Publication - Research and analysis

Joint bilateral review of the relationship between Scotland and Ireland - public engagement: analytical summary

Published: 15 Jan 2021

This is a report of the public engagement exercise conducted as part of the Ireland-Scotland joint bilateral review.

Joint bilateral review of the relationship between Scotland and Ireland - public engagement: analytical summary
4. Insights in five thematic areas – Open Questions

4. Insights in five thematic areas – Open Questions 

Respondents were able to contribute their views on up to five themes. Respondents offered views on some, all or none of the five themes. Of all respondents (719), 68% commented on one theme, 10% contributed to two themes, 2% to three themes and 1% to four themes. Ten respondents (0.5%) offered their views on all five themes. A total of 577 respondents also took the opportunity to suggest any other areas beyond the five themes where Ireland and Scotland should collaborate, or could increase their collaboration. It needs to be highlighted, however, that not all responses submitted within the five themes always addressed the themes, and some contributions went beyond the scope of this review, reflecting personal views or opinions, often on unilateral, domestic policy considerations. 

Whilst contributions sometimes overlapped between the themes, some themes received more responses than others. Figure 11 below illustrates that most contributions were received for the theme ‘Culture, experience and exchange’ with 287 responses, followed by ‘community and diaspora links’ with 194 responses. The remaining three themes received between 103 and 121 contributions.

Fifty comments on the themes were received from the 38 organisations that took part in the review, alongside responses from organisations submitted directly via email. These contributions to the questionnaire are included in the figures above and in Figure 11. Most popular themes for organisational responses were ‘Culture, experience and exchange’ with 13 contributions, followed by ‘Business and economic interests’ with 14 contributions and ‘Academic, educational and research links’ with nine responses. ‘Rural, coastal and island communities’ received six contributions and ‘Communities and diaspora links’ eight.

Figure 11: Comments received across the five themes 
This figures illustrates how many comments were received across the five themes of the review.

Some respondents provided comments within one theme which were more relevant to another. In such cases the contribution was reallocated to the better-suited theme and analysed accordingly. The comments for each theme were analysed, and a number of sub-themes emerged. The following sections of this report present a summary of these sub-themes. Where relevant, information from the quantitative data generated in the Citizen Space questionnaire are referenced to illustrate links across the data, and examples are drawn from across the full range of responses and offered as examples of the range of views.

4.1 Business and economic interests

The theme ‘Business and economic interests’ received 135 responses to open questions. The questionnaire closed at the time the Covid-19 lockdown began. However, prior to this happening, most respondents identified the tourism sector as an area they expected to see the most economic growth in in the coming years. Concerns about post-Brexit trade and business collaboration also featured in responses. 

As pointed out in Figure 4, 65% of respondents believe business and economic interests to be very important for the relationship between Scotland and Ireland, but only 15% of respondents based in Ireland and 22% of respondents in Scotland thought this sector increases the visibility of the countries. 

Trade and business

Contributions on the Business theme often mentioned that Ireland and Scotland were already established trade partners with many existing business links and connections. In the past, both countries faced some common challenges including rural outmigration, although recent decades have seen patterns change. 

There was broad support expressed for the practice of having business and trade delegations, and support for more regular visits and promotion of expertise. There was also positive reference to a number of organisations active in supporting business links, as well as the Scottish Government Office in Dublin and the Consulate General of Ireland in Edinburgh. In terms of trade links, respondents identified agriculture and fishing, energy, tourism and the exploration of ways to support businesses as key areas for potential growth and deeper collaboration between Ireland and Scotland. 

Respondents mentioned many potential areas of collaboration to address the shared challenges. Specifically, a number of responses saw potential in future collaborations in the areas of food and agriculture, finance, technology, manufacturing, tourism, renewable energy and transport. While more of the responses to open questions on this theme would like to see stronger links between Ireland and Scotland, some also framed their views in relation to Scotland’s role within the UK.

Transport 

Transport was one of the topics mentioned most often in contributions across all themes. This included internal transport issues and connectivity between Scotland and Ireland. The shared challenges presented by the geography of the two countries was mentioned alongside examples of existing cross-learning (e.g. for light rail schemes) and areas of potential expertise sharing (e.g. for transport links to the islands).

