Wednesday, 18 December 2019
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
40. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will report on the outcomes of his meeting in November 2019 with the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, the Secretary of State for Scotland, Alister Jack, the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop, and the Cabinet Secretary for Government Business and Constitutional Relations, Michael Russell; the co-operation he envisages for Ireland and Scotland during 2020 and post Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51470/19]
I wish the Tánaiste all the best with his discussions in Belfast. A few weeks ago, he met the other Taoiseach in these islands, the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and the Secretary of State for Scotland, Alister Jack. I understand they established a bilateral view on areas of co-operation. Obviously, everything has changed since the British general election and, clearly, Scotland will be moving towards independence. What kind of co-operation can we expect between Ireland and Scotland?
On 13 November, I travelled to Edinburgh for a series of high-level meetings, including with the Secretary of State for Scotland, the First Minister and the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, whom I have met several times in Dublin. I engaged with the Irish community there and economic partners, as one would expect. I also met the Cabinet Secretary for Government Business and Constitutional Relations and was honoured to address parliamentarians at an event in the Scottish Parliament hosted by its Presiding Officer, Ken Macintosh.
The purpose of these engagements was to build on the strong cultural, political, economic and community ties that exist between our two countries. The visit took place in the context of a strategic review of Irish-Scottish relations, which I announced jointly with the Cabinet Secretary, Ms Hyslop, at the beginning of November. This review will examine the relationship between our two countries to identify current collaboration on matters devolved to Scotland and how we might build on this to enhance our overall relationship. This is a unique exercise in that it is the first time we are undertaking a review of this kind of joint co-operation with another jurisdiction. From my meetings in Edinburgh, I came away with a strong sense of the interest in, and appreciation for, our bilateral relationship. Through our consulate in Edinburgh, established 21 years ago, and the Scottish Government Hub in Dublin, we have worked intensively to deepen that understanding and collaboration. I am confident that this review will result in a joint report with recommendations and will contribute significantly to strengthening that relationship for the future.
Brexit, and the EU-UK future relationship discussions to follow, will undoubtedly present some challenges for our bilateral relationships with the UK as we work with EU partners to secure the best possible outcome for Ireland and the EU. Strong and close relationships with the UK Government and individually with the devolved Administrations will be of ever-greater importance during this time and in the years ahead.
Our relationship with our sister country of Scotland is a unique one. It was the Men of Ulster, or Ulaidh, who first established the Scottish kingdom. Throughout the Middle Ages, Irish people were referred to as "Scots". What practical steps will happen in terms of co-operation? I know that the Tánaiste and the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, are establishing a joint health forum. The Scottish have a national health system, because they have Scotland's NHS. What can happen in a practical way in that area? Scotland has an outstanding track record in education. The Tánaiste might have seen recently the University of St. Andrews was given the title of the best university in the world. The Scottish have a separate legal system as well. Scottish MSPs and civil servants attended a meeting of the Oireachtas Committee on Budgetary Oversight. They told us about their innovative programme for gender budgeting and other initiatives. What definitive help will we give to them, particularly in the context of us being an independent member of the European Union and their hope to have the same status?
It is important not to confuse two issues, namely, the aspirations some in Scotland hold for independence and what this review is trying to do. Regardless of the future of Scotland, this review is focusing on areas of co-operation that involve devolved powers for a devolved government in Scotland as opposed to anything else. It is important not to create expectation on some of these issues.
The review will comprise three parts: an external mapping exercise aimed at detailing current government-to-government co-operation and where it can be grown; a round of external consultations with stakeholders focused on looking beyond government in the areas of business and the economy, community and diaspora, academic and research links, culture, and rural, coastal and island communities - working together and learning from each other; and a public questionnaire aimed at garnering the opinion of the public on where the relationship can be enhanced and developed into the future. We will have the results of that review in the medium term, in the next couple of months. That will have clear recommendations, and I look forward to implementing those.
I welcome the review. The Minister mentioned the islands. In terms of language, there will be discussion on a language Act for the North in the coming days, but Scotland is a country that has a native language that is virtually the same as our own native language. Will there be any particular developments in that regard? We know of BBC Alba and how close the two languages are in that whole cultural area, but there is also closeness in the economic area. Before our success with foreign direct investment, the Scots had Silicon Glen and were ahead of us on IT.
We are a member of the European Union and we have to remember that we facilitated West Germany to bring East Germany into the Union. I think states like Catalonia and Scotland are hoping to, and there may be a situation down the line - we will call it the Catalonia question - where may want to, enter the European Union. Perhaps that is something that we as existing members of the European Union should be thinking about post Brexit.
I have a huge personal affection for Scotland. I worked there for a while after being a student. I lived in a little mining town called Armadale for six months. I also worked in Edinburgh. Scotland has so much in common with Ireland. We want to be supportive and we want to develop an even closer relationship, with a structure around that relationship, for the future. We want to be a partner to Scotland. We want to do that in the context of the overall relationship between Britain and Ireland. That involves complex political management, for obvious reasons, in the context of Brexit and the political pressures right now in Scotland. We want to be supportive and a good neighbour, but we also, for the first time, want to put a structure around areas where we can co-operate on a bilateral basis in a way that is constructive for both sides.