After the election, the unity that matters

The clearest sign that effective north – south co-operation is a different ball game from Sinn Fein’s latest campaign for unity has come in the news that the hard-pressed Dublin exchequer will fund 80% of the costs of a £3 million removal of a massive 250,000 tonnes of illegally dumped southern rubbish north of the border. Even Sammy Wilson, soon to be our only DUP double jobbing minister, welcomes the move which was made under EU rules. Removing this running sore will produce a surge of general goodwill. Conor Murphy is too realistic a politician to be convinced by his own rhetoric. The Sinn Fein campaign is the sort of thing politicians do to start a new chapter after an election campaign. Reality -and I would add, genuine idealism – lies elsewhere. The accountants Ernst and Young recently published a report Economic Eye on the impact of the recession south and north. It concludes that the north’s recession will be less severe but the south will bounce back quicker. The unemployment peak is still ahead of us, whatever else happens. The Finfacts summary spells out starkly the size of the bounce-back needed. Adds I suspect Northern Ireland is lucky with a Labour government that sustains public spending in the province, albeit with an estimated £200 million cuts from 2011 on a £8 billion subvention. How much more would the Conservatives cut? The province might get the best of both worlds by benefiting from the Republic’s earlier upswing – always supposing growth climbs fast enough to spin-off into NI.

Job losses in construction across the island by year-end 2009 is staggering, with the forecast estimating 150,000 jobs to be lost in construction across both regions from their peal – Northern Ireland will account for close to one in 15 of these losses.

Employment figures in the Republic will not return to their peak period (2007) until the year 2021 compared to 2018 for similar recovery in Northern Ireland.

In spite of the priority given to helping the construction industry, the Derry to Dublin road upgrade and other infrastructure projects part funded by the Republic is surely doomed, although they’re balking at announcing it. The report shows spells out directly that all the political rhetoric in the world will not reduce the big differences between the two economic jurisdictions. The next analysis I’d like to see is whether an all island economy is still relevant for climbing out the recession. The main message seems to be to stop the foot-dragging over projects like an all-island energy economy and planning new budget priorities for the time of biggest reckoning for public spending, from 2011.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London