Affordability of travel and availability of travel links featured strongly within this theme. Certain transport-related contributions from those based in Ireland, Scotland and elsewhere expressed a wish for better and cheaper transport links to connect tourism, businesses, students, families and organisations, and particularly to connect less urban parts of the countries. In relation to travel between Scotland and Ireland specifically, respondents mentioned the cost of transit, shipping charges and the range of routes for flights. Ideas offered to address this ranged from sharing expertise on transport, to specifically exploring the possibility of a cross-national travel entitlement card for specific groups. A number of views both in favour and opposed to the idea of constructing a bridge between Scotland and the island of Ireland were received.  Infrastructure projects such as this are out of scope for this review.

Respondents voiced concerns around any possible changes to travel arrangements that they perceived could arise for them in the context of Brexit. These were general concerns, and the Common Travel Area’s maintenance of freedom of travel between Great Britain and the island of Ireland for Irish and UK citizens was not mentioned explicitly in these contributions. Relatedly, however, there were some further concerns expressed across the business and economic interests theme generally, in particular on the possibility that any additional bureaucracy may impact on business collaboration when the Brexit Transition Period ends. Though these responses account for observations only up to March 2020, several respondents were explicitly seeking support for what they interpreted as Brexit-related challenges, arguing for the better promotion of existing collaborations, and more funding and resources for post-Transition Period readiness.

Business Cooperation

Regarding business support, many organisations were mentioned that are already establishing business links and support between the two countries, and that can be referred to as positive examples to learn from. The organisation commended the most for bringing together Ireland and Scotland was Causeway: Ireland Scotland Business Exchange. Other organisations that were mentioned positively were the Scottish Business Network, Enterprise Ireland, the British-Irish Chamber of Commerce, and the Irish International Business Network (IIBN).  Several multilateral fora, including the British-Irish Council, were also viewed as vital tools for bilateral collaboration and mentioned across several themes, while both the Consulate General of Ireland in Edinburgh and the Scottish Government Office in Dublin were commended for their support for business collaboration.

In terms of sectoral support, several contributions highlighted the relevance and potential of more collaboration in the financial sector in particular, including the development of fintech. Suggestions for initiatives in this sector included bilateral cross-government and cross-institutional activity ranging from engagement with the industry to ethical finance initiatives. More generally, collaboration between Ireland’s and Scotland’s government departments supporting business was viewed positively, and a range of areas of focus were suggested – such as how incubator level companies, or women’s business networks can be better nurtured.

Tourism 

Tourism was consistently mentioned across all themes, and responses made connections between supporting the arts, language and heritage in both countries to underpin the tourism experience. The University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI)  referred to the success of a three year marine and coastal tourism collaboration between its Centre for Recreation and Tourism Research (CRTR) and Limerick and Donegal County Councils, along with 15 other partners, and part-financed by the Atlantic Area Interreg programme. A range of views pointed to the perceived strengths of each country’s tourism ‘offer’ and that expertise could be better shared. Suggestions included that Ireland could learn from how Scotland promotes its heritage sites, and from how Scotland has developed its marine tourism. Respondents suggested Scotland could learn from the Irish approach including on how live music events underpin the tourism offer. One response highlighted the potential for either country to join existing initiatives, and suggested that Scotland could join an intended collaboration between Ireland and Norway on Norse Gaelic Tourism.

Beyond sharing expertise, respondents expressed enthusiasm for exploring shared tourism opportunities between Ireland and Scotland, perhaps building on strengthened collaboration in the culture, sports and arts sectors. Respondents identified a range of areas where they considered collaboration would enhance the visitor experience across ‘both sites’, exploring common heritage, food and drink specialities, and the coastline environments. Some appetite was expressed for the explicit development of shared programming, and collaboration on transport links with the visitor experience in mind.

