As the Irish and Scottish governments launch a bilateral review which will look at areas where they already work together as well as trying to find areas for future collaboration, Tánaiste Simon Coveney and Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs Scotland Fiona Hyslop explain the background to this joint initiative.
Scotland and Ireland are neighbours and friends, with historic Celtic roots and contemporary links in business, education, and culture.
And Sruth na Maoile, the short Straits of Moyle, connects these islands. At the heart of all of this are people.
Whether ancient trade links between the early engineers who built Maeshowe and Newgrange, or the rich collaboration in the arts during the international festivals every August in Edinburgh, the relationships between people (who work together for something more and better) are the foundation of our positive and multi-layered relationship.
Twenty-one years ago, devolution, the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, and the establishment of the British-Irish Council encouraged a new level of Scotland-Ireland convergence.
Ireland opened a consulate general in Edinburgh, to broaden and deepen the relationship in this new context. The first foreign head of state to visit Scotland following the establishment of the Scottish parliament was then-president Mary McAleese, who travelled to Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Aberdeen in November 1999.
The late Donald Dewar’s visit to Ireland, that same year, was the first official overseas engagement undertaken by a first minister of Scotland.
In May this year, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon visited Dublin and met Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, and many ministers of our governments have visited in each direction. President Michael D Higgins visited Scotland in 2016 and 2017. We ourselves are hoping to meet again in Edinburgh, shortly.
This continued political engagement has seen relationships flourish across political, cultural, and trade fields.
Building on this, the Scottish government opened its office in Dublin in 2016.
After more than two decades, and in the changing context of Brexit, it is timely to review this bilateral relationship; and we will do so together.
For the first time for either country, we are undertaking a joint, bilateral review of relations, encompassing shared policy.
It is easy to take relationships for granted. This review will begin with an assessment of how things stand: what do 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.
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.
This work will be led by the Consulate General of Ireland in Edinburgh and the Scottish Government Hub in Dublin, supported by Irish and Scottish officials, to ensure that it remains focussed and delivers on time.
We will review government-to-government work; the Scottish-Irish Health Forum is an excellent example of a constructive, focussed collaboration that shares challenges and solutions. While we work together across many sectors, we don’t yet have a framework to drive holistic bilateral cooperation, that natural intertwining we seek.
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.
The review will be conducted over the coming months and will include an online questionnaire and opportunities for dialogue and discussion.
We encourage as much interaction as possible with our teams. If you feel you can contribute, please get in touch with the Consulate General of Ireland in Edinburgh or the Scottish Government Hub in Dublin.
We want to do this quickly, but thoroughly, so this review will result in a joint report to both the government of Ireland and the Scottish government, in the second quarter of 2020, setting out our shared goals and determining where we will focus our combined energies in the years 2020-2025.
The richer the engagement in this review, the greater the rewards for both Scotland and Ireland in the coming years. We invite you to take part in this dual approach to shaping our shared future.
More information can be found on dfa.ie/strategic-review-of-irish-scottish-relations and gov.scot/IreScotReview.
Simon Coveney is Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister. Fiona Hyslop is Scotland Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism, and External Affairs