How we squandered our peace dividend

mtlogoThere is little doubt that in many respects Northern Ireland has never had it so good: unemployment rates are 4.5% (pdf), just below the UK’s average of 5.1%. The sense of settled well-being arising is most palpable in areas of traditional high unemployment like the Bogside in Derry.

Disputes erupt every so often about the trend of higher Catholic unemployment, but we’re in a different territory from the 80% unemployed heads of households that held for some considerable time in the Ballymurphy in the early 1980s.

And yet, it is being repeated in various interesting places that the Northern Ireland economy is a basket case.

The most comprehensive a detailed expression of this view comes from Sunday Times journalist, Alan Ruddock’s feature in this month’s Management Today: in the magazine the article comes with a box full of illustrative stats.

The Republic currently has a quarter of a million entreprenuers; Northern Ireland 71,000. Does it make a difference? Well in 2005 Northern Ireland created a modest 10,000 new jobs. The Republic brought in ten times that amount.

Reader Nestor, picks out one particularly relevant part:

“[…] Worryingly, too, the politics of the province remain mired in confrontation and mistrust, with no immediate prospect of resolution. When Northern Ireland seeks new investors, it cannot present a united front. Its politicians have refused to take the lead, preferring to play out their tribal differences while ignoring the economic opportunities.

Their shortsightedness has cost the province dear. Concessions that could have been extracted from the British government and the EU in the immediate afterglow of the Good Friday Agreement have been missed. The failure to deliver political progress has worn patience thin in London and Brussels, and now Northern Ireland must plot an economic future through less conciliatory territory.

Goliath and Samson, the two giant shipyard cranes, still stand in testimony to the industrial might that Belfast once wielded, while the new Titanic Quarter provides a template for the future. Getting there, however, will be painful. The state’s enforced retreat from Northern Ireland’s economy, spurred by the Treasury’s need for cash as the UK slows, threatens powerful deflationary pressures that will need to be offset by a sharp rise in local output.

So far, consumed by internal wrangling and overtaken by the Republic’s economic surge, Ulster has exhibited few signs that it can rise to the challenge. The peace dividend, which was meant to re-energise the province, has gone south.”

There are signs that some individuals within local political circles are beginning to heed warnings about the traditional Northern Irish short termist approach. Turning this economic stasis (currently priced at between £5 and 6 Million per anum at the UK exchequer) threatens to overshadow any strong concerns about the constitutional question.

Two other figures worth quoting (pdf): 14.8% of the NI workforce are graduates, compared with a UK average of 17.5%. More tellingly, less than half of NI’s graduates (47%) work in the private sector compared with 3/4 of non graduates. Our graduates are disproportionately working in the civil service. That’s a pattern more common to the developing world than a modern western economy.

The trouble is, this is a long term problem. People are comfortable and politicians are notoriously bad at taking a strategic view and moving forward. The first step might be getting our politicians back to gainful employment.

But with each to the two main parties seemingly more comfortable with tedious rounds of political chicken than actually addressing real world issues, don’t hold your breath!!

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  • Young Fogey

    The reason why nobody takes our economic miracle seriously is because it’s dependent on English taxpayers funding non-jobs, as the article points out. For as long as that continues why should our brightest and best enter the risky world of the private sector?

    Unfortunately, I can’t see any way out of the vicious cycle without a fair degree of initial pain.

    Still, we’re not alone, Scotland is in some ways in a worse position (they don’t even realise they have problems).

  • Markkus

    Excellent piece, well researched and makes some good points.

    At one point, he states, regarding Peter Hain and the level of subsidy to the province: –

    > The cretinous dupe is beginning to notice.

    I found that a bit puzzling – does he mean Hain (in which case, perhaps a little harsh)? Or perhaps it’s a typo and he meant

    > The cretinous DUP is beginning to notice.

  • slug

    “Unfortunately, I can’t see any way out of the vicious cycle without a fair degree of initial pain.”

    I think it can be achieved fairly gradually by things like cutting back on public employment. This can be achieved in a number of different ways.

    1. Theres a lot of inefficiency in the education system and theres a lot of rationalisation that can be done there in terms of having bigger schools.

    2. In things like the water service job lolsses can be achieved by privatising some bits that haven’t been privatised. In the UK when you privatise a utility, the first thing the management do is to lay off a lot of the workers. This happened in the English water companies. Private firms are just better at doing this than public. There isn’t that much left to privatise in NI but the Water Service is certainly a possibility.