4.2 Community and diaspora links

The theme ‘community and diaspora links’ received 202 contributions to open questions. Contributions to this theme overlapped substantially with contributions to the theme ‘Culture, experience and exchange’, especially on the role of Gaelic, traditions, music and sports. 

As seen in Figure 4, 63% of all respondents to this review believe that ‘community and diaspora links’ are very important to the relationship between the two countries, in contrast to 19% who view the theme as not really important.  More respondents based in Scotland believe that community and diaspora make Ireland the most visible in Scotland (61%), compared to only 36% of those based in Ireland who think community and diaspora make Scotland the most visible in Ireland (see Figure 8).  

Migration and Diaspora

Many of the contributions across all themes mentioned the shared links between Ireland and Scotland due to migration flows. This has led to many family links between the two ‘nations of migrants’ and to large diasporas in Ireland and Scotland. Figure 9 above indicates that over half of Ireland and Scotland based respondents to the questionnaire already engage, or would like to engage more, with relatives and diaspora. A shared identity was often mentioned in the comments.

Ireland’s engagement with its global diaspora was cited as an example which Scotland could follow by several respondents. Responses drew comparisons with how Irish diaspora are visible and supported in countries such as the USA, while one response commended the Irish International Business Network’s (IIBN) diaspora model as an example of effective business linking. A number of responses mentioned Irish community projects (such as those in Coatbridge) as examples of successful local initiatives in Scotland, and while some responses expressed a desire for more activity outwith the central belt, there was overall appreciation for the activity already underway.

Events

Across the themes, festivals and events were frequently raised as examples of positive experiences of community exchange, and many events were offered as examples that were valued and enjoyed such as St Patrick’s Day or St Andrew’s Day.  In the closed questions of the questionnaire, 166 of the 779 Scotland-based respondents who answered this question said they already attended St Patrick’s Day events and a further 115 would like to do so. Of the 219 answers received from Ireland-based respondents, 41 already attended St Andrew’s Day/Hogmanay/Burns events, and there were 57 who would like to attend these in the future. The comments in this theme overlapped with those offered under the ‘culture experience and exchange’ theme, and music and the arts were prominent in the examples provided. In particular, events connecting Ireland and Scotland were mentioned, such as Feis Glaschú or the Fleadh Cheoil, but also local community level events, such as exchange visits of local Karate clubs or Shinty/Hurling events. Beyond the arts, a number of responses cited specific Ireland-Scotland events which respondents felt had been successful - such as the Scottish Centre for European Relations – Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA) joint event on Brexit. The Hiberno-Scottish Mission in Europe; a mission that was led by Irish and Scottish monks during the Middle Ages, was referenced as part of the shared heritage that should be celebrated.

There was considerable enthusiasm across the responses, particularly among those based in Scotland, for future collaboration on events specifically. Many suggestions were made on initiating or extending existing programming, and using community-based venues, such as libraries, more. Support for ‘twinning’ of schools, communities and colleges as well as towns was expressed.

Government and Organisations  

More than 300 contributions referred to the role of governments, local communities and organisations in relation to governance, community development and diaspora support. Comments often referred to examples of good practice in both countries, alongside a general desire to learn from what each country does well. Most respondents on this topic also expressed a desire for more government and organisational initiatives, further and deeper bilateral collaboration between government departments, with some preferring more central coordination of projects. A number of responses noted the various ways in which each government engages with the public, suggesting opportunities for sharing of expertise between the jurisdictions. At the local authority level, the Local Government Information Unit (LGIU) suggested that establishing learning networks for local government and partners in both countries, and utilising online communications would be of significant benefit across a range of shared policy challenges. These virtual networks could be further fostered through secondments and exchanges of key staff. 

At community level, contributions referenced the potential for exchanging ideas on initiatives regarding the connectivity of people in rural areas, with extant initiatives in Scotland noted specifically for their likely value to Ireland to support rural communities with business development and connectivity. Many responses, including the organisational response submitted by Historic Environment Scotland, ask for collaboration between the public sector, government, local authorities, third and private sector for engaging and supporting communities at local level. These responses argued that best practice examples should be shared more widely between both countries. 

