Reality checks of north-south comparisons should be welcomed

This piece by Aaron McKenna , businessman and columnist in the Journal.ie is not holy writ but it does make some interesting north-south comparisons.

The UK government spends 24% more per head in Northern Ireland than it does in England, some £10,876 for every person in the province. If we got Northern Ireland tomorrow, that would translate to €15,464. In the Republic, we spend €11,120 per head.

Of course, the Northerners could spend what they like if they earned it. But the deficit in Northern Ireland is staggering, and on a per head basis is about double what it reached even in the worst years of the recession in the Republic. Its deficit has reached as far as £5,311 (€7,549) per head, vs the €1,001 it stands at down south today. A reunified Irish state would require taxes or borrowing to increase by up to €13.67bn per year.

The much maligned union, and you cannot underrate this, brings the UK civil and public service with it. They are by no means perfect, but if you’re a Northern Ireland resident it is pertinent to consider that senior doctors in the UK are kicking up major fuss because A&E overcrowding in the NHS is reckoned to have contributed to 500 deaths last year.

In the Republic, population 4.6 million to the UK’s 64.1 million, doctors reckon that A&E overcrowding kills up to 350 people per year. The HSE, if it operated at UK scale, would probably kill the 4,900 person population of Crumlin, County Antrim, each year. If you assumed absolute proportionality, a person in Northern Ireland would have to consider that overcrowding in the NHS could have accounted for 14 deaths last year. If they got HSE standards overnight, that could become 138.

Put up with a union jack over city hall… Or give up the NHS? It’s not a choice, really.

If we got unification there is also the small matter of security to consider. The PSNI employs some 7,200 officers, a ratio of 1 officer per 251 people. They have a budget of £836.7m (€1.19bn). The gardaí have 13,093 officers, one per 350 people; and a budget of €1.426bn.

It’s probably a slim to unlikely chance that Irish unification will occur overnight, no matter who is running the UK and Irish governments. But as we do march into 2016, it would be refreshing if parties calling for unification would consider and address the real issues that arise if they got their way. 2016 will be tiresome enough for posturing without having to listen to guff about a united Ireland that nobody really thinks is feasible, and few enough want.

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