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.

Government to Government Relations

In 1998, devolution through the Scotland Act, the Belfast/ Good Friday Agreement, and the establishment of the British-Irish Council were touchstones for a deepening of Scottish-Irish relations. In the same year, Ireland opened a Consulate General in Edinburgh to broaden and deepen the relationship in this new context. 

Since then, long-standing and rich people-to-people friendships have been enhanced further by deepening parliamentary connections, including through the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly (BIPA), strengthened bilateral relations between the Government of Ireland and the Scottish Government, and cooperation through the work sectors of the British-Irish Council. In 2016, President Michael D Higgins addressed the Scottish Parliament during a visit to Scotland, and Scotland's First Minister addressed Seanad Éireann during a visit to Ireland.

Relations are close across a number of policy areas, particularly in the context of the British-Irish Council. In recent years, frequent visits by the First Minister, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and a range of ministers reflect a broad and diverse exchange of policy ideas and initiatives. 

Scotland is a priority destination for St Patrick's Day visits by Irish ministers, supporting diaspora, trade, and cultural relations. Likewise, Scottish ministers regularly travel to Ireland on governmental business, and to participate in Burns Suppers and St Andrew's Day events. Regular trade missions in each direction are also supported by ministers.

Civil servants work together in the context of the British-Irish Council, and in the course of bilateral business. From tackling the challenges of managing UNESCO world heritage sites and sharing expertise on conservation, through collaboration on development aid projects in Malawi, to joint problem-solving in our public health sectors, Ireland and Scotland have strong and effective working relationships which continue to grow. Many of these connections have been facilitated through mutual involvement in EU programmes, and there is a shared commitment to continue developing strong working relationships. Working with partners, such as the CivTech Alliance, our commitment to drive innovative solutions to shared challenges across our public sectors, and deliver proven value, includes the application of digital technologies and data analytics.

President Michael D Higgins and Ken Macintosh, Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, meet in the Scottish Parliament, 2016.
© Áras an Uachtaráin
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Along with the Embassy of Ireland in London, Ireland has Consulates General in Edinburgh and Cardiff, and recently announced plans to open another in the North of England. The Consulate General of Ireland in Edinburgh works on diverse issues in Scotland, including support of Irish citizens and diaspora, promotion of Ireland's cultural and economic interests, and engagement with the Scottish Parliament, Scottish Government, and the Scotland Office. 

Scotland has representative offices in a number of locations around the world. Based in the British Embassy, the Scottish Government Office in Ireland opened in 2016, and works on the promotion of trade and investment links, government-to-government relations, cultural cooperation, and economic, academic and innovation collaboration.

Monitoring Progress

The bilateral review process was governed by a Steering Committee of senior officials from each government. This committee will continue in a similar form to oversee implementation of the recommendations in this report. The Steering Committee will receive updates from government departments, and other agencies, on their relevant work, and will consult with external partners. It will meet at least twice yearly and report to the Minister for Foreign Affairs in Dublin and the Cabinet Secretary for External Relations in Edinburgh, who will meet annually to review progress, and agree new recommendations for further collaboration until 2025.

Christ Church Cathedral Dublin on St Andrew's Day, 2019.
© Peter Varga
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Case Study – Scottish-Irish Health Forum

Since 2017, the Scottish-Irish Health Forum has provided an opportunity for senior health officials in Ireland and Scotland to learn together, focussed on learning through comparing systems and services, learning from each other's best practice, and being critical friends while facing common challenges. The success of the Forum has been the shared commitment to open communication of information and ideas, discussion on design and delivery issues, and collaboration where appropriate opportunities exist. The Forum's work has focussed on:

1. Public Health and Health Improvement

2. Patient Safety

3. Data, Digital, Technology and Innovation

4. Access, Flow, Value Improvement and Efficiencies

5. Service and System Integration

While COVID-19 prevented a planned three-month exchange of senior officials to work in each other's health systems, health colleagues have been making use of their working relationships in the Forum to tackle shared challenges during the pandemic. Significant examples include close engagement on digital solutions delivering new services within weeks rather than the originally planned months or years. Irish officials have shared their experience on the development and launch of their COVID Tracker App, while Scottish officials provided support and knowledge sharing on Attend Anywhere, which Ireland
has adopted as a platform for clinical video consultations.

The success of the Scottish-Irish Health Forum with its focus on shared challenges, and beneficial outcomes for patients, is an excellent model for bilateral cooperation
in other areas of work.


  • The Taoiseach and Scottish First Minister will meet at bi-annual British-Irish Council summits, and will ensure that high-level contact is maintained by their ministers.
  • As leads on the bilateral relationship, Ireland's Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for External Affairs will maintain ongoing contact, and will meet annually to specifically review progress on the recommendations of this review, and agree new recommendations.  
  • The Bilateral Review Steering Committee, made up of relevant senior officials from Ireland's Department of Foreign Affairs and Scottish Government External Relations Directorate, will meet at least twice annually to monitor progress.
  • Both Scotland and Ireland remain committed to the vision and mandate of the British-Irish Council (BIC), established under the Belfast/ Good Friday Agreement, and will work to enhance collaboration through the BIC, where possible.
  • The Consulate General of Ireland in Edinburgh and the Scottish Government Office in Dublin will work with the Houses of the Oireachtas (Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann) and the Scottish Parliament to support increased contacts between parliamentarians, and cross-party engagement in our joint work.
  • Irish and Scottish health officials will continue to work together through the Health Forum and deliver the previously planned secondments delayed by COVID-19. Both governments will maintain their good cooperation on efforts to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, seeking mutually beneficial collaboration in that task where appropriate.
  • Building on our collaboration in Malawi, Irish and Scottish officials will have an exchange on international development issues in 2021, including on Ireland's policy on international development, 'A Better World' and its focus on issues of gender equality, climate action, governance and reducing humanitarian need.
The Kelpies, Falkirk, as part of Tourism Ireland's Global Greening initiative on St Patrick's Day, 2017.
© Tourism Ireland
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