Over 100 years ago in 1917, two German mines sank a transatlantic ocean liner called the HMS Laurentic off the northern coast of Ireland, in Lough Swilly, County Donegal. Over 350 men perished that day and 121 survived . St Mura’s Church in Fahan, County Donegal came to be the resting place in a mass grave for 71 of the men whose bodies were recovered.
In 2006 Don McNeill, a native of St John’s Newfoundland in Canada, who had emigrated to County Donegal in 1994 decided that the tragedy of the Laurentic’s tale deserved recognition. Don and eight like-minded friends decided to ‘chip in’ and purchase a wreath to lay at the monument. The group held a small but poignant commemoration for the 21 Newfoundlanders who were among the 354 men who died on the HMS Laurentic’s sinking.
This small act of homage for the passing of the HMS Laurentic mustered interest locally and nationally. The following year the group decided to hold a much more substantial commemoration event that was attended by Pat Pinn, Canadian Ambassador to Ireland. During the reception, the ambassador stated in his speech
“…would it not be great if we could use this event as a platform to create a better shared future for all by exploring our shared past history…”
From these small and humble grassroot beginnings, the Laurentic Forum and associated conference was formed. The conference has grown organically over the years, gaining interest across Ireland, the North Atlantic, Canada and beyond.
By working with key strategic stakeholders in the Northwest of Ireland, Newfoundland & Labrador – Canada and new partners in Northern Norway and Iceland, the Laurentic Forum has become a truly unique pan-Atlantic collaborative process. The forum’s success has largely been accredited to adherence to a strong ethos and application of the quadruple helix philosophy by engaging with the four main sectors of society (Education, Private, Public & Community sectors).
The Laurentic Forum provides a unique opportunity for all participants. This is facilitated by involvement from a diverse group of attendees including regional councils, governments, governmental agencies, NGOs, private sector practitioners, community groups and educational institutions. The forum enables representatives from four Peripheral Atlantic regions to come together to explore best practice through shared learning. The forum also presents key opportunities
to discover and develop potential collaborative projects through EU funding opportunities such as the Atlantic Area Fund, The Northern Periphery & Arctic Programme, LEADER and ACOA in Canada.
The Laurentic Forum is formed with two sub committees – these include a group focused on Tourism and a group focused on Blue Economy. The sub committees meet monthly to discuss the various facets of these themes in the four North Atlantic regions. The results of these discussions and developments are then collated and presented at an Annual Conference held each autumn. Thus, the Laurentic Forum is on ongoing process, that continues to grow, develop and produce strong outputs with each year that passes.
The Laurentic Forum aims to address the long-term sustainability of coastal communities and inhabitants, focusing on the variety of challenges that peripheral coastal communities face. These include high unemployment, an ageing population, outward migration of youth, an urban rural divide, and the effects of climate change. The forum is also committed to strengthening partnerships across the regions of Co Donegal, Ireland; the Canadian Province of Newfoundland & Labrador; The Counties of Nordland Troms & Finmark of Norway; and Iceland.
By the founding of common purpose, and through dialogue, forum meetings aim to examine methods that can be utilised to collaborate more effectively in the future. The meetings also serve to explore opportunities to develop funding applications through programmes such as the EU Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme and the Atlantic Area Fund, in which Newfoundland is a participating non-EU partner. Thus, the forum opens up many opportunities for Trans-Atlantic partnerships and collaborations between the regions.
The newly introduced Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), between Canada and Europe, presents even more opportunities. The cross-border region of the Northwest of Ireland and Newfoundland in Canada can act as gateway regions to each other’s markets. There is huge potential in this area just waiting to be explored!
Key potential benefits have been identified in developing relationships between these peripheral Atlantic regions. These include:
1) Opportunities for transnational partners to learn from each other, giving opportunity for academic researchers, students and businesses to collaborate on research projects, student work placements and learning opportunities, and cross institutional exchanges.
2) Facilitation of community engagement through the brokering of community-to-community conversations that provide an opportunity for governments and regional development organizations to learn best practices in developing a sustainable economy in peripheral coastal communities.
3) Exposure and opportunities for private firms on each side of the Atlantic to discover and communicate with prospective joint venture partners. Parallels between the two regions, including similarities in the natural environment and cultural background, have the potential to lead to consumer demand for similar products.
4) Each region can act as a gateway into their respective continental trading block, with representatives in Newfoundland & Labrador promoting goods or services provided by Irish enterprises, and vice-versa. The forum can also identify methods to connect on CETA as EU and Irish markets begin to open up in the wake of the agreement.
5) The Forum encourages both regions to form a critical mass that can allow them to apply for Canadian or EU funding that might not be available to them separately.