Republic’s bank collapse is no reason for smugness in Northern Ireland

Given the fraught nature of cross-border relations over the years, it would not be that surprising if a few smug glances were being directed southwards from Northern Ireland.

The financial mess the Republic has got itself into is truly staggering.

But the truth is that Northern Ireland has nothing to be complacent about.

For starters, the economy up here is hardly in a good state.

It’s worth remembering its estimated £8bn annual subvention — the difference between taxes raised from the province and the outlay in public expenditure here.

However, the main reason why smugness is not appropriate rests with the prime reason for the South’s crisis.

It has been called a property bubble, but that makes it seem too benign.

Collective property mania is a more appropriate description of the condition that afflicted society.

Let it never be forgotten that the same delirium was getting a firm grip on Northern Ireland too.

Think back to those days not that long ago when the Ulster middle classes were in permanent ecstasy over the rocketing value of their homes.

Want a second or third house? Step right this way.

Prices were going to keep on rising, after all. What could possibly go wrong?

True, the mania did not do as much damage up here.

Unlike the Republic, Northern Ireland does not have large-scale ‘ghost estates’ — unoccupied housing developments that nobody wants.

But maybe this part of the island just got lucky.

Perhaps it was primarily about timing — that the madness was only properly taking hold when the over-inflated market finally collapsed due to external factors.

And what would have happened if devolution had been in place years before it returned in 2007?

Would MLAs have sounded timely notes of caution, as the property market here started spiralling out of control?

Hardly. The main contribution from Northern Ireland politicians was to act as cheerleaders for developers.

There were repeated calls for the planning system to be sped up, and for more land to be zoned for housing.

It was also argued that official development blueprints for different parts of the province should be rewritten to permit yet more house-building.

In short, the pesky planners were virtually being told to get out of the way and let the great housing bonanza rip.

There just might be a case for thanking those pesky planners now, and for being quietly relieved that the planning system was cushioned from local political pressures up to 2007.

If the pro-development lobby had had its way here, ghost estates could now be an all-Ireland phenomenon.

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