Communities

Throughout the responses to open questions across the themes, views were provided on the prevalence of perceived sectarian division in communities known to respondents.  The majority of these views were expressed in the Scotland-based responses, and the references to Ireland were most often made in relation to the history and traditions of Northern Ireland specifically, although shared Scots and Gaelic traditions were also mentioned. The views and ideas offered extended to a range of institutions, practice and precedent, covering sports, education and cultural expression. Of those responses that expressed concern about the effects of community divisions that had been observed, a number argued that this was reason for both governments to work together to tackle intolerance and hate, while finding ways to recognise and respect a broad range of cultural practices.

4.3 Culture experience and exchange

The ‘culture experience and exchange’ theme attracted 300 qualitative responses overall - more contributions than any of the other themes. It also received a number of substantial email submissions from organisations, and these are highlighted where applicable. Contributions to this theme, and the ‘Community and Diaspora links’ theme often overlapped substantially, particularly in relation to language, arts, history, heritage and sports. Responses focused on those topics have been analysed under this theme. According to Figure 2, 69% of all respondents to this review believe that cultural experience and exchange are very important to the relationship between the two countries, in contrast to 18% who view the theme as not really important. This makes this theme the second most important matter to respondents after ‘rural, coastal and island communities’. When asked in the closed questions of the questionnaire how respondents personally engaged with the other country, engaging with ‘film, literature and media’ was the most common method with over four in ten of respondents based in each country saying they already did so. Ireland-based respondents expressed a wish to ‘do more’ in terms of engagement, and specifically wished to attend Scottish performances and participate in Scottish art/culture/sport, with 40% and 38% respectively wishing to do more in those fields. Scotland-based respondents also identified these two categories of (Irish) activities as something they would like to do more of. 

Language 

The strength of connection between Ireland and Scotland through language featured strongly in responses across all themes, and across the topics within ’culture experience and exchange’. In the analysis of the responses to the open questions, ‘Gaelic’, ‘Gaeilge’ ‘Gàidhlig’, ‘Scots’, ‘Ulster-Scots’ and the phrases ‘shared language’ and ‘shared culture’ predominated. Responses provided existing collaborations to demonstrate the strength of this connection, while also generally commending that these languages be taught and used more widely. The Colmcille partnership programme between Foras na Gaeilge and Bòrd na Gàidhlig was among the opportunities cited to celebrate the 1,500th birthday of St. Columba between 7 December 2020 and 7 December 2021.

The Irish approach to protect and promote the Irish language was noted in a number of Scotland-based responses, and the work of Údarás na Gaeltachta in Ireland was noted as of interest. Respondents suggested that Scotland could, for example, learn from the Gaeltacht scheme in Ireland and a response from Bòrd na Gàidhlig (in Scotland) noted the objectives in its National Gaelic Language Plan, and offered to share expertise further. The value of using social media and online resources in promoting Gaelic was mentioned, and while some contributors seemed unaware of the existing collaboration between BBC Alba and TG4, it was broadly encouraged.  Conradh na Gaeilge Glaschú was referenced as an organisation promoting the Irish language in Scotland.

History and heritage 

Celtic traditions, shared history and heritage were common themes and mentioned in many responses, and this topic attracted a number of substantive organisational responses also, such as from Historic Environment Scotland (HES), National Trust for Scotland, and the Scottish Poetry Library. Responses from individuals generally expressed support for capitalising on the respective and shared heritage of both countries, which was recognised as rich and diverse. Historic Environment Scotland (HES) highlighted the existing connections to the Office of Public Works (OPW), to Irish World Heritage Sites through UNESCO World Heritage and to the National Monuments Service, demonstrating the strong foundations established for future collaboration. Knowledge and skills are already shared across various areas such as traditional materials and World Heritage Management, and HES notes that both national agencies have adopted similar approaches to supporting local-led heritage groups, providing operational and technical advice alongside funding. UHI’s submission referenced the ‘Boyne to Brodgar’ combined research and community development initiative which involves partners from both Ireland and Scotland. HES also mentioned that their Estates Peer Review process involves a panel of external experts carrying out assessments of the conservation and visitor management projects. Regarding archaeological links, HES points at the strategic partnership between CiFA and the Institute of Archaeologists (Ireland). The National Trust for Scotland suggested both countries learn from the historic trends of migration, and in particular learn from those families who settled in Scotland, to understand what life was like for them prior to their departure from Ireland.