    3. More PFI projects so that e.g. road construction and maintenance can be done by private sector rather than public..

    etc.

    Your point about Scotland is a good one. This is where NI benefits from the examlpe of the ROI. We know that we are in direct competition with the ROI which makes us realise that we can do better. Competition can be very good at making us realise it is possible to do better. For some reason (possibly historical) Scotland does not try to compete with England, it does not seem to think of England as a reference point. We do regard the south as a reference point.

    The south’s prosperity has been beneficial not just because of trading opportunities but also by a kind of competitive sibling effect.

  • Scotsman

    The Scots are well aware of their high levels of public spending, and are reminded of it daily by any number of journalists- Alan Ruddock is a former Scotsman writer.

    Scottish nationalists tend to point to Norway when they want to point out how an independent Scotland with still plenty oil left would pay for a large public sector.

    Or they point to how the once “sclerotic” Irish Republic has managed to generate enough resources to run a viable state that appears to be the envy of all Europe if you believe the media.

    Their problem is in persuading people how you get from here to there without at least mild inconvenience in the meantime.

    The Scots are not in a worse position- you only have to look at the constant waves of emigrants from NI to Scotland to see that.

  • Scotsman

    I suppose if you took £5bn of public spending out of the NI economy so that it “paid its way” what you would get would be mass emigration and low wages for those that remain until the locals were ready to compete for the spoils of the European market.

    One thing is worth remembering- the UK also has a budget deficit, and that £5bn sum is similar to the figures suggested for the cost of the Iraq War…

  • slug

    “The Scots are not in a worse position- you only have to look at the constant waves of emigrants from NI to Scotland to see that.”

    The internal UK migration data for the period 2002-2005 shows that net migration in much if not all of this period is from Scotland to NI. There is also net migration from England to Scotland in this period.

  • George

    Dr Esmond Birnie, an economist and a spokesman for the Ulster Unionist Party, says that hopes of encouraging an avalanche of new foreign investment are misplaced. There’s less mobile capital available these days, and what there is will more likely flow to cheaper economies, apparently.

    Maybe Dr Birnie can explain why as late as 2003, the United States channeled more FDI into the Irish Republic than it did into China?

    Northern Ireland has got just 1% of the FDI the Republic has in the last decade. No surprise with views like Birnie’s. Making excuses for not trying. Either that or making excuses for not being attractive.

    Also, if Northern Ireland’s public sector is cut and there are no well-paid private sector jobs, all that will happen initially will be a mass exodus of graduates unable to get the cushy public sector jobs.

    This is what happened to the Republic in the late 80s and early 90s when up to 80% of science graduates took the boat. I think up to 70,000 a year were leaving at one stage.

    They only started coming back when the economy took off. Can and will Northern take that pain and will it manage to kick start its economy to such an extent that these people will return?

  • slug

    ” Also, if Northern Ireland’s public sector is cut and there are no well-paid private sector jobs, all that will happen initially will be a mass exodus of graduates unable to get the cushy public sector jobs. This is what happened to the Republic in the late 80s”

    We live in somewhat different times since there is today full employment. Also the number of government jobs is not likely to be cut on any mass scale, in fact the government is having a hard time stoping them from growing, let alone effecting any reduction. Any reduction will be gradual so wew won’t see mass exodus.

    Also since about 2001 more people have been moving into NI from GB than leaving GB to NI.

  • GH

    While folk posting here seem to think that NI is just like any other region of the UK, I would like to remind you all that we are still coming to terms with 30 years of war, so it is not surprising that we do not have a vibrant economy. Just to make matters worse, the London government seems to be following the Iraq model of reconstruction – privatise everything you can and don’t worry about public services that might be needed to overcome the effects of war.

    In fact, NI’s dependence on the public sector is not that much greater than Scotland, the NE of England or Wales. If Alan Ruddock had looked more closely at the small print attached to the ONS figures for public sector employment, he would have seen that while the figures for England, Scotland and Wales are for the number of PEOPLE employed in the public sector, Public Sector data for Northern Ireland relate to the number of public sector JOBS in the country not the number of people working in the public sector. Since the public sector has far higher number of part-time workers than the private sector, there will be many individuals working in the public sector who have more than one part-time job. This is particularly true of women who might have a cleaner’s job in the morning, a catering job at lunchtime and a carer’s job in the evening. With the wages paid for those kind of jobs, you’d need three jobs! Also, and crucially, our figures include our very large police force. Take that into account, and our “dependence” on the public sector is no greater than any of the other peripheral regions.

