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.

Rural, Coastal, and Island Communities

The shared geography of Ireland's and Scotland's rural, coastal, and island communities was considered the strongest area for collaboration by 73% of respondents to the online questionnaire, generating the highest number of comments.
All of the other review themes coalesce in the Rural, Coastal and Island communities strand, presenting exciting possibilities
for future collaboration. 

Dunfanaghy, County Donegal.
© Fáilte Ireland
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Existing cooperation at all levels is strong, reflecting the natural partnership based on our shared richness of significant rural, coastal and island communities. Scotland published its National Islands Plan in December 2019 and Ireland will pursue its own Islands Strategy over the course of this government.

17% of Scotland's population and 37.4% of Ireland's population live in rural areas. 93 inhabited islands in Scotland had a total population of 103,700 in 2011, about 2% of Scotland's population. Ireland recorded a total population of 8,756 living on 76 of Ireland's 82 offshore islands, about 0.2% of Ireland's population.

Consultations with government departments in both countries have demonstrated a deep level of cooperation in areas of agriculture, forestry, and fisheries and the marine environment. Scotland's position at the forefront of climate change policy is of interest to Ireland, including on peatland restoration and offshore renewable energy. Likewise, Ireland's programme for government points to Scotland's work on town centres as a potential example to follow. 


73% of questionnaire respondents believe that rural, coastal, and island communities are very important to the Ireland-Scotland relationship. (Ireland-Scotland Review Questionnaire).

93 inhabited islands in Scotland had a total population of 103,700 in 2011. (UK Census 2011). Ireland recorded a total population of 8,756 living on 76 of Ireland’s 82 offshore islands. (2016 census).

Údarás na Gaeltachta (the agency responsible for the economic, social and cultural development of Irish-speaking regions of Ireland) has a number of programmes harnessing existing connections, building new contacts and developing stronger economic ties between the Gaeltacht regions of Ireland and the West of Scotland. Their gteic project (Gréasán Digiteach na Gaeltachta - Gaeltacht Digital Network) is a network of 31 innovation and digital hubs developed in locations throughout Ireland's Gaeltacht area. The gteic digital hubs will provide a vibrant network of high-speed broadband facilities in rural Gaeltacht regions stimulating job creation, assisting remote working, and encouraging and enabling the return of Diaspóra na Gaeltachta, where the unique Gaeltacht culture drives creativity and innovation. This model is of interest to Scotland. 

The Scottish Government aims to see an increase in people speaking, using and learning the Gaelic language. Promotion of the Gaelic arts and Gaelic culture is an important element of this.  Creative Scotland participated in the Ceangal | Dolen II theatre conference that took place between 10-13 November 2020. The conference was the second focused gathering of theatre practitioners working in the Irish, Welsh, and Scottish languages respectively. The gathering focused on innovation in theatre in these languages through sharing best practice and nurturing respect, linguistic diversity and equality.

Looking Forward

Submissions to the review and to the online questionnaire illustrated the challenges and tensions our rural, coastal and island communities face on a day-to-day basis – specifically around energy, tourism, landscape and livelihoods.  

While Brexit and the global pandemic add to these long-standing challenges and tensions, there are opportunities for positive change. Taken together, an increase in home and remote working, a renewed focus on the benefits of localisation, changing business and working models, and reduced commuting, open up exciting potential opportunities for our rural, coastal and island communities and societies. As a result, there is now a renewed focus on rural connectivity (digital and transport), sustainability of communities, and decentralisation of services. 

Arbroath smokies being prepared by Iain R Spink on the beach at Auchmithie.
© VisitScotland / Kenny Lam
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Clare Island Harbour, Mayo.
© Fáilte Ireland
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Case Study: Smart Islands: Scotland and Ireland

As part of the EU's Smart Islands Initiative, Irish and Scottish island communities are working to become smart, inclusive, thriving societies. Recent work has included a series of visits between island communities, focussed on sustainable social, economic and community development. 

Eigg and Canna islanders met with Clare Island and Inishturk islanders in County Mayo and undertook on-site visits and workshops about 'Smart Islands.' A visit to Grimsay by Irish and Scottish islanders focussed on culture and identity, crofting, tourism, and developing island skills, and included young crofters and musicians, as well as enterprise, arts, tourism and language development officers. Islanders from both Ireland and Scotland attended training in Galway looking at island-based enterprise development, and coaching skills to support fellow islanders. As a direct result of their work together, an outdoor children's nursery on Sherkin Island was developed, inspired by a similar facility at Grimsay.


  • The Scottish Government and the Government of Ireland, working with the University of the Highlands and Islands and Údarás na Gaeltachta, will convene a conference in 2021 to develop joint activity to address the opportunities and challenges of living in rural, coastal and island communities, including how adaptation to the COVID-19 context informs policy planning.
  • The Marine Institute and Marine Scotland will continue formal collaboration to pursue mutually beneficial research. The Scottish Government has highlighted the benefits of collaboration on the blue economy, aquaculture and on the potential for research exchanges between respective marine parks and innovation centres.
  • Teagasc (Ireland's Agriculture and Food Development Authority) and Scotland's Rural College (SRUC) will build on their existing research collaboration, encompassing a wider range of research themes and activities, and include advisory and education functions, in addition to expanding relationships with other institutions.
  • Existing and potential future collaborations between Scottish and Irish forestry sectors will focus on increasing forestry's role in addressing climate change challenges, growing forest economies, afforestation, creating green jobs and contributing to the recovery from the COVID-19 emergency.
  • Based on shared interests in building sustainable, self-sufficient island communities using innovations in renewable energy projects to address island depopulation, the Government of Ireland and the Scottish Government will seek to continue mutual exchange and lesson sharing in these areas.
  • The Consulate General of Ireland in Edinburgh and the Scottish Government Office in Dublin will work with business organisations and local authorities to encourage further twinning arrangements between Scotland and Ireland where these can add value to existing and new links.
  • All recommendations stemming from this joint bilateral review, both those in this report, and those that will be agreed by both governments at each annual review, will include a focus on rural, coastal and island communities.
A memorial sheiling to mark the ancient legend of Deirdre and Naoise and the common past of the peoples of Scotland and Ireland. Situated in the mountains overlooking Loch Etive, Argyll, the sheiling [an ancient Gaelic word for a mountain shelter] was commissioned by Sam Macdonald to commemorate his wife, the love story of Deirdre and Naoise, and the cultural ties between Ireland and Scotland.
© Julia Fayngruen
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