No real surprise here, but worth noting the response of the two main Unionist parties to the launch of the Modeling Irish Unification. The report was launched this morning at The MAC in Belfast with Sinn Fein, SDLP MLAs and economists in the audience.
This report argues that Irish unity could potentially bring a €35.6 billion boost in GDP for the island in the first eight years.
Responding for the UUP, Steve Aiken argues that the reports main conclusions are flawed;
The report by academics from the University of British Columbia may indeed be well-intentioned but its conclusions are flawed. The notion that a United Ireland would see £25 billion of economic gains if only the border was to be removed is fantasy economics of the highest order. It was a Minister in the Republic, Jimmy Deenihan, who said ‘Ireland cannot afford a united Ireland.’
The idea that the border is or has been the main brake on economic development in Northern Ireland or the Republic is simply not credible. The Troubles saw the IRA deliberately target the Northern Ireland economy and our infrastructure. The Ulster Unionist Party is in no doubt that a prolonged period of sustained peace and political stability is what is required to help rebuild our economy rather than Irish unity.
Firstly, the report conveniently ignores the fact that the Union enjoys overwhelming support amongst the people of Northern Ireland as evidenced in successive elections and a variety of official statistics including census data and Life & Times surveys.
Secondly, Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, the fifth largest economy in the world. Indeed when the Republic’s economy crashed in 2010 and required a 67 billion Euro bailout to stave off an economic and societal meltdown, it was the UK Government that provided 8.5 billion Euro directly, and an additional 18 billion Euro to bail out the Ulster Bank to support our neighbours in the Republic and avoid a catastrophe.
The legacy of these events is huge, with the Republic’s total debt (2016) projected to be around 206 billion Euro (or 98.4% of GDP, excluding future pension liabilities).
Thirdly, it costs 22 billion sterling to run Northern Ireland each year. The difference between that figure and the tax received by the exchequer is around 9.5 billion sterling and this figure would substantially increase with thousands of layoffs in unwanted civil service and other public sector roles as an integration process commenced.
Furthermore there would be increased costs in terms of tax harmonisation and major issues with regard to the future of the NHS. I for one doubt if people in Northern Ireland would vote for increased taxes and a health system in which they have to pay for visits to GPs, A&E, and compulsory health insurance.
Fourthly, some of the models quoted include German reunification and potential Korean re-unification. With the greatest respect to the Republic of Ireland, its economy is not comparable to the powerhouse that was West Germany, or the success story that has been South Korea.
For the DUP, Gordon Lyons MLA has been quoted in today’s Irish News dismissing the report at “Gerry Adams style economics”
Support for the union has never been higher in Northern Ireland because people see the value of our NHS and being part of one of the world’s largest economies, as well as many other positives of being in the United Kingdom.
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs