Scotland-Ireland bilateral review report

The report and recommendations for this review set out current areas of bilateral cooperation and identify opportunities for cooperation and joint initiatives in new areas, which are devolved to Scotland, over the next 5 years from 2021 to 2025.


The evolving international context for the relationship between the United Kingdom and Ireland has reinforced the importance of strong links between the neighbouring jurisdictions on these islands. 

Despite no longer sharing membership of the European Union, the strong and enduring foundation of the Common Travel Area, and the structures created by the Belfast/ Good Friday Agreement, provide a stable foundation for the continued development of relations between our peoples. 

In this context, the occasions of the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, which saw the creation of the British-Irish Council, and 20+ years of Scottish devolution, informed the decision of both the Government of Ireland and the Scottish Government that the time was right for a strategic review of the relationship. 

The aim of the bilateral review has been to consolidate existing ties in the context of a new international environment, and to unlock the further untapped potential in many areas of the Scottish-Irish relationship. Working together on a joint bilateral review in this way was a diplomatic first for each of our governments. 

Work on the joint bilateral review began in November 2019. The purpose of the review was not to be exhaustive, but, through a consultation process, to capture a snapshot of the current state of the relationship, to signpost shared ambition, and to realise the potential for future growth in the Irish-Scottish relationship. 

The areas examined in the review, and reported on here, are bilateral government relations, and, more broadly, business and the economy, community and diaspora, culture, academic and research links, and rural, coastal and island communities, all areas in which the Scottish Government has devolved authority. 

The review process involved a rich variety of engagements with a range of stakeholders, in the form of round table discussions, consultation groups, and hundreds of conversations.  Through an online questionnaire, we were able to widen the reach of the review. Some 1,068 responses were received from individuals and organisations in Ireland, Scotland and beyond. 

While the contributions are not representative of all views in either or both countries, they provide a wealth of commentary and illustrate a greater degree of active engagement in the relationship than previously anticipated. 

The work of the review indicated that the five priority themes frequently overlapped. This was particularly evident in the Rural, Coastal and Island Communities strand, where all of the review themes naturally connect. This reflects the significant coastal and rural nature of communities in both Scotland and Ireland. It is clear that this Rural, Coastal and Island Communities strand of the review presents some of the most exciting opportunities for future collaboration, and the recommendations illustrate commitment to developing these together.

The review process was inevitably interrupted by the global pandemic, as both governments responded to the immediate emergency phase of the crisis. Original plans
for stakeholder consultations were, as a result, adapted. Work in the business and economy sector is being prioritised as this report is launched, focussing on the approach to supporting Scottish-Irish business connectivity in the years ahead and more immediately, supporting economic and social recovery from the pandemic.

The review process was set out in a Concept Note. A Steering Committee of senior officials from both governments oversaw the process, and will monitor progress on the agreed recommendations. The Steering Committee will report both to Ireland's Minister for Foreign Affairs and Scotland's Cabinet Secretary for External Relations annually, when new recommendations for further cooperation will be adopted. The process will run for five years, to 2025, in line with the objectives of the Global Ireland strategy. 

This report sets out what was learned through the review process, and makes recommendations for how the Irish-Scottish relationship will further develop. Some recommendations are specific, and relate to work to be delivered in the first year. Others are signposts pointing to longer term future direction. 

Ballet Ireland at Edinburgh Festivals 2018, as part of Culture Ireland GB18.
© Julie Howden
See image title for description



Back to top