    As for the idea that Mick advances in his introduction – that we’ve never had it so good and “The sense of settled wellbeing arising is most palpable in areas of traditional high unemployment like the Bogside in Derry.”!!??! I live in the Bogside and I can tell you most people who live in the area do NOT think that things have improved economically (though the peace is of course a huge improvement). Quite the opposite, they are still awaiting a peace dividend. According to the government’s own figures, there are still only 66 jobs for every hundred people of working age in NI – so where does slug think the water service workers and other he thinks should be kicked out of their privatised jobs go to get work. Also, the further away from Belfast you are, the more difficult it is to get a job. This is why there is such concern in Derry to get the rail line to Belfast upgraded – so commuting to Belfast can become realistic without having to spend 4 – 6 hours in traffic each day for a 150 round journey!

  • Mick Fealty

    George,

    I’m not sure there is the political courage around to provide a Northern Irish equivalent of a Tallaght Strategy. We don’t have the benefit of the south’s demographic transition either. Those big numbers of young entreprenuers are partly the gift of a much later baby boom in the Republic than in NI.

    I remember that exodus very clearly both from living on the English side of the water and from business trips home to a largely deserted Dublin. That should not be either desireable or necessary. But there seems little alternative but to find ways of increasing the incentives for local politicians to put fiscal control first rather than last in their priorities.

    Tax varying powers would certainly help. But it may fall to Westminster to put the frighteners on the local politicians in some way – without triggering the collapse in confidence you describe.

    There is little doubt that NI has squandered the initial opportunities offered by the Peace Process. Birnie is probably right that there are not the mad amounts of venture capital opportunities of the later 90’s. But politicians have got to put a premium on creating new jobs in whereever they come from. That in turn will begin to draw in even modest amounts of private money.

    If/when large companies move on, they should leave a sufficient footprint behind them to enable a newly skilled workforce to continue to move up the value chain.

    Mick

  • Crataegus

    For the NI economy to really improve would require a fundamental change of attitude by elected representatives, civil servants and dare I say it sections of the labour market.

    To give an example I am aware of a project worth in excess of £10,000,000 which will employ around 80 people. Guess the time being factored in for obtaining Statutory Approvals, THREE YEARS. YES 3 YEARS!!!! By comparison the construction period is 18 months.

    When I first heard this I thought impossible, but following discussion it was obvious that this may indeed be an optimistic estimate as there are all sorts of planning issues that may or may not arise, and there is the problem the uncertainty of the system coupled with the multiplicity of bodies that have to be consulted.

    I am told there is political support but what power do the politicians have since there is no Assembly?

    With regards sections of the work force have any of you noticed how much more reliable many of the immigrant workers are compared to some of our locals? Polite shop assistants, cleaners who really do clean, bricklayers who turn up sober at 7.30 am on a Monday morning ready to go. (I am still recovering from the shock)

    There are also major structural problems but apart from that there is a need for a fundamental change of attitude towards creating employment and facilitating job creation. I am not for one moment suggesting an abandonment of safeguards against abuse but am pleading for clear, straightforward, efficient systems. Time to look at how this place is administered and ask could this be done more efficiently? How do we build efficiency incentives into the structures and how do we give senior civil servants real responsibility and control over their departments.

    Crategeus

  • Comrade Stalin

    Northern Ireland is an economic basket case because there is no sustainable indigenous investment; and while we continue to elect politicians who refuse to put their back into making this place work, foreign investors find it much easier to spend their investment dollars in the tax-friendly RoI.

    Comrade Stalin

  • Young Fogey

    Interesting discussion folks, thanks:

    Scotsman

    The Scots are not in a worse position- you only have to look at the constant waves of emigrants from NI to Scotland to see that.

    With respect, that’s a classic piece of Scottish establishment denial. Scotland is a deeply malfunctioning country. It would be incapable of supporting itself without massive fiscal transfers from England, it doesn’t have much of an enterprise culture, and a massively bloated public sector, particularly in the NHS.

    It also has a chronically high level of violent crime, the highest murder rate – **by far** – in Western Europe and a third-rate education system at a time when demographic change is producing smaller class sizes than ever, and a complete incapacity to change it as the Scottish education establishment continues to bask in past glories.

    The political class is a cosy little cabal of consensus with the SNP, LibDems, Labour and Greens agreeing with one another on all issues of substance (although they occasionally pretend not to for tactical reasons) and the parties outside the consensus either being mad (SSP) or incapable of stringing a coherent argument together on anything (The Tories). The parliamentary system is designed to reinforce that consensus.