Arts, Dance and Music

Strong support was expressed for further arts collaboration between the two countries, especially in relation to traditional forms of dance and music, which attracted almost 300 mentions alone. In particular, Irish music and dancing was popular in responses from Scotland and cultural music events such as the Fleadh Cheoil, as well as organisations such as Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, were all mentioned as good exemplars of bringing together dance and music from both countries. There was also support for musical collaboration beyond the Celtic traditions, and the rich heritage of pipe bands in particular was recognised in a number of contributions, with support for closer working and touring between the countries expressed. With regard to classical music it was noted that the Scottish Opera performs in Dublin, and more broadly, that major events such as Celtic Connections and the Edinburgh Festival(s) attract many performers from Ireland every year.  

Looking ahead, there was strong and consistent demand for more joint programming and more funding across these sectors, and both individuals and organisations expressed the view that there would be an audience for more provision. In relation to closer working between the commissioning broadcasters, there was interest expressed in further and more innovative collaboration between TG4, Raidió na Gaeltachta and BBC Alba. Responses from individuals based in both Scotland and Ireland provided a broad range of ideas and initiatives ranging from travel bursaries through Fèisean nan Gàidheal support for traditional music exchanges, cultural summer schools exchange models to joint festivals. A number of respondents argued that live music in smaller venues should be explicitly supported, alongside suggestions to focus on youth based collaboration. Among the Scotland-based contributions there is a clear demand for visiting performances to tour beyond Scotland’s central belt. These views align with those expressed in the closed questions of the online questionnaire also (see Chapter 3). More than 500 of the 779 Scotland-based respondents and 171 of the 219 Ireland-based respondents expressed interest in attending a live performance of Irish or Scottish music/theatre/dance/comedy and participating in Irish or Scottish arts/culture/sport. 

Sport

As discussed in Chapter 3, sporting activities are widely appreciated as helping to increase the countries’ visibility. Sixty-four percent of respondents believe that sporting activities and events are the most effective in making Scotland the most visible in Ireland and 46% believe this is true for Ireland in Scotland. Half of the Ireland-based responses to the closed questions are aware of or already attend and play sports as a way of engaging with Scotland, and a further quarter of respondents wish to do so more often. Of the Scotland-based respondents, a quarter are aware of but not yet active in sport as a way of engaging with Ireland, while 112 already attend or play a sport related to Ireland, and 113 wish to do so more often in the future. 

There were a range of views expressed in the responses to the open questions, in relation to the role of sports. The contributions which referred to rugby were consistent in their support for this as a positive link between Ireland and Scotland. The central role of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) and the Camanachd Association linking hurling and shinty were noted, both for promoting these sports, but also for the collaborative work between sporting communities in Scotland and Ireland. The strength, and growing popularity, of the GAA in Scotland was referenced by many respondents.

The responses from individuals which referred to football (soccer) spanned a wide range of views. While some contributions praised the role of soccer, and how people valued their strong connections to particular teams, other Scotland-based responses expressed the strong view that some Scottish clubs’ rivalry may serve to contribute to sectarian tribalism that can detract from a positive perception of both countries. Others, again, argue that these clubs are potentially critical to tackling sectarian and offensive behaviour, citing the ‘Everyone, Anyone’ campaign by Rangers Football Club as an example of good work tackling racism.

4.4 Rural, coastal and island communities 

Seventy-three percent of all respondents believed that ‘rural, coastal and island communities’ are very important for the relationship between Ireland and Scotland, which is the highest rating for any of the five themes. Only 16% thought it was not relevant. 

