Ethnicity, Culture, and Globalization: Exploring the Memorandum of Understanding between Newfoundland and Labrador and Ireland
Lalor, Joshua D., Newfoundland and Labrador Studies
Nowhere in Canada, or indeed the world, outside Ireland itself is the Irish presence so strongly felt as in Newfoundland. In St. John's one is aware of Irish resonance on all sides, resonance of music, personality, physiognomy and history (2000, 415).
--Irish historian, Tim Pat Coogan
The Irish influence ... has defined who we are as a people ... Irish cultural influences have moulded and been moulded by the reality o[life in Newfoundland, [which] has resulted in a tradition and a lifestyle that is substantially different from other pockets of Irish immigration in North America (1995, 2).
--The Irish Newfoundland Festival Steering Committee for the John Cabot Anniversary Celebration
THE OFTEN INVOKED connection between Newfoundland and Ireland was given official status in 1996 (and reaffirmed in 1999 and 2004) by a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the governments of the Republic of Ireland and Newfoundland and Labrador. According to Premier Brian Tobin, it would "provide a framework to build upon and encourage linkages between the business, industry and cultural sectors.... It represents a commitment to work together to achieve common goals, given the similarities in economies." (1) It outlined co-operation in the areas of "technology transfer, business joint ventures, research and development, cooperative training activities and academic interchange, cultural events and industries and environmental management/environmental industries." (2) The 2004 reaffirmation of the MOU placed greater emphasis on culture, heritage, and marine/ocean technologies.
Until 14 April 2008, when the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador signed an MOU with the Government of Iceland, the MOU with Ireland marked a unique arrangement. (3) MOUs are not generally signed between a nation-state and a foreign provincial government. Instead, they are customarily negotiated between political equivalents (IBP Annual Report 2006, 3). This provinces' MOUS with Rhode Island and Zhejiang Province, China are typical examples. (4) Usually, an MOU symbolizes the formal commitment of two or more parties to a common undertaking, where the parties themselves have laid out the general principles, but lack the binding power of a legal contract or agreement. (5) Indeed, MOUs are becoming common in international relations precisely because they have symbolic power while lacking legal teeth.
There are two features of the MOU between Newfoundland and Labrador and Ireland that merit examination. First, over its 13 year history, the MOU has developed an institutional apparatus. In 1996, the Irish Business Partnership (IBP) was established in Newfoundland and Labrador, followed by the 2001 establishment of the Irish Newfoundland Partnership (INP) in Ireland. Both are semi-public institutional bodies designed to promote economic, cultural, and educational ties between the province and Ireland. The IBP and INP have been allotted substantial annual budgets to carry out their activities, approximately $300,000 and 300,000 [euro] respectively (IBP Annual Report 2005-06; INP Annual Report 2006). (6) Second, the perceived cultural and ethnic connection between the two places has been used to legitimate the existence of the MOU and the programmes and initiatives of the IBP and INP. Upon re-affirming the MOU on a visit to Ireland in 2004, for example, Premier Danny Williams, commented that: "I am certain that the generosity that is often associated with Newfoundlanders and Labradorians stems in part from our Irish heritage.... I was pleased to discover that the Irish are quite familiar with our province. I am extremely proud and encouraged that, based on such knowledge, they are eager to expand their awareness and explore opportunities to further deepen our ties." (7)
This essay explores how the MOU, and the IBP and INP which are its institutional embodiment, have drawn on and shaped different aspects and perceptions of the relationship between the people of Newfoundland and Ireland. …