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The aims of the Irish Sea Framework.

First published:
21 February 2023
Last updated:

The Irish Sea Framework

An informal framework to guide and influence actions to increase economic co-operation across the Irish Sea space. It aims to provide strategic direction in the short term and a pathway to medium term goals. The Framework is flexible and will evolve and complement relevant policies, strategies and programmes. These will include the Ireland Wales Shared Statement and Action Plan and the 2021-2027 Interreg programmes.

The Irish Sea space

The geographical space defined by the Irish Sea, Celtic Sea and North Channel. It is also influenced by neighbouring nations and regions. These include Wales, Ireland, Scotland, Northern Ireland, North West England, South West England and the Isle of Man. Existing economic geographies and bilateral relationships will also influence activity.

The focus for activity should be economic and social benefits not geography. There are no restrictions on potential partners who wish to deliver those benefits. For example, Brittany already has strong cultural and economic links with the Irish Sea space.


Co-operation with other nations and regions adds value to economic activity. It enables partners to scale up activity, achieve critical mass and increase profile. Joint working allows for the exchange of ideas and good practice. It can extend innovation and competitiveness, as well as helping to tackle key issues which transcend borders. Addressing challenges such as Covid recovery, climate change and globalisation cannot be unilateral.

Interreg has enabled institutions, businesses and communities to work together. Cross-border networks created in key policy areas, have delivered significant economic outcomes. The UK Government has decided not to pursue third country participation in the 2021-2027 Interreg programmes. An exception to this is the UK/Ireland PEACE Plus (north-south) programme on the island of Ireland. This position poses a considerable threat to the sustainability of many networks and projects in the Irish Sea space which have been supported by a range of Interreg programmes. It also severely dilutes the potential for new innovative co-operation projects to emerge.

The Welsh Government along with its partners in the Devolved Governments, the Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive, have been considering opportunities for sustainable economic and social co-operation across the Irish Sea space. The Irish Government has also confirmed that it wants to explore options for sustaining and building upon the projects and partnerships developed through engagement in EU funding programmes.

In March 2021, Welsh Government commissioned an independent report, the 'Irish Sea Study' to explore this issue. Produced by the European Policies Research Centre at University of Strathclyde, it highlights the opportunity for a new phase of territorial co-operation activity. It evidences the significant benefits of co-operation and the many shared economic priorities. The recommendations set out a step by step approach to taking the Irish Sea concept forward. A flexible pathway that will allow interested parties to come on board at their own pace.

Supported Activity

The Framework will support any activity that:

  • mobilises economic co-operation across and around the Irish Sea space
  • adds value to existing activity
  • delivers economic and social benefits.

This will include:

  • increasing engagement,
  • highlighting strengths,
  • identifying opportunities,
  • building partnerships and networks,
  • piloting activity
  • influencing funders.

Co-operation across borders can be bilateral or multi-lateral. The Framework aims to maximise existing resources and lever in investment. Any aligned funding will also have its own terms and conditions.


The Framework is not a funding programme. The Framework aims to maximise the impact of existing resources and lever in investment where possible. Funding programmes aligned with the Framework may emerge in the future, but this is not guaranteed.

There may be a role for seed funding, as small investments can support networks and help leverage other funding and opportunities. The Welsh Government has already provided seed funding aligned with the Framework and may do so again. Other partners and potential partners may align some of their investment activity in a similar way.

Who is involved in the Framework

Stakeholders from the regions and nations around the Irish Sea space, as well as from further afield who have a shared interest. The Framework is informal and actions are voluntary. A ‘coalition of the willing’ is building around stakeholders who will take forward actions. Some stakeholders will engage with the Framework at a different pace, but relevant governments and authorities will be the strategic leaders. Stakeholders are encouraged to take forward actions under the Framework. This may include running events, establishing networks or even aligning investments. The challenges around resources and funding means this leverage and concentration of efforts is an important part of the Framework.


The Framework identifies three broad priority areas for co-operation. These are not exclusive and can evolve but will guide prioritisation of resources, actions and funding in the short term. Drawing on the Irish Sea Study, the priorities were co-produced in the Irish Sea Symposium in June 2022. They already have broad support amongst stakeholders. They also reflect existing capacity and complement many existing and planned policies and programmes.

Priority 1: Sustainable Blue Economy

This recognises that the Irish Sea, Celtic Sea and North Channel are key assets. It also recognises the shared challenges of climate change and net zero policy. Marine energy and renewables, including decarbonisation and green energy (offshore wind generation, hydrogen, etc) are a key opportunity. The role of ports, the fishing industry and coastal communities are also considerations. Balance is needed to maximise economic opportunities and protect the environment and biodiversity.

Priority 2: Innovation Strengths

This recognises that innovation across sectors is a key enabler. This may include research but with a focus on impact and collaboration with the private sector. Health and life sciences are a key opportunity. The principles of the EU concept of Smart Specialisation will be used to identify other opportunities. There is also potential for the transfer of international knowledge to improve the direct delivery of priorities, e,g, in health and net zero.

Priority 3: Communities & culture

This recognises the importance of coastal and rural communities. There is also the potential to include urban communities. It recognises the shared history and culture in the Irish Sea space. There is an opportunity to engage through arts, culture, heritage and sports. Community assets, leveraged for economic benefit, can increase tourism and support marine based industries.

There is no ‘top priority’ or ‘allocation of resources’ between priorities at this stage. But Priority 1 and Priority 2 activity may deliver more immediate economic benefits which some funders will prioritise.


The Framework will have no impact on the normal governance arrangements of stakeholders. There is a Devolved Government led working group to discuss future co-operation in the Irish Sea space. This engages with other stakeholders as appropriate. This may evolve into a steering group for the Framework to share information and develop consensus on actions and priorities.

Engaging with the framework

You can engage at 3 levels.

Framework level

Representatives of sectors, authorities, regions and nations are welcome to explore a potential role in the Framework. This might involve being part of a steering group for the Framework. This could be either as a ‘partner’ alongside the Devolved Governments or an ‘associated member’ on specific topics.

Priority level

Stakeholders with a strong interest in one of the priority areas could engage in the emerging networks in those areas. For example, taking a proactive role in mapping and prioritisation exercises or working in collaboration on actions and aligning their own resources.

General engagement level

If you are not yet in a position to be proactive you can still keep up with developments through our Irish Sea network and by attending relevant events. We are also happy to explore how you could engage more in the future.

Contact us

Please contact us at for further details or to join our Irish Sea Stakeholder network.