a genuine economic crisis

Unlike the more speculative recent articles on the economy north and south, Alan Ruddock, in the Sunday Times, assesses the prospects in a more grounded political reality. It’s still not a pretty picture and, as he says, not only is there little prospect of the all-island economy Peter Hain disingenuously prescribed, but the opportunity may have been missed to capitalise on the majority of the inward investment available over the past 10 years or so, leaving the only hope, and it has to be only an outside chance, the developing of a combination of entrepreneurialism and political realism.From the Sunday Times

Northern Ireland is stuck with what it holds, so for Hain to talk of participation in an island of Ireland economy is nonsense, and he knows it. There is no island economy, and cannot be while two separate tax, legal and currency regimes exist. There is undoubtedly opportunity for greater trade between north and south, but businessmen both sides of the border know that, and pursue opportunities where they see them.

Since Hain’s prescription holds no water, his diagnosis is particularly troubling. If Northern Ireland’s economy is unsustainable, and if there is no easy fix by blending with an island economy, then what is to happen?

After identifying some of the main problems with the local economy, and where the British Government may chose to trim the subvention.. he arrives at what can only be described as a less than optimistic conclusion –

Sinn Fein struggles with the concept of democracy, plays fast and loose with decommissioning, indulges in espionage and deceit, and forgets that its posturing eats away at the economic prospects of its people. Unionism sees plots and conspiracies at every turn, struggles to embrace cross-border initiatives and devotes none of its energies to tackling what is threatening to become a genuine crisis.

And all the while the republic ticks along, creating jobs and enjoying a prosperity that was once beyond its dreams. In 1970, Northern Ireland enjoyed a standard of living and an economic output that exceeded the republic’s by almost a third. Now it lags behind, and the gap grows daily.

Where the fault lies no longer matters: Northern Ireland’s economy is unsustainable because the British exchequer no longer has the interest or the resources to maintain it in the style, however faded, to which it has become accustomed. The province’s politicians, who draw a salary for doing diddlysquat, need to wake up to their crisis, resolve their contrived differences, and get on with the serious business of providing leadership and direction.

Northern Ireland has to wean itself away from state dependency, and that requires a combination of entrepreneurialism and political realism. Republicans must realise that those in the republic who yearn for unity would prefer a successful Northern Ireland that does not require huge state subvention. Unionism must accept that cross-border co-operation on every possible economic level is essential to its prosperity. Without realism the impasse will remain and the province’s economy will founder.

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