This theme received 134 qualitative contributions. It also needs to be noted that many submissions under the remaining four themes could have been allocated to this theme, for example around climate change, tourism, language and heritage. Contributions across this theme highlighted that rural communities share a rural identity and that historical connections are valued between Ireland and Scotland’s rural communities. Responses also referred, in general, to coastal contacts and networks between local businesses and communities. Across the responses on this theme there were references to various EU funded schemes Scotland and Ireland currently participate in (such as LEADER scheme for rural communities), and certain views noted the uncertainty around continuation of Ireland-Scotland cooperation in this area once the Brexit Transition Period ends. 

Challenges – connectivity, depopulation and rural economy 

Responses submitted under the theme ‘rural, coastal and island communities’ identified a number of challenges that both Irish and Scottish rural communities share. These are travel and connectivity, depopulation, and the pressure on service provision. These shared challenges were also identified in the UHI’s submission which referred to the university’s Island Strategy, suggesting learning that could be applied in Ireland and with other nations. 

Comments on the challenges faced by the rural economy both praised the vibrant rural economies found in both countries, while some responses expressed concern at an ‘over-reliance’ on tourism in these and coastal communities. Collaborations facilitated through the EU funding programmes, such as the promotion of Community Led Local Development programmes, were cited as valuable in a number of responses. Support for future collaboration to support rural development post-Brexit was also expressed, with one example specifically suggesting the establishment of Scotland-Ireland local action groups. 

Regarding digital connectivity, there was a shared view among respondents that both governments and countries would benefit from addressing this challenge together, sharing expertise and experience. Specific proposals referenced the value of further formal structured cooperation in the area of rural development and connectivity as a potential mechanism to tackle this shared challenge. This approach, focusing on structured cooperation was also proposed among the responses that addressed the shared challenges of depopulation. Contributions relating to population sustainability in island, remote and rural areas acknowledged the need to address service provision in these areas. Therefore, suggestions to share policy learning in health and social care and housing provision accompanied a general appetite expressed to share strategies on ‘depopulation’ specifically.  Generally there was broad enthusiasm for tackling shared challenges together, with one organisation suggesting for Ireland to look into the Scottish Islands Bill for its potential to improve the economy and wellbeing of island communities, and others proposing a focus on Scotland’s greater islands populations, and Ireland’s Údarás na Gaeltachta structures. 

Agriculture, fishing and food & drink

Contributions related to agriculture, food and drink highlighted that Ireland and Scotland have much in common with regard to land use, hill farming, crofting, and fishing, and that these commonalities potentially underpin significant opportunities for collaboration across many parts of these sectors. While a number of responses highlighted the challenges in the fishing industry there was strong support across the responses to collaborate in these sectors, noting the markets for export and tourism that Scotland and Ireland share. 

A number of respondents felt that technical expertise on aquaculture and horticulture could be better shared – particularly in relation to sustainable approaches and practices - and it was mentioned that Scotland could learn from Irish hill farming and from locally-led agri-environment approaches in particular. Certain respondents suggested that, in their view, Highland and Island Enterprise (HIE), the Crofters Commission in Scotland, and Údarás na Gaeltachta in Ireland are key organisations that could usefully share knowledge and best practice. In terms of business models to explore, support for exploring the potential of social enterprises was expressed in a small number of responses, alongside a number of contributions that highlighted the opportunities for specific sectors (for example dairy and whisk(e)y). The potential to exploit the marketing value of the connection through seafood, wild-organic west coast foods, whisk(e)y and artisan foods was mentioned several times, with one respondent proposing the establishment of a dedicated and branded collaborative enterprise.

Climate Change

Many responses referred to climate change and the environment in both general and specific terms. Comments were received across the themes, particularly in relation to ‘business and economic interests’ and ‘academic, educational and research links’, but given that most of the examples and ideas offered referred to rural and coastal communities, this topic is addressed under this theme. Generally, the contributions highlighted that Scotland and Ireland, with their similar geographies and population sizes, could collaborate in the shared fight against climate change and together realise the potential of renewable energies and sustainable technologies. These responses also included references to environmental protection, and respondents were keen to see the sharing of policy directed at the climate crisis, such as through Ireland’s peatland protection and restoration schemes. The challenge of supporting tourism in rural areas, while developing renewable energy infrastructure in these places, was recognised in a number of responses. Whilst few existing connections were illustrated, respondents pointed to many examples to learn from or to develop in the future. These included the existing Ocean Power Innovation Network, a three-year initiative bringing together cross-sectoral and cross-regional collaboration in the field of marine energy, including partners in Scotland, Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and France. Responses tended to suggest that Scotland had much expertise and experience to share with Ireland in the areas of renewable energy and marine energy in particular. The various energy projects underway in Orkney were mentioned as a positive example for other island and coastal communities to learn from.

