In Inshore Ireland’s (Summer 2018), I wrote that Ireland must, without hesitation, apply for ‘Observer Member Status’ of the Arctic Council. I focused primarily on climate change and the obvious necessity to make this application as a matter of priority, to gain the critical knowledge needed to help make informed decisions about coastal erosion and flood defences, planning, agriculture, fisheries, and safety, all of which depend upon local weather predictions.
I said we needed the best information which we do not have without speaking to our Arctic neighbours. I also noted the significant economic opportunities for Ireland by attending these meetings.
Since then, much progress has been made. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, supported by Ambassador Vickers of Canada, and Ambassador Eikeland of Norway, have embraced this initiative and how whereby Ireland is now on the cusp of making this application (deadline December 31).
Following a trade mission, the government of Maine, has emphasised how Ireland can benefit economically by being an Arctic Council observing nation. With Brexit looming, and government’s Global Ireland 2025 project and climate change at the top of the policy agenda, this application could not be timelier.
Between September 10-14, a full government trade delegation from the State of Maine came to Ireland. The trade mission was a direct result of working the room for Ireland at just one Arctic Council Working Group meeting , and is a small example of what Ireland can gain from Arctic Council meetings.
Ireland would not have featured, or the mission at all, had I not, as an Irishman, been in Arctic Council meetings with a British delegation, when I took the opportunity to broker the relationship and put Ireland at the forefront.
The Irish leg of the mission included meetings in Dublin, Kildare and Cork. Meetings with DFA, Enterprise Ireland, Bord Na Mona, Cork Co Council, CIT, Port of Cork, NMCI, the MaREI Centre for Marine and Renewable Energy, the Irish Naval Service, Skibbereen Heritage Centre, West Cork Arts Centre, A Taste of West Cork (including a tour to Mizen Head showcasing the Wild Atlantic Way).
Many leaders in Ireland assisted, including the chairman and CEO of BIM and the chairman of Tourism Ireland.
An Economic Partnership Agreement was signed between Cork County Council and Maine. In Bantry the delegation visited Keohane’s seafood plant (turnover €40m) to promote trade and support the fishing industry between Ireland and Maine and to learn about using by-products of the fishing industry. The relationship is being followed up with energy on both sides.
As Inshore Ireland goes to print, Ambassadors Vickers and Eikeland are hosting an important dinner in Dublin to solidify Ireland’s approach, demonstrating great support from two of the leader Arctic nations.
Following other work with the Arctic States, a link has been created between NMCI and Norut, Norway’s Northern Research Institute, to join on a significant project regarding the implementation of the Polar Code for world shipping, putting Ireland at the forefront of best practice using our leading institutions. The potential in all this is endless.
Now is the opportune time for this application by Ireland, to capitalise on the developments and goodwill towards Ireland by the Arctic States, and is a positive development much needed in this time of Brexit uncertainty.
It shows Ireland being as progressive as possible, and sits well with the Global Ireland 2025 policy and climate change policy. It gives Ireland the best chance to take her rightful place at the Arctic Council table with our neighbours, cousins and friends to the North.
We do not want to miss the chance. It is also noteworthy that the Maine visit was a UK-Ireland trade mission, demonstrating our positive relationship with the UK at this time of uncertainty.
Established in 1996, the Arctic Council is the leading intergovernmental forum promoting cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic States on common Arctic issues – sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic, in particular. The Arctic States are USA, Canada, Russia, Norway, Sweden, Denmark (Greenland), Finland, and Iceland.
The Arctic Council is not a law-making body, but much of the consensus reached is pursued in national legislation, and in international forums
The Arctic Council allows, without a fee, Observer Member status. States have joined for access to discussions and information about the effect of Arctic weather patterns on the lower latitudes, but also for access to discussions and economic collaboration There is a huge focus in active Working Groups on monitoring the Arctic Environment – all aspects- including ice melt and changing ocean flow and weather patterns.
Current Observers are France, Germany, Italy, Japan, The Netherlands, China, Poland, India, South Korea, Republic of Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.
Despite being such a close neighbour and indeed with natural historical links with the Arctic nations, Ireland is not a member.