in the review, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade outlined the need for a re-examination of the relationship between Scotland and Ireland in light of the turbulent political landscape of recent years and the potential for maximising the benefits of partnership through the generation of a report later this year.
“If you are resident in Ireland or Scotland, or have an interest in Scottish-Irish exchange and cooperation anywhere in the world, your participation is very welcome and strongly encouraged,” the DFA announcement said. “Ireland and Scotland have close political, economic, community and cultural ties, and both the Government of Ireland and the Scottish Government are committed to deepening Irish-Scottish cooperation. The changing context for the Irish-Scottish relationship, particularly in light of Brexit, provides an opportunity to undertake a joint strategic review of that relationship, aimed at consolidating existing ties in a new international environment and unlocking the relationship’s further potential.
“The review will be conducted jointly by both governments, led on the Irish side by the Consulate General of Ireland in Edinburgh and the Ireland, UK and Americas Division of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and on the Scottish side by the Scottish Innovation and Investment Hub in Dublin and the Scottish Government External Relations Directorate. A steering group, composed of relevant officials from each government, will manage the review process.
“The aim of the process will be to produce a joint report, to be released in the second quarter of 2020, setting out current areas of bilateral cooperation and identifying opportunities for cooperation or joint initiatives in new areas, which are devolved to Scotland, where these have the potential to support the policy objectives of both governments. This report will be a public document, setting out how Scotland and Ireland will work together in the period 2020-2025.”
With one of the focuses of the review targeting the place of the diaspora, the opportunity to participate in the online questionnaire gives members of the Irish community in Scotland the opportunity to feed back to both governments on the key areas of review and provide a community perspective on the relationship.
The inclusion of the questionnaire responses in the report brings the views of stakeholders in the Irish-Scottish relationship to a greater audience, and allows the multi-generational Irish community to join those involved in business, academia and politics in having their say.
In recent years the relationship has continued to develop at a political level, with regular ministerial visits taking place in both directions, and high-profile visits by both President Michael D Higgins to Scotland in 2016 and 2017 and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to Ireland last year, during which she met with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
During his visit to Scotland—in the immediate aftermath of Britain’s referendum on membership of the European Union—President Higgins met with the Irish community in the traditionally Irish neighbourhood of Govanhill, once again highlighting the importance of the diaspora to the strong links across the Irish Sea.
With continued membership of the British-Irish Council and a commitment to deepen and strengthen links between Scotland and Ireland, both governments hope that the relationship can be safeguarded in the post-Brexit political landscape.
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Simon Coveney TD and Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop MSP (above) are two of those most centrally involved in the new era for the Scottish-Irish relationship, and speaking jointly in The Examiner and The Scotsman they outlined their hopes for the review.
“It is easy to take relationships for granted,” they said. “This review will begin with an assessment of how things stand—what we do together as governments, as trading nations, as research bodies, as cultural institutions, as communities.
“Our approach is encapsulated in the word dual. In the Gaelic of Scotland and Ireland, dual means a strand, to twine; a concept of Scottish-Irish interconnectedness well understood by our wonderful musicians Julie Fowlis, Muireann NicAmhlaoibh, Eamon Doorley and Ross Martin.
“Looking to the future we will challenge ourselves and each other with bold questions about whether we are doing things well together, and what we could improve. We want to acknowledge excellence and to identify future opportunities.
“The review will also look beyond government, in the areas of business and economy, community and diaspora, academic and research links, culture, and rural, coastal and island communities. We want to learn from the best in each country and empower those who can bring our relationship to a new level.”