Plan B: leave Northern Ireland to fester…

Interesting piece from John O’Farrell in the New Statesman last week (though you’ll have to scroll down). He quotes Reg Empey on the substance of the British Exchequer’s threat to Northern Ireland: “If we don’t sort it out, we’ll be left to hang. There’s a growing impatience over there with Northern Ireland. If we fail to make the grade politically, they’ll leave us to fester.”O’Farrell goes on to note:

One of the richest and most productive parts of the UK during the 19th and early 20th centuries, Northern Ireland now gets about £8bn a year to make up for its lousy tax take and its high public spending. The remainder of the hand-out is the £16bn for infrastructure agreed in 2001. Brown’s “new money” turns out to be the old trick of using proceeds from the sales of existing government offices that are then rented back from private landlords.

Unionist parties, despite appearances, are as economically populist as the nationalists. Rampant free markets never took root and the public sector actually increased under Margaret Thatcher. The economy is still skewed towards the public sector (one-third work directly for the government) but that disguises the dismal performance of private enterprise. There are fewer than ten plcs; the largest is the privatised electricity board. The province also has the second-lowest level of business start-ups in the UK.

In spite of all the various subsidies from Whitehall, the European Union and even money from the Irish Republic, average wages are 20 per cent lower than the UK average, while the large number of people deemed to be “economically inactive” makes a mockery of the “historically low” figure of 36,000 unemployed.

The boom, such as there is, has not been driven from within – hence the frustration from Northern Ireland’s paymasters.

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  • CS Parnell

    And your point is?

    One doesn’t give misbehaving children more and more toys and sweets.

    Politics in the North of Ireland is probably the most immature in Europe. It was bad before 2003, it has become worse since, even if we are inching towards some sort of agreement.

    The standard response from politicians of all colours in the North to any problem is to say “the Brits will pay”.

    Well, they won’t. No point in whining about it – the carnival is over.

  • kadenza

    maybe we are just inching towards an agreement not to agree!

  • Henry94

    In that situation the the border counties simply couldn’t afford not to look at repartition.

  • Crataegus

    No agreement should equal minimal approach to government until the electorate start to crack.

  • Animus

    I was at that meeting with Reg Empey, he wasn’t grousing about the fact that money might be withheld, he was merely stating it as a fact of life.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    Crataegus: “No agreement should equal minimal approach to government until the electorate start to crack. ”

    Flawed thinking, in so far as it appears locked into the “gov’t as sugar-daddy” mentality.

    Minimal government should be a goal in and of itself, not simply a switch to lash the populace, particularly if you wish to retain the “sugar-daddy” model. Left to their own devices, the populace might just rear up on their hind legs and do for themselves…

  • lib2016

    Given a recent well publicised building in Castlereagh and the results of the first fifty years existence of the NI entity the one thing we can be sure of is that there will be no failure of oversight by either government.

    It may take a few backstage manoeuvres to get us there but one way or another we’re all going down the GFA road together.

    Sinn Fein and the DUP can argue about the details but the broad direction of our future has been agreed on, not least by the majority of our goodselves in a referendum.

  • Gram

    You gotta laugh. You’d really think the British would have learned by now that empire building costs over the long term. The cost of Iraq like Northern Ireland will be hanging over the British tax payer for generations.

    Seems like they want to have things both ways. They want us to be able to help ourselves but when we state that we’ll have a reduction in corporation tax rates they tell us to piss off.

  • Wilde Rover


    I must finally take issue as I voted for the Belfast Agreement, as did 80% of the people of Ireland. I now refer to it as Northern Ireland (anno BA). I suppose that must make me a partitionist. Perhaps it’s because I’m one of those rare breed of Mexicans that has lived north of the border, but I voted for partition to inch our silly little island towards the ideals of the Irish flag, namely getting on with everyday life.

    And while it is understandable that Unionists may point to the extraordinary circumstances for the demise of their fortunes since the 1920s, it must be pointed out that the demise of entrepreneurial spirit was curiously preceded by a plague of Naysayers.

  • lib2016

    Wilde Rover,

    I agree with everything you say but would like to point out that supporting the GFA doesnt mean giving up a committment to either unionism or nationalism…some think that’s the whole point of it.

  • George

    “Seems like they want to have things both ways. They want us to be able to help ourselves but when we state that we’ll have a reduction in corporation tax rates they tell us to piss off”

    You miss the point, the British government doesn’t want you to help yourself at its expense.

    It’s cheaper and less political bother to let Northern Ireland stew with the 8 billion subsidy. Northern Ireland doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in Westminster world.

    Why risk anything for the place if it could have an adverse effect on the rest of the UK?

    The good folk who turn out to vote in elections have been bought off for another decade with some pocket change.

    We might as well shut down the political discussion now and all come back when the money is spent in 2016 to see what the lay of the land is.

  • Yokel

    It’s about time the UK government saw NI as no more worthy than any other part of the UK.

    The Irish government needs to be careful it doesnt get sucked in a bit as well.

  • Greenflag


    ‘We might as well shut down the political discussion now’

    What political discussion ? SFAIK the DUP and SF have not had direct talks to even agree to disagree never mind agreeing to agree . This ‘devolution’ farce is a pain in the place which rhymes with farce .

    ‘and all come back when the money is spent in 2016 ‘

    So in a decade’s time NI will be exactly where it is today except much worse off relative to the Irish Republic and most regions of the UK.

