Our tedious range of displacement activity

Back in 2000 I came over to Northern Ireland with a colleague from River Path. He’d done his homework well. The most striking fact he came up with regarding NI’s economic health, at a time when money was arguably flowing far too freely, was that the inward investment of private capital in NI was 25% of the UK average. That, in anyone’s language, was/is bad news. It’s one reason why Lyndsey Allen’s fingering of the real problem of Northern Ireland is worth quoting at length.

Republicans are still living in a world where they can’t get a job in the shipyard because they are Catholics! Loyalists are still living in a world where the IRA are blowing up town centres on a daily basis! But in fact those worlds only exist today as part of our shameful history, all part of the long nightmare we have shared together.

The reality is that unless we wake up soon, we’ll all be living in an Ulster where any of us, Prod or Catholic, will be lucky to have a job at all! An Ulster where the our town centres will have become again deserted, taken over this time by drunken louts and teenage gangs.

Peter Hain issued a wake up call recently reminding us that the massive flow of cash coming from Westminster to shore up our plethora of governmental agencies and non-jobs is about to run out and we will soon find ourselves in the position of having to earn our keep! nd whether we are ruled directly from London or locally from Stormont that isn’t going to change.

The massive flow of cash coming from Westminster…is about to run out

That’s going to come as a huge culture shock to a province which has been accustomed to drinking deep at the waterspout of grants, handouts and goodwill! Because, though we have no shortage of talented people we don’t seem to have grasped the knack of being able to provide sustainable real jobs.

Not only is the shipyard, that legendary symbol of Protestant domination, long gone, swept away by competition from the Far East, but modern high-tech companies seem to come and go here faster than a Royal visit! West Belfast lost another one last week.

Nor is our traditional agricultural industry safe either. If this Asian bird flu makes it over from the continent, the poultry business here is a dead duck! If this Asian bird flu makes it over from the continent, the poultry business here is a dead duck!

We need to waken out of the nightmare of the past and realise that it’s not Ulster’s continued political existence which is at risk, as much as its economic survival and that we are in serious danger of becoming the sink housing estate of western Europe!

The unpalatable truth is that we have run out of good will. The world has found more needy and rewarding causes than our inability to live together! We are the place that nobody wants and if we don’t make ourselves more attractive soon, we’re going to be left sitting on the shelf.

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  • aquifer

    A lack of inward investment would not matter so much if local firms were generating growth within an integrated economy with lots of skills and confidence. But with our politics so clearly disintegrated it is difficult to forsee a rational policy response to our economic position. And then there is the treasury veto on separate taxation, the slow puncture of high energy prices, public sector inefficiency inwardly excused by sectarian envy. Why would I start a business on this side of the border with corporation tax a fraction of here on the other side? If young people were not so bright and polite I would say we were stuffed. And if they have sense they will go away until it’s sorted.

  • Slugger O’Toole Admin

    Inward investment is a crucial barometer for precisely that kind confidence, not a substitute for it.

    Though I agree with what you say about the problem of disintegrated politics. Maybe underneath the bluster, our political parties are also aware that Lyndsey is the one most accurately describing the context Northern Ireland is operating in.

    The corporation tax thing is only one part of NI’s problem, and perhaps the most unlikely solution, or at least whilst we are without a devolved government to do the math and lobby for it. In the meantime, it looks like Brown is fixed on fiscal tightening first.

    He’s hardly going need his own Tallaght Strategy from the Westminster opposition. And in Northern Ireland he already has one by default, with the local parties apparently reluctant to take the necessary steps to get back in power.

  • IJP

    With respect to all concerned, it’s a little disconcerting all these discussions are going on without mentioning that the Alliance Party has made the economy the central plank of its discussions with the Governments in the current round of talks.

    Specifically, the call is for an all-party forum combining politicians and business – the very point being that we need to mend the broken link between politics and economics in NI.

    No longer should politicians be able to get away with populist silly-talk on the economy – serious, tough, responsible answers are required. We are being asked to pay our way, and we’re going to have to create the wealth to do so.

    Time to see what our politicians are really made of. And that should be the challenge presented by business and the media alike.