Respondents see potential for future collaboration in various areas, such as decarbonising the energy system in rural areas and islands, and cooperating on marine science and renewable energy generation, making use of hydrogen, wind and water energy, for example. Contributions highlighted the need for funding for these projects and for sharing skilled engineers and knowledge. 

A number of responses suggested the establishment of collaborative mechanisms between governments to meet the climate challenge, such as Historic Environment Scotland proposing a platform to be facilitated by both governments to support the work on climate change that HES and Irish counterparts in the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage are undertaking. 

4.5 Academic, educational and research links

Contributions to the theme ‘academic, educational and research links’ were relatively substantial and detailed. In total, 117 responses to open questions were received through the online questionnaire. This theme also attracted a number of organisational responses submitted via email. Of all respondents, 67% thought this area is ‘very important’ to the relationship between the two countries. Approximately a quarter of Ireland-based respondents were actively engaged with academic and research links, while around one fifth of the Scotland-based respondents did so. Nearly a third of Ireland-based respondents said they would like to be more engaged with Scottish academia (32%). This category also scored highest among Scotland-based respondents in what they would like to do more of, with 19% reporting they wanted to be more engaged with Irish academia.

Respondents providing answers to the open questions pointed out most often the wide range of existing collaborations and exchanges. Under this theme the majority of responses expressed concern about any possibility for alteration in participation in EU-based funding once the transition period ends, and the potential impact on Scotland and on bilateral academic engagement between both countries. 

Institutions and universities 

Contributions to the theme ‘academic, educational and research links’ focused largely on the role of institutions and universities and often stressed the role of EU-funded networks. Responses from individuals highlighted specific projects or mentioned institutional expertise that could be shared (examples included use of technology and inclusion policy). A joint submission by the Royal Irish Academy and the Royal Society of Edinburgh highlighted that Scotland and Ireland rank in the top 20 global countries in the 2018 Incites Essential Science indicators, and that both countries share a focus on research, development and innovation as an enabler and key driver of economic growth and prosperity as well as social and cultural ambitions.

Many links and collaborations were mentioned, and offered as examples of good practice in the responses received through the questionnaire and via email, albeit alongside comments expressing concern about the risks to EU-based collaborative funding in the future. Examples included:

  • UK-Ireland Collaboration in the Digital Humanities 
  • The Research Institute of Irish and Scottish Studies (RIISS) at the University of Aberdeen
  • Collaborations which include Northern Ireland such as the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Science Foundation Ireland  Centres for Doctoral Training (EPSRC-SFI CDT
  • The EU-funded Bryden Centre 
  • The SPIRE 2 project involving Ulster University, Queen’s University Belfast and University of Strathclyde
  • The cross-border research and innovation project Renewable Engine for knowledge transfer and technology development 
  • The European programme Climate KIC that includes Ireland and Scotland
  • Links between Glasgow University and the University College Dublin for example through the Universitas 21 network
  • links between Tyndall institute (UCC) and Glasgow universities (Strathclyde)

A number of responses pointed to the existing cross-institutional arrangements already in place that would be ready to support further and deeper collaboration across the jurisdictions – these included the recently formed Celtic Academies Alliance (made up of the RSE, RIA and the Learned Society of Wales) and the Irish Universities Association. 

Across responses, a wide variety of ideas were offered on how to connect universities and institutions further, especially post-Brexit. There were a number of suggestions focused at institutional level, supporting events to bring together a range of potential collaborators (such as institution leaders, academics and delivery professionals) to plan bilateral bids and initiatives. Many of these responses focused on ways to develop innovative collaborative funding mechanisms (for example to address diversity, travel costs or seed corn funding), and a number included collaboration examples from other countries that Ireland and Scotland could explore.

