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.