A Banana Republic without Bananas

According to Wikipedia a Banana republic is “a politically unstable country, whose economy is largely dependent on exporting a limited-resource product, e.g. bananas. It typically has stratified social classes, including a large, impoverished working class and a ruling plutocracy of business, political, and military elites. This politico-economic oligarchy controls the primary-sector productions to exploit the country’s economy.”

My assertion is this. Northern Ireland is a banana republic without bananas.  Our politico-economic oligarchy simply exploits all-comers: the British or Irish or EU governments, and big businesses.

Northern Ireland has no real substance to its economy. Sure, there are a few success stories, a few companies that have scaled and become globally important. But there are few. But compare Northern Ireland with, say, Estonia. Estonia has a tiny population – less than Northern Ireland’s. Yet it is ranked as one of the freest economies in the world. Its level of debt is miniscule – just 7% of GDP, compared to the UK’s 82%.  It uses shale oil, locally produced, to produce its electricity. Estonian software developers created Skype. Estonia also has the most advanced e-Government in Europe, if not the world.

Now let’s look at Northern Ireland, by comparison. Over 70% of our GDP is dependent on the public purse. Any attempts to investigate shale gas or oil reserves are scuppered by environmental protestors. We have a vast public sector workforce with appallingly poor productivity. Our tiny private sector employment base is dominated by a vast retail sector that pays low wages. Our middle class is either public sector dependent or dependent on the professional services sector that either has a parasitical dependence on the state or on a relatively small number of large, naïve corporations.

This type of economy is a veritable petri-dish of corruption. Politicians either 1) feel the need to lord over us and tell us how to live our lives or 2) plead for money from the UK, EU or Irish governments. Their egos are fed by big businesses or professional services organisations/banks.  None of our politicians has any significant mandate given the fact that only half the population actually votes – mostly tactically.

But politicians sit on the main income generating conduits and are, therefore, in prime locations to engage in cronyism or corruption. They can recommend their friends for plum jobs as advisers, overseers, or lobbyists. If the only money that comes into this place comes from government or quasi-government sources – government or political decision makers are in significant positions of power. And most politicians here have no business or commercial experience. Few, if any, have lived outside of Northern Ireland.

With devolution the opportunities for corruption have become manifest. Despite being clearly incapable of making any decisions, the Northern Ireland Executive has managed to wrest control of many of the functions of government from Westminster. The devolution of welfare, for example, has given local politicians greater opportunity to extort.

The NAMA NI scandal is merely the latest of many scandals that involve politically appointed advisers, politicians and professional services firms. Public inquiries create Barrister millionaires. Legal aid slush funds created solicitor millionaires. The great recession created vast publically funded pots of money for insolvency lawyers – paid for by EU bail-outs.

In short, ours is a banana republic where sycophancy, deal-making and corporatism play the banana parts.

  • barnshee

    “Now let’s look at Northern Ireland, by comparison. Over 70% of our GDP is dependent on the public purse”

    Look next door at Donegal –This is what NI would look like without the British Welfare state . NI has a population well in excess of the level it would sustain under its own steam We appear to be entering a process where NI will stand more on its own feet than rest on the backs of others surely a good thing in long term?

  • murdockp

    I agree, the irony for me is as an legacy Irish Nationalist, I want an economy similar to the UK with economic liberalisation at its core, lets get rid of planning permissions that wil only be granted after party political donations have been made or relatives of politicians employed in some capacity down the line, lets get rid of the government agencies whose job it is to say no, such as building control and lets have a local tax system like non domestic rates which is designed to put the lights out of the private sector.

  • Kevin Breslin

    As much as I love the Estonians, they didn’t create Skype, it was created by Danes and Swedes. I’m sure if they did create Skype it was only because people were complaining a lot about having to pay taxes rather than the than the disciplines learnt at tax funded universities but rather the inspiration of cynics with too much time on their hands to complain. What other reasons could there be? Communist work ethic? Corporations giving people paid labour?

    No, people become software engineers as enterprising polymaths who run one person companies until they have the profits to hire other staff.

    Why do they do it, in order to pity those who feel out of place in the societies they live in.


    The fact that Estonia has a lower population has very little to do with things, you may as well ask why a kilogram of graphite is cheaper than half a kilo of diamonds if they are made of the same thing. To think blowing your top is enough pressure to change graphite into diamonds is madness.

    Jeff, you could have choose to be a software engineering activist or philanthropist instead you choose to rant about differences between Northern Ireland and the “mainland” for the same misanthropic sentiments.

    It’s not helping to demand a free lunch of regional development, it does nothing to change the supply of talent. Threads like this would put a person off software development. Software engineering is difficult enough by itself without people gobbing off thinking they are actually helping you.

    Yet another curse the darkness thread

  • chrisjones2

    This type of economy is a veritable petri-dish of corruption.

    What a brilliant evocative and accurate description

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Absolutely bang on Jeff!

  • chrisjones2

    “ours is a banana republic where sycophancy, deal-making and corporatism play the banana parts”

    but our politicians never slip up because they just have to shout ‘vote for me or themuns will get in” and we comply. One of ours, no matter how incompetent, venial or corrupt, is always better than the risk of one of theirs!!!! And anyway they can always claim to be religious and have repented our sins

  • Kevin Breslin

    Letterkenny isn’t much different from Enniskillen or Ballymena. Donegal is full of the “self made” pioneers who Jeff would want to brag about such as the Simpsons who own Benedict’s and Brunswick Moviebowl or Phil Doherty who owns E&I Engineering.

