NI’s special pleading about to end?

Ian Paisley was not best pleased with Peter Hain’s criticism of the Northern Irish economy, noting caustically that it was in New Labour’s charge and that any shortcomings should be laid at that particular door in Westminster, and not with the local parties. Nevertheless, Liam Clarke puts it rather differently:

With Hain, both nationalist and unionist strategists can see which way the wind is blowing. If there isn’t a devolved power-sharing administration, there will be a steady drift towards shared decision-making with Dublin and cantonisation of local government. The economy will be trimmed down then plumped up, to make Irish unity more attractive both for the people of the province and voters in the republic.

The bottom line is cutting the £60-a-week subsidy that the British exchequer presently pays to each man, woman and child in Northern Ireland by increasing the local tax base and cutting back on public-sector employment. At the same time, the push is on to build up manufacturing and knowledge-based industries so that the province can stand on its own feet. This is Britain’s default position and Hain isn’t afraid to pull economic levers to advance it. However, if Stormont is restored, local politicians will have an opportunity to influence the direction of policy.

This a rather more subtle reading than the one once (but rarely heard these days) commonly espoused by nationalist commentators, which imagined the next big stick to be used on ‘unionist rejectionists’ was a smartish move to joint authority.

The British withdrawal described by Clarke here is not political. Indeed, it is simply be how things would have to be were the political (and fiscal) imperatives of London given their head. Withdrawal of direct subsidies from the Exchequer has for a long time been a primary objective of direct rule ministries.

In reality, this is probably no more than what Northern Ireland will have to do if it is get out from under the huge burden of a massive public sector. So are the days when the Tory direct rule minister Richard Needham could boast that he saved Northern Ireland from the most traumatic effects of the Thatcherite revolution, coming to an end?

  • Adrian

    Not before time! The bottom line(s) are these: first of all the UK government just hasn’t any spare cash any more and all government departments – including the NIO – are going to be squeezed and secondly British politicians are fed up to the back teeth with the idea that “the Brits will pay”. They won’t, at least not any more.

    When the British said they had no selfish strategic interest in Ireland (and all the Shiners dashed out their increasingly ludicrous theories of Brit imperialism to try to prove otherwise) they were telling the truth. They won’t “surrender to terrorism” but not that has effectively gone, they aren’t going to pay out billions to prop up a bunch of children playing as politicians either.

    Of course, Liam Clarke’s contention is that this is all about preparing the ground for unification. I’m not so sure. I don’t think the British care that much and Peter Hain isn’t running an entirely independent policy.

    But, as Clarke says, welcome to the world of the grown ups!

  • Indeed… the other parties may laugh nervously about £1 bn of savings and the like, but they’ll be laughing on the other side of their face when the Treasury halves NI’s subvention by 2010.

    All we hear from the ‘Big Four’ are ‘more resources for this’ and ‘more resources for that’. Where’s the money coming from lads?

    Time we created some real wealth like the rest of the island and stopped bleating. Otherwise it’ll be ‘fewer resources’ for everything – fact.

  • On reading this I reacted similarly to Adrian I think. Sure, naturally the govt want to reduce the subvention – but that doesn’t make a united Ireland any more likely.

    Every time these stories come out it seems like a lot of overreaction from overenthusiastic deluded nationalists and paranoid unionists.

    Yes, with a decent economy we’d be more attractive to the Republic, but also the old Sinn Fein gem about the “failed statelet” would be dismantled. Not only that, but with NI putting less of a drain on the UK economy, the government won’t have any such motivation as Labour seem to to ditch NI, will they?

  • “Ian Paisley was not best pleased with Peter Hain’s criticism of the Northern Irish economy, noting caustically that it was in New Labour’s charge and that any shortcomings should be laid at that particular door in Westminster, and not with the local parties.”

    or “DUP in ‘blame someone else’ shocker”

  • George

    I suppose the “problem” for unionism is that people in power seem to think Northern Ireland can only develop a decent economy if gets down dirty with us southerners, thus blurring the lines of the border even further.