    As I was saying earlier about the benefits of repartition for Northern Ireland nationalists and republicans 🙁 . Waiting around for the DUP and their ilk to see economic or political sense is a fool’s errand. You might as well wait for Godot .

  • Yokel



    Tell me goddamnit! You can’t leave me hanging just as the football kicks off

  • Mick:

    Would all this be made moot if the Ewe Kay broke up due to an issue unrelated to the dreary steeples?

    Christ almighty, the wasted man-eons of navel gazing down the drain.

    Beware gods with a sense of humor.

  • \truth and Justice

    All this attacking the St Andrews Agreement will get us no were, Plab B will see alot of people in Norhtern ireland suffer with Water rates,rates, education, and the Irish Governemnt will have a joint say in all things, i think boys and girls lets face up to reality the DUP have got a better deal and we had better support it!

  • Politico

    [i]”Waiting around for the DUP and their ilk to see economic or political sense is a fool’s errand. You might as well wait for Godot .”[/i]
    Waiting for GF to finally stop going on about repartition is a fool’s errand. You might as well wait for Godot.

  • IJP

    CS Parnell

    Spot on, as so often.


    Actually, it kind of does.

    Unionists have to accept Nationalists want a “United Ireland” and that, if they get a majority in the North, they’ll get it.

    But Nationalists have to accept they might never get that majority.

    Nationalists might “win” one day – but so might Unionists. Meanwhile, we have to get on with it as Wilde Rover suggests.

    As usual, people are busy thinking about what they get for themselves – but no so quick to recognize the corresponding “right”/”commitment” applies to the “other side” too.

  • mnob

    IJP – spot on. And as every year goes by and the differences between the UK and ROI become less and less then ‘winning’ becomes less important.

  • George

    I think the opposite. The differences between the UK and Ireland are getting greater by the year and this process will speed up in the coming decades.

    30 years ago we had the same currency, for example. Our economy was totally dependent on the UK, our people went there in droves, now they are returning from there in droves. The criminal law is being codified by the day and the further the UK drifts from the EU centre, the greater the drift between Ireland and the UK.

    Debenhams buying Roches stores or Dixons opening another shop doesn’t make us closer to the UK just like H&M doesn’t make us Swedish or Zara Spanish.

    The choice Northern Ireland has to make will be even starker in a decade.

  • IJP

    Quickly, I’m with mnob on that debate.

    The fact that the RoI is a confident, independent economy – capable of investing in GB just as much as GB invests in it; capable of investing abroad just as GB does; managing its own liberal economy with high inward investment just as GB does; and so on – means it is more like GB than it was when it was dependent on it. Then you throw in mutual membership of a much more advanced European Union.

    Two independent jurisdictions are going to be more alike than one dependent and one independent one.

    All of which means insular, dependent NI is the odd one out, by the way…

  • Greenflag


    ‘Tell me goddamnit! You can’t leave me hanging just as the football kicks off ‘

    It’s hearse . The e is silent as in hearth 🙂

  • Greenflag

    Politico ,

    Repartition is no Godot . Godot never arrives but ‘repartitioning’ has. For the last 25 years there has been increasing segregation between the communities in NI.. The new seven Councils will speed up the process of de facto and eventually de jure repartition.

  • George

    I was going to write (Northern Ireland part of) UK in deference to the view you put forward.

    I left it out because I feel that implies the assumption that because Ireland and Britain agree on much in the world and have similar economic policies in 2006, that this will remain so.

    The UK has a completely different attitude towards the EU for example. It has a completely different social and cultural make-up.

    If anything, Ireland is closer economically to the United States than it is to Britain.

    The reality is that now Ireland is much less dependent on Britain than it used to be, it doesn’t base its decisions on what its neighbour does.

    Previously, people worked for Cadbury, Player Wills and the like. Today, they work for Intel, Google and Pfizer.

    Previously, Dublin was where you got TB or if there wasn’t a vacancy in Players the mail boat to Holyhead. Today, it’s, in the words of the head of Google Europe, the Ellis Island of the 21st Century. It teems with people from virtually every nation on earth.

    There is a fundamental change taking place in Ireland at the moment.

    True, relationships with Britain are better than they have ever been in my lifetime and will continue to improve, but don’t confuse that with the countries becoming less and less different.

    The two nations are on different paths now, each one as valid as the other. This is a change from the old days when the weaker Irish one trailed in the wake of the path its British neighbour beat out.

    In the coming years, this divergence will become more and more pronounced.

    Where all this will leave Northern Ireland is anyone’s guess.

  • Cahal

    “Where all this will leave Northern Ireland is anyone’s guess.”

    I think there is a clue in the title of this thread.

  • BeardyBoy

    I hope so – I love seeing the place go down hill – very puerile but I love it – failed entity springs to mind again – and it will continue as such ’cause I, and plenty like me want it so. Repartition is a possible path but do you thing the great Pharoah Paisley will let my people go?

  • IJP

    But that is to miss my point.

    The choice for NI is not London or Dublin. The choice is dependence or independence.

    Only once NI has achieved the latter will it be in a position to make any further choices.

  • Beardyboy

    yep – go independant – I would love it – freefall time as London washes it’s hand and can claim the moral high ground in doing so as it says it is following the democratic will of the people.

    Independance first – integration next as the indepenadnts go cap in hand to Dublin looking for help

    Great stuff