  • barnshee

    Compare and contrast the pop levels of Donegal and NI

    (Benedict’s and Brunswick Moviebowl– a cinema and a Hotel -both in NI are you serious?)

  • Kevin Breslin

    Here’s the point, adding an extra couple of Donegal people to that Northern Ireland population actually helped the Northern Irish economy rather than created the Malthusian nightmare you are moaning and groaning about. By the by both Simpsons brothers were engineers before that.

  • barnshee

    Who is supporting the enterprises above? the customers ( hint 70% of NI is tax payer funded)

  • sk

    Historically, the people who sneered most about southern gombeen clientelism were always northerners of a certain political hue.

    With that in mind, it’s worth noting that NAMA was relatively scandal free until we let that same brand of vocal nordie get a look-in.

    Speaking as a southerner, I find that to be delightfully ironic.

  • james

    I don’t see any reason not to return to direct rule from London.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    The question that has been put to you is why does ROI produce more established entrepreneurs than NI does. The fact that some operate successfully here shows a certain unstopability.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Any plausibility to the suggestion of shared sovereignty? London hasn’t always shown great expertise in improving our long term economic fortunes.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Heavens forbid Tourists would go to a Hotel in South Belfast or a Bowling Ally/Cinema in Derry, as well as other ventures.

    As I said before, these people needed money to build their service industry and got it from work in Engineering.

    Tell me what the right-wing demagogues or the Daily Mail (a paper who’s readership and sales are in decline in an industry that won’t last the next couple of decades) are lifting their weight to increase productivity here?

    Does anyone seriously expect a Katie Hopkins wannabe is going to be a major employer or an engineering pioneer? Didn’t she make money off the state by joining the defence forces until she was dismissed having the disability of epilepsy where she claimed benefits? Didn’t IDS claim benefits when he was dismissed from the army?

    You want bananas, there’s the bananas of Britian, people so bananas they have a sense of entitlement and use it to attack people who may have genuine need.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Northern Ireland has entrepeneurs, it’s just a terrible environment to build a profile in. The fact that the main NI company on the FTSE is UTV MEDIA (?) , the owners of TalkSport among other things show that the situation has gone from an industrial manufacturing economy to a chattering based one in 40 years when the global one is steering back to industrialization.

    QUB has created Kainos and Andor Technology which have formed stand alone industries and we still have jerks complaining about a “parasitical dependence on the state” hoping people on benefits will start the software engineering companies he demands exist for no other reason that Belfast compete with Talinn.

  • barnshee

    “The question that has been put to you is why does ROI produce more established entrepreneurs than NI does. The fact that some operate successfully here shows a certain unstopability.”

    Simples- NI is afloat on a sea of taxpayers cash -safe easy money to fund ludicrous (by local private industry standards) salaries in the ridiculously over staffed public sector

    The “chief executive ” of a Local council near me -salary fixed by what means I know not how, at approx double that of a recent predecessor

    He is paid substantially more than the ” chief executive” of the taxation dept in NI (salary set by London).

    Get a public sector job with its associated security and pension -you know it makes sense?

    “The fact that some operate successfully here shows a certain unstopability.”

    They operate on the back of the same sea of taxpayer funds and are equally dependant on them- soaking up the largesse of the GB taxpayer – hardly ” entrepreneurship ” –but full marks to them for showing up the locals

  • james

    Stormont hasn’t ever showed any. And, of course, incompetence sooner or later gets elected out of Westminster. Mechanisms exist to make politicians accountable in London – they don’t always work but there is a fair chance that corruption actually gets punished. Here, if the DUP are failing to deliver any workable policies, or Sinn Fein are siphoning off public funds or whatever they are both largely immune simply by playing their respective sectarian cards. Any plausibility to the continuance of Stormont? And, of course, I didn’t suggest shared sovereignty, just plain old direct rule from London town.

  • Turgon

    Jeff Peel’s article has some merit. Let is not forget, however, that there was also a cabal of the elite during Direct Rule. The local politicians did not have as much power (though the councils always seemed to make odd planning decisions) but there was an elite of the unelected Quangocrats.

    There were also assorted experts and academics along with some business people and churchmen and a few other favoured professionals who were called on to dispense their wisdom about what was best for the people of NI. They were all of what Fitzjameshorse calls the Letsgetalongerists in their political outlook.

    One of the major benefits of Stormont (whatever its many failings) is that that group of people (or at least their modern day successors – all too often their children) have less power than they had. They (the disempowered next generation of the letsgetalongerists) are also amongst the most vocal complaining about Stormont and its political parties.

    So yes I agree Stormont has huge problems with cronyism etc. However, lets us not forget that under Direct rule there was a whole race of other people who took part in a rather similar form of cronyism

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Well rehearsed in Richard Kearney’s “Postnationalist Ireland. Most of its other ideas have been implemented, at least in part.

  • Jeffrey Peel

    Indeed. But two wrongs do not make a right.

  • Turgon

    I agree. However, if Stormont did collapse I am worried there are a whole tribe of letsgetalongerists who would enthusiastically suggest to any Direct rule ministers something along the lines of: our parents / mentors helped you during Direct Rule last time; we are perfectly positioned to help everyone (well actually mainly ourselves) this time.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Of course you didn’t suggest it. I did. Now how about answering it?

  • james

    Joint authority? I don’t see how that would help at all. Likely make things worse in fact.

  • Jeffrey Peel

    It doesn’t have to come to that. Stormont needs to relegated to the status of a County Council with similar responsibilties. It certainly shouldn’t have delegated responsibility for welfare.