At last our leaders are starting to take a realistic line to cope with cuts

Credit where credit’s due, while commending Bystander’s vigilance. Simon Hamilton cuts a competent figure as minister of finance, blowing the trumpet for the financial aspects of the Stormont House Agreement. This is what a finance minister is for, rather than sniping at colleagues. Meanwhile  the Agreement has attracted the rare attention of the Economist which has a global reach and a strong private sector, fiscally conservative leaning  …

THE good news about Northern Ireland is that it now has normal problems…

The bad news about Northern Ireland is that these problems are simply enormous.

Yet the people of Ulster suffered surprisingly little. Unemployment peaked at around 8%—about half the highest rate seen in Ireland…

Northern Ireland runs a mammoth budget deficit estimated at 33% of GVA. The debate that gripped Scotland last year, over whether the country would be better off independent, is unimaginable there.

Ulster’s citizens are simply not yet used to mature debates over spending, argues Professor Neil Gibson of Ulster University. Newspapers are filled with disputes over flags, marches and history. The region lacks economic think-tanks—unsurprisingly, since economic policy has consisted of maximising the block grant from London and doling it out.

But this is at last beginning to change…  Reducing Northern Ireland’s dependence on the state is a bigger challenge, admits Mr Hamilton. But the province has some advantages. Ulster’s universities churn out brainy graduates. Labour costs are low…  Multinational services companies such as Baker McKenzie, a law firm, have arrived. Fujitsu, an IT company, is expanding its operation in Derry (Londonderry, unionists call it). Fifty new foreign direct investment projects were secured in 2014.

If it can rise to its short-run challenges, the case for handing more of the levers of economic policy to Stormont is strong (Really? Peter for one, doesn’t agree.)

Prof Gibson likens Ulster to a moody teenager learning to take responsibility for the first time. He hopes that one day an election will be determined by economic policy. When that happens, Ulster will have grown up..( Hear, hear to that! Maybe the pigs won’t fly then?)

Here for further information is the quarterly report from the research body supported by the Executive, headed by Prof Gibson.


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