    Scotland has awful demographics and it’s by far the worst part of the UK in attracting immigrants – immigrants generally being to opportunity what canaries are to gas in coal mines.

    Scotland has all the problems Germany has with added violence.

    Why do so many go getting Scots go South to better themselves? Why do the Scottish people repeatedly express disgust with the post-devolution political leadership, while also expressing no desire to return to the status quo ante?

    Oh, and I think you’ll find those immigrants from NI to Scotland (i.e. Protestant university students) do so for, ahem, cultural rather than economic reasons.

    GH

    You’re quite correct to point out that NI’s dependence on the public sector isn’t significantly more than Wales’, Scotland’s or NE England’s, and the workforce counting point is well made. My question is whether that locks all of us into a cycle of dependence or not. I’d say it does.

    You say that arguments in favour of shrinking the public sector fail to take into account our post-conflict needs. I don’t know what you mean by post-conflict needs. Do you mean we need lots of community workers working in ‘single identity confidence projects’ – i.e. sitting around drinking tea all day on 20 grand a year?

    12 years after the first IRA ceasefire – the effective end of a conflict that killed fewer people than the roads did every year since 1975 – that we’re all so traumatised that we need a massive counselling programme? That’s a pile of crap too. The whole post-conflict nonsense is the biggest excuse for legalised graft I’ve ever seen in my life – and it’s exactly how we squandered the EU Peace and Peace II money.

    The spend more on everything lobby are well organised in NI and capable of talking the biggest load of codswallop about anything and inventing statistics to suit themselves. They were pulling this “60% of children in Northern Ireland have special educational needs” stunt during the Southern board financial crisis last year. Sorry, but that is just total gibberish although sadly typical of a vested interest trying to feather its own nest.

    PS – I agree with you on upgrading the railway line, although it’s a huge investment, DRD finally seems to be in the process of dualling the whole A6 on a non-Star Trek timescale of about 10 years.

    Mick

    I think you can overdo the whole demographic transition thing. Sure it helped the South, it helped Korea and it’s helping countries like Brazil, Turkey and Thailand at the moment. But the Chinese have awful demographics and a booming economy. So do the Estonians, Lativans and Slovaks thinking of closer-by countries with a history of overdependence on the public sector. So does Spain. And Northern Ireland’s demographics aren’t bad – we’re still in late transition – and they won’t be bad for a generation. They’re certainly better than China’s or Eastern Europe’s.

    I’m also not sure how tax varying powers would help. What’s the political consensus – in what is a system requiring consensus – on what direction taxes should go? We’ll limp along with whatever the Brits are doing because we won’t be able to convince one another to do anything different. And anyway, we don’t have a strategy; name me the politicians in Northern Ireland who are capable of driving forward a Tallaght Strategy? There aren’t any.

    Northern Ireland needs a Cowperthwaite, but it ain’t gonna get one, so we’ll meander along until some British government yanks the plug out. Then we’re screwed.

    Young Fogey

  • “The political class is a cosy little cabal of consensus with the SNP, LibDems, Labour and Greens agreeing with one another on all issues of substance (although they occasionally pretend not to for tactical reasons)”

    There are some interesting shifts in the consensus in Scotland at the moment. Its even been said that the Tories are moving closer to the SNP.

    This article has a good summary:
    http://www.theherald.co.uk/features/57579.html

  • George

    Slug,
    “We live in somewhat different times since there is today full employment.”

    There are 100,000 less people working than there should be if you compare NI with the rest of the UK or the Irish Republic. They don’t show up on the dole queues but they are out there and somebody is paying for them.

    If the tap is turned off these people will be the first to feel the pinch followed by all those middle class people working in service industries living off the public sector paypackets.

    There may not be a huge cut in the numbers of public sector workers but there most likely will be a rectruitment stop. That is how the gradual reduction you talk about will come about.

    We could be in a situation in five years where those students graduating won’t have a public sector job to apply for and jobs in the services sector are few and far between.

    “Also since about 2001 more people have been moving into NI from GB than leaving GB to NI.”

    But more people have migrating from NI in that period than arrived, especially in the 18-21 category and the under sevens which seems to indicate that young families are also leaving.

    http://www.nisra.gov.uk/statistics/financeandpersonnel/DMB/datavault/net_migration_by_ageandsex04.xls

  • George

    Last post (15) was from me.
    George

  • slug

    George – the 18-21 yo people leaving are students, not surprising.

