Some thoughts on the Economics of Unity.

Within Republicanism I am definitely on what I call the Diana Ross wing of thinking which says ‘you can’t hurry love’ That is why I have consistently opposed Sinn Fein’s move for a border poll right now, as I have always thought Republicanism needs to move off the notion of territorial lines on a map and simply quoting events that happened a century ago.

It has long been a criticism of Irish nationalism that we lack a coherent economic argument for reunification. To the average punter why on earth would you want to leave the 7th largest economy in the world and throw your lot in with Southern Ireland? There are benefits to be sure of being part of the UK, this isn’t an issue of ‘what have the romans ever done for us?’ We receive a good health service, plenty of subsidies to fund our other needs from our brothers and sisters across the water.

However, I would just submit to you another proposition that I feel in the long run would be even more beneficial for our future and that’s economic unity with the Irish Republic.

One thing I have noticed about the debate surrounding this issue is the lack of knowledge that people on both sides have about the Irish economy. It always amazed me that in Northern Ireland; people still carry around this ‘blue skies of Ulster, Grey mists of the Republic’ mentality. There are a lot of myths going around about the Irish economy and the biggest one going is that Northern Ireland is better off than the Irish Republic.

Let’s take a look at some facts. 1) Job creation in the Irish Republic, despite one of the biggest economic crises to ever hit the Irish state is still better in the South than it is here. In fact, Southern Ireland now leads the OECD in job creation. Our leaders regularly go off to the United States in order to lure investment, yet the Irish Republic has successful put itself in the position where it receives more FDI from the USA than China, Russia, Brazil and India combined.

Irish workers typically earn more too, with the average worker taking home £8,000 more per year than someone in Northern Ireland. This figure is even more impressive when you consider that the cost of living in Ireland has fallen steadily since the recession began in 2008.

Now, it isn’t all on the up and there are problems, but when you hear the hysteria from some quarters up here, you could be forgiven for thinking that we were proposing an economic union with Zimbabwe, rather than Ireland.

The Irish Republic successfully lures the wealth creating jobs that will stand them in good stead for years and let their people get ahead. While we languish in Northern Ireland, waiting for the next call centre announcement, with wages that barely allow people to get by.

My argument is that we can do a lot better than this. An all island economy based on solid principles of investment and job creation would allow more of our people to enjoy a standard of living that we have for decades been denied through economic policies that are designed to suit the South-East of England, rather than our own needs. I also believe that like any new relationship, we have things to teach the Irish Republic in the areas of public service provision and maintenance of those services into the future.

In my view Republicanism is merely scoring own goals, with language like ‘failed state’ and ‘new republic.’ What we need to be focusing on is selling the country we have at the moment and how much better it can be if we were united. We need to drop the gimmicks and take the long view of articulating a reformed economy. For those who say it cannot be done I would urge them to look at New Zealand and Australia in the early 80s, two of the most closed economies in the OECD, both of whom within the space of 6 years opened up and liberalised their markets and who are now reaping the rewards of taking brave economic decisions.

I don’t take a black arm band view of my country, on the contrary, I am just fed up of being in a position where on Budget day we sit waiting for the next hand out from George and we simply have to make do with what is available. A united Ireland will not be a one way bet and yes, some people will lose out, we have to be upfront about that. Republicanism will go nowhere if it attempts to create a European version of Cuba with another bearded leader as El Presidente!

We need to take the economic arguments head on, accept the problems and highlight the positives.  I am not looking for a panacea or a fairytale ending, all I want is something better than the current ecomomic arrangements offer us. Yet it’s up to Republicanism to do the work and make the case. In writing this article I hope I am making a small contribution to this endeavour.

 

David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs