IONA (Islands of the North Atlantic) is an acronym suggested in 1980 by Sir John Biggs-Davison to refer to a loose linkage of the United Kingdom, Ireland, the Isle of Man and Channel Islands, similar to the present day British-Irish Council. Its intended purpose was as a more politically acceptable alternative to British Isles, which is disliked by many people in Ireland.
It has been criticised on the grounds that it in fact excludes most of the islands in the North Atlantic, including Iceland, Greenland, the Faroe Islands, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, Cape Breton Island, and the Azores, and also that the only island referred to by the term that is actually in the North Atlantic Ocean is Ireland. Great Britain is in fact in between the Irish Sea and The North Sea. It has been used particularly in the context of the Northern Irish "peace process", during the negotiation of the Belfast Agreement, as a neutral name for the proposed council.
One feature of this name is that IONA has the same spelling as the island of Iona which is off the coast of Scotland but with which Irish people have strong cultural associations. It is therefore a name with which people of both main islands might identify. Taoiseach Bertie Ahern noted the symbolism in a 2006 address in Edinburgh:
[The Island of] Iona is a powerful symbol of relationships between these islands, with its ethos of service not dominion. Iona also radiated out towards the Europe of the Dark Ages, not to mention Pagan England at Lindisfarne. The British-Irish Council is the expression of a relationship that at the origin of the Anglo-Irish process in 1981 was sometimes given the name Iona, islands of the North Atlantic, and sometimes Council of the Isles, with its evocation of the Lords of the Isles of the 14th and 15th centuries who spanned the North Channel. In the 17th century, Highland warriors and persecuted Presbyterian Ministers criss-crossed the North Channel.
In a Dáil Éireann debate, Proinsias De Rossa was less enthusiastic:
The acronym IONA is a useful way of addressing the coming together of these two islands. However, the island of Iona is probably a green heaven in that nobody lives on it and therefore it cannot be polluted in any way.
Outside the Northern Ireland peace process the term IONA is used by the World Universities Debating Championship and in inter-varsity debating competitions throughout Britain and Ireland. In this context IONA is one of the regions which appoint a representative onto the committee of the World Universities Debating Council. Interestingly Greenland, the Faroe Islands and Iceland would actually be included in the definition of IONA used in this context while Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island would be in North America. However none of these islands have yet participated in the World Universities Debating Championships. Otherwise, the term has achieved very little popular usage in any context.
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