    I can’t follow that link but I have studied the data carefully and there is a net inflow from GB to NI in the period 2001-2005, including the most recent figures released last week.

    You make a good point that the levels of inactivity (as opposed to unemployment) are high in NI. This is a problem in many regions of the UK but NI is one of the worst regions. Many people would argue that this is because of the incentives from welfare system, others would argue its due to a lack of education. But the fact is that unemployment is low, in the sense that there are few actually trying hard to get a job.

  • Nestor Makhno

    I think the discussion here in missing the point somewhat.

    The failure of the celtic regions to succeed without the benefit of a large public sector or a generous welfare system has very little to do with the character of local people or even the nature of NI regional policy. It is really about a failure at national level to plan appropriately.

    There is a massive imbalance of investment in the UK focussed on the M4 corridor between Heathrow and London. The figures are completely off the scale – if you are a hi-tech, knowledge based company – (the only sort that will succeed over the medium to long term) you base yourself within a few miles of this corridor. The rest of the UK is the boondocks.

    (Of course, this has become a self-sustaining situation as the area has benefited from clustering and supplier and support networking.)

    Researchers like Michael Parkinson at Liverpool John Moores have flagged this up time again in research – some of it even looking at how Belfast can make itself more competitive. (bottom of the page).

    But in reality the UK Government has to tackle some thorny issues. How do you encourage investment north of Watford in a way that won’t alienate the majority of the UK voters who live in the south east? Favourable local tax regimes? – politically unacceptable.

    A local assembly would be a start for Northern Ireland – but its lack of control over macro-economic matters would hamper it severely – particularly when it borders an identical area lying the south with such low taxes.

    But heck – local politicans aren’t even arguing for tax powers – they only want to sit around and watch NI ministers run the place for them!

    Nestor

  • Stephen Copeland

    Nestor,

    There is a massive imbalance of investment in the UK focussed on the M4 corridor between Heathrow and London. The figures are completely off the scale – if you are a hi-tech, knowledge based company – (the only sort that will succeed over the medium to long term) you base yourself within a few miles of this corridor.

    The M4 corridor goes outwards from London, and Heathrow is very much at the London end of it. It goes (in a tapered-off sort of way) all the way to Bristol. The key spots along the way are Slough, Reading, Swindon, etc.

    Yet, only recently we have seen a Slough-based company (Amazon) re-locating to Cork! And this would seem to be a company that ought to be near a major airport (for distribution purposes). The corridor would thus appear to not be as important to companies as you might think. Probably more important is the need to be near an immense pool of labour (West London and hinterland), with every possible type of skill you might need. There Northern Ireland falls down quite flat – the pool of labour is small, skills are not necessarily available, and you cannot simply commute them in, as you can in south-east England. Traditionally areas like Belfast, and the linen areas, survived through aa high level of specialisation in a very limited number of industries. In that way they became the centres of their own industrial micro-world. Nowadays, though, in a much more diverse and changing industrial (and service) economy the important issues are the size of the pool of labour and its diversity of skill. London and the south-east of England have it, Dublin has it, other large urban areas worldwide may have it, but Belfast does not. The best Belfast can hope for, frankly, is to pick up on unskilled (and thus lower-paid) work that is out-sourcced by the larger economic regions, or to try to develop itself into a world leader in a niche business. But that last option requires entrepreneurial skills, and administrative willingness, that Belfast simply does not have.

  • Scotsman

    I think there is a danger of sensationalism all round here. The relatively high public spending in Scotland and NI is a fact, but has been a legitimate response to problems. Anyone who is arguing that it made things worse is someone who believes that what we need is mass emigration on a par with the 1960’s or 1970’s so that those who remain will accept wages low enough to compete with eastern Europe.

    Scotland and NI can be compared in some ways in terms of funding and distance from London. But demographics are problematic and subject to rapid change. I agree there might be net migration from Scotland to NI, but it’s returnees (perhaps for “cultural” reasons!), we’re not talking about native Scots looking for the land of opportunity in Belfast! But the flow of NI students (perhaps including some of the most talented )east continues, and plenty do not return, including my wife, my 2 neighbours and large numbers of my colleagues. None of whom are going “home” soon.

    The relatively secure public sector might be seen as curbing Scottish entrepeneurialism, just as in NI, but we do have the HQ’s of 2 of Europe’s biggest banks, its largest mutual life company, 2 of Britain’s biggest transport companies etc, here, so the comparisons cannot be exact. Not to mention oil (£6bn minimum North Sea cash to Gordon Brown this year and 40,000 associated Scottish jobs.) Our university research base is much bigger than that of the Irish Republic.

