Martin: “Economic and social situation in Northern Ireland should cause real concern”.

So the news from Ballymena, again, is not good. Another vestige of the work put in under O’Neill (and more directly, Brian Faulkner) in trying to modernise the economic base of Northern Ireland goes.

The truth is that Northern Ireland is in an uneviable position as a periphery region both within the UK (water imposes major costs for manufacturing industry) and across the border.

The ‘all shall have prizes’ governance model of peacebuilding at Stormont means there is little or none of the cross departmental co-operation needed to rebuild an economic model.

Whilst the Republic argues over the loss of the Web Summit to Lisbon, our big employers are slowly finding better fish to fry.

It’s unfair to single one party or one Minister out over another since the whole thing is a confection no one really wants to own. But take the DETI minister’s singular focus on China?

This is in line with HMG’s thinking and the focus of its trade mission effort, so fair enough. But what effect is that likely to have on Bombardier who’ve just been bailed to out to the tune of £1 Billion?

The Chinese are a huge rival to the Canadians in the aerospace industry, but they are unlikely to pick up the pieces if the Canadians decide they’d prefer their public subsidy to go further at home.

Now, to shift a little, the Dail yesterday had a session on Northern Ireland. Only Micheal Martin focused on the real problem hitting Northern Ireland:

By every available measure the governments and parties have by their neglect and behaviour allowed core public trust to be undermined. This is not a political assertion – it is a fact established repeatedly in surveys, elections and events. It is there to see for anyone willing to open their eyes.

Too often the challenge in these negotiations has been how do we get through the crisis and get the parties to start working together. Yet the people of Northern Ireland are increasingly asking when will the parties get around to working on their behalf?

Northern Ireland has gone from having one of the highest levels of participation in elections to one of the lowest on these islands. Much of this fall is found in marginal communities and amongst the supporters of parties who see themselves excluded from all policy discussions.

The economic and social situation in Northern Ireland has deteriorated in a manner which should cause real concern.

The austerity agenda being implemented is already causing disproportionate harm to vital public services such as education without which progress is impossible.

Rates of poverty and child poverty in particular, in Northern Ireland have continued to worsen, and the gap with the UK is expanding. Nearly half (46%) of children in West Belfast are today living in poverty. Pensioner poverty in Northern Ireland is one third higher than in the UK.

As we have seen, many of those who participated in the illegitimate paramilitary campaigns continue to operate as a caste apart and pose an ongoing threat.

And yet the institutions established with unprecedented hope and popular legitimacy are constantly diverted to dealing with breakdowns in trust and general party political manoeuvring.

Two parties which rode to power by overcoming those who risked everything to secure and sustain a peace settlement have been unwilling to show the bravery needed to challenge their own or to accept the logic of peace in everything they do.

Their willingness to attack inconvenient actions by independent institutions and to show loyalty to their movement before the public interest has been corrosive.

After nearly two decades the demand of the Irish people both North and South is to move on – to end the cycle of crises and to focus on the real agenda of challenging division and delivering growth which benefits all communities.

Quite. In the meantime, in Northern Ireland, the litany continues:

Michelin, 860 jobs, Tech Mahindra, 200 jobs at risk, 3M, 34 jobs, Portaferry Hotel, 20 jobs, Public Sector, 20,000 jobs, Queen’s University, 236 jobs, Ulster University, 210 jobs, Caterpillar, 20 jobs with more in JTI – (in the coming year), Sirocco, Clarke Quarrying, BelTel and Andor to come.

As one friend noted yesterday, this is all accompanied by

– surge in minimum-wage yet government-supported employment (call centres mostly)
– national broadband that is now recognisably behind everywhere else (yeah, Kelvin was “great” five years ago)
– cuts in FE and HE funding when really we needed to over invest in skills to beat the recession
– an actual energy crisis that threatens consumers as well as industry

That none of this is a matter of any political controversy outside civil society (and, ahem, Dail Eireann) tells you a lot about where we are right now.