Many respondents, including the University of Edinburgh and University College Dublin in their joint submission, expressed concern at the security of future funding for Erasmus and other EU-funded exchange initiatives such as KA203 the Network for Intercultural Competence to facilitate Entrepreneurship (NICE). Contributions from both countries emphasised the value of such exchanges and also the potential to learn from each other through the number of students enrolled in each other’s universities and institutions.

A number of respondents referred to the potential for increased engagement between government and academia on policy matters. A range of policy areas that were considered particularly appropriate for this type of collaboration were proposed. Specific examples included the Scottish Imaging Network: A Platform for Scientific Excellence (SINAPSE) and the Dementia Research Network Ireland (DRNI). The general policy areas mentioned most frequently across the responses to open questions related to health and social care, and aspects of the criminal justice systems.

Research

Generally, responses that focused on research were the most detailed across the entire engagement exercise, and wholly enthusiastic about the practice and potential of research endeavours across and between both countries. A number of research disciplines were referred to, ranging from arts and humanities, to social sciences, medicine, engineering and the natural sciences. Often, the shared research is funded by EU programmes such as Horizon 2020, the Fraunhofer network and others. 

In terms of existing research offered as exemplars, responses focused on areas of common challenge where Scottish and Irish scholars are already collaborating on topics such as genealogy. Other ‘common ground’ was identified in the arts and humanities, where topics related to history, archaeology, literature, Gaelic, post-colonialism and decolonising spaces. Respondents referred to research based on shared natural assets, and mentioned projects on oceanography aquaculture, rural development and social farming, alongside industry-supported specialist research underway in the biotech and pharmaceutical fields.

The joint submissions received from the RSE and RIA, and from the University College Dublin (UCD) and the University of Edinburgh highlighted a range of collaborative funding arrangements across institutions and funders on a spectrum of cross-disciplinary research, tackling topics ranging from diaspora and migration experience to climate change mitigation. As an illustration of the extent of existing and fruitful collaboration, UCD and the University of Edinburgh cite that their institutions have co-authored 431 publications since 2016.

Such examples and responses tether their evidence of existing collaboration to a strong appetite for further bilateral engagement across institutions and jurisdictions. While a range of topics were suggested for further research investment (for example in areas as varied as hemochromatosis, linguistics and renewable energy), responses also pointed to the establishment of underpinning systems and approaches that would support bilateral collaboration. Therefore, alongside calls for better funding of collaborative research, support was expressed for the establishment of wider networks to include non-academic think tanks with academics, and also for mechanisms and symposiums to better connect researchers. In particular, RSE/RIA and UCD and University of Edinburgh support future initiatives that may spring from cross-government and cross-departmental projects with a policy focus. It was felt that this kind support and infrastructure could enable the development of a range of specific research areas and strengthen the knowledge base for both countries. 

Learning 

A number of responses within this theme focused their contributions on opportunities for better collaborative learning activity between and among learners in both countries, across the secondary and tertiary sectors in particular. These responses often connected to the ‘community and diaspora links’ and ’culture experience and exchange’ themes, and ideas relating to language learning were common.  References to existing connections tended to be general, although the links established by the Sabhal Mór Ostaig (main campus on Skye, Scotland) were specifically highlighted in one response. In terms of illustrating expertise that could be shared between Ireland and Scotland, the various programmes run in Ireland’s Gaeltacht were mentioned most often, and in particular how the summer schemes have evolved over time, and continue to engage young people in a love of language and culture. A number of responses were keen to see exchange initiatives developed between educational establishments in both countries, arguing that these would benefit the teaching staff, as well as students and pupils. One proponent of exchange schemes highlighted that attention should be paid to access for such opportunities, especially for pupils from lower-income backgrounds. The responses that mentioned curriculum collaboration tended to focus on language, history and literature as topics where both countries’ rich heritage and shared interest could be better shared.


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