    The areas around Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Inverness continue to boom, and Scotland had net in-migration of 21,000 last year. (We have thousands of Poles, too.)

    What Glasgow and Belfast share is a century of economic decline, though Glasgow for one is certainly generating plenty jobs, but the income is spread more widely into its suburbs.

    90% of Scottish graduates find their first job in Scotland, many more than used to be the case. This might be due to an increase in public sector hiring, but it is a kind of default economic planning.

    So the crisis is a political one. English Tories demand the repatriation of “English” tax money to the “hard-pressed” English resident taxpayers, while Scottish nationalists ask for the freedom to generate our own tax for public spending.

    Meanwhile Labour dishes out the pork to serve its constituency.

    I guess the original premise is right. NI has no choice but to spend the public money allocated, so it must do so as wisely as possible. Scotland could cut income tax, abolish council tax, abolish business rates without the approval of Peter Hain- but would see a guaranteed equivalent cut in its budget without the benefit of keeping any tax from any concomitant increase in economic activity.

    So the structures in place do not lend themselves to economic radicalism. Hence Scottish politicians focus on things that they can control.

    While NI politicians leave it all to the civil servants…

  • John Doheny

    One critical statistic ignored throughout the discussion – the rate of economic inactivity i.e. those not in employment or actively seeking employment. Within the North it is 5% higher than Britain and within Derry 15% higher. Former MEP John Hume described Derry as an ‘economic wasteland’.

  • There are a heck of a lot of good points on this thread (particularly Young Fogey‘s), but the real question is what on earth do we do about it?

    How do we get rid of the centre-left sectarian consensus and instead build a social, political and economic system capable of creating the wealth we need to pay our own way in the world?

    Surely we can’t just sit around and accept ‘we’re screwed’…?

  • slug

    The economic inactivity rate tells us that there are a large number of people not looking for work at current pay and social security levels. There are three ways forward: attitude to work, education and training (to raise pay), and reducing benefits/tax.

  • Animus


    Reducing benefits? What about increasing benefits for working parents? Lack of affordable childcare can prohibit taking up some of these fantastic call centre opportunties. Is it really worthwhile to work to earn £20 more per week than to stay at home? The emphasis on getting people into work, no matter what kind, misses the point that some people will be looking after relatives or unable to take up paid employment.

    Derry has a higher than average rate of DLA, so of course economic inactivity is going to be higher. How to get around that could keep another thread going for weeks.

    It’s a sophisticated problem, and it needs a sophisticated solution, a package deal looking at why people don’t take up work and what would get them back in.

    As for NI taking its own stance Junior, as many of the matters which influence wealth creation are non-devolved, there’s not much our own politicians can do, even if they were working.

    Places like China have a booming economy and spiralling poverty – a yawning chasm between rich and poor. Surely that’s not something to aspire to? The wealth creation is fantastic, but at what price to much of the population, who lack basic medical care, have little information, etc. Very few are benefiting from this boom.

  • Young Fogey

    Places like China have a booming economy and spiralling poverty – a yawning chasm between rich and poor. Surely that’s not something to aspire to?

    There are complex reasons for China’s staggering first place on the world income inequality league, most of which don’t apply in Northern Ireland:
    * the rural poor aren’t allowed to own land
    * the state administers the land in the countryside very badly
    * it’s virtually impossible for a rural Chinese to set up a business because of state restrictions
    * there’s a huge amount of graft in rural Chinese public administration which soaks up what little money is transferred from the wealthy East
    * the crazy internal passport system means that any Chinese villager who moves to the cities to escape it all is treated like a second class citizen to boot.

    I don’t see anyone proposing an internal passport system for culshy students moving to Belfast, although many residents of the Ormeau Road would doubtless be in favour.

    Why pick on China? Why not look at Slovakia, Slovenia, Turkey or Brazil? Their systems of government and public administration are a bit closer to ours. The mention of China was just to point out that ‘awful’ demographics (and just think, we were all worried about a population boom 10 years ago) don’t stop an economy growing.

    And Animus, a lot of our public sector jobs are pretty badly paid too. Met any hospital porters or classroom assistants lately?

  • IJP

    DRD finally seems to be in the process of dualling the whole A6 on a non-Star Trek timescale of about 10 years.

    Of course, in a proper country we’d build a tolled motorway – user pays.

    But pay for something ourselves…?