    The more Northern Ireland integrates with the rest of the island economy the less of a drain on the UK.

    Doesn’t mean a united Ireland but certainly changes where the population’s interests will lie.

  • Adrian

    Today’s DUP press release on the budget is a real hoot. Isn’t it fun how unionists love to whine about the way ministers accountable to the United Kingdom Parliament and holding office under the Crown (the two things they are meant to support) exercise their powers under the constitution they claim to support?

    If the DUPers are so upset about not being consulted why don’t they reactivate the machanisms of government that would mean they’d have a say on the budget?

    Actually, the media in Norrthern Ireland have a lot to answer for too – when was the last politician who got asked on the BBC how much they wanted to see income tax rise to pay for all their promises (or rather, whinges) or did they think money grew on trees?

  • The local media here is a joke. The interviewers mostly seem scared to ask any real questions of the “politicians” and just accept and reprint whatever they’re told. I’ve been having major gripes with this sort of yes sir, thank you sir attitude with regard the new stadium where most of the local press has just accepted all the spin (eg “There is no plan B”) without question – in fact only Henry McDonald in the Observer seems to actually question the logic.

    I may be digressing but I think it illustrates a larger problem in the media that they refuse to pose any serious questions not just to direct rule ministers but even the joke of a rabble that passes for our elected representation.

  • eranu

    streamline government, build up economy.. that all sounds good to me. why do people always have to say things are leading to unification? its cringe inducing ! change the record !

    as far as all island economy goes. i thought borders had long since dissapeared for business? whether its in ireland or in europe? arent businesses encouraged to think globally and market themselves on the internet these days?

    i think the term should actually be ‘all islands’ economy. because most of the shops i see here in dublin are UK chains that are moving into the market in the republic. House of Frazer being a recent one. BT has moved into the coms market here, NTL now runs the cable, and tesco (is that UK owned?) has taken over the food market in the last few years.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Part of Clarke’s article bears a certain similarity to something I blogged here – – on October 28:

    But a toothless Victim’s Commissioner here, or a watchtower demolition there when surveillance methods have moved on, is just eye candy for the masses. These are called confidence building measures, although arguably their main function is as a confidence trick. They are largely meaningless, theatrical gestures that allow the DUP and Sinn Fein to blow their own trumpets, to demonstrate that, when they play politics, they get ‘rewards’.

    These are just Pavlovian pats on the head for good behaviour. They don’t really mean very much in reality, but have more symbolic value. But, like poor dumb animals that just love the attention and gratefully chase the ball every time it’s thrown, SF and the DUP don’t want to acknowledge that someone else is really in charge.

    While Clarke wrote:

    As Hain forces through these efficiencies he is able to buy off the local parties with a string of petty sectional concessions, just as colonial traders bought off Third World chieftains with bags of beads and bottles of whisky. Getting an RUC widow appointed as victims commissioner, or rates remitted on Orange halls, may seem pretty good to the Democratic Unionists, just as getting a few fugitives allowed home and a commitment to devolving policing powers may boost Sinn Fein’s self-esteem. The question is how good these achievements will look to voters faced with fundamental structural, economic changes.

    I’m sure it’s just coincidence though.

  • eranu – I think ntl sold its RoI operation actually, though I’m not sure. Yes Tesco is UK owned (possibly a public company though so theoretically anyone in the world could own shares) and you’re also right about BT who, I believe, own (at least part of if not all of) Esat?

    Anyway, yes the thought had crossed my mind that rather than Northern Ireland being absorbed into a UI by the back door, the Republic is perhaps almost (at least as much) being absorbed into a British Isles economy.

  • eranu

    they’re still called NTL in the south, so not sure if it was sold off or anything. if i remember right, BT bought Esat about a year or two ago (i think completely). they were EsatBT for a while and now they’ve dropped the Esat and are just BT.

    time to go home now 🙂