Paul Gosling is a freelance economic journalist of some repute. He speaks as he writes: in plain English, explaining terms as he goes. While he’s lived up in the north west long enough to be an ‘honorary’ Derry man, he’s more of an outsider than most other local economic commentators or economists.
He co-authored A New Union: A New Society – Ireland 2050 along with Pat Mc Art. Published in June, the report aims to inform and stir up debate with its vision of how an economic and political settlement might be able to “satisfy, at least partially, the aspirations of unionists across this island and provide a way forward in which unionists as well as nationalists/republicans can engage with, support and commit to” in the context of a New Ireland.
Paul discussed aspects of the report on Friday at Féile an Phobail event chaired by Bill Rolston.
He began by commenting that while “the economy in the south is strong … the Northern Ireland economy is weak”, though he noted it was “not universally weak”. This can be seen in the “manipulated” official stats that show a high rate employment but don’t highlight the large number of people economically inactive.
The level of employment varies greatly across NI, and the overall rate is lower than GB.
He pointed to a lack of a distinctive economic policy for Northern Ireland.
Numbers of NI undergraduates are lower per capita than across the UK as a whole.
While UK productivity is lower than the other G7 economies, NI’s productivity is weaker than the rest of the UK, and areas like the north west are below NI’s average level of productivity.
And when economic growth is compared across the island of Ireland – quoting figures from EY’s Economic Eye report – NI’s growth of 1.4% last year is nearly four times lower than the Republic of Ireland (4.9%).
Never mind reports that say we’re on the edge of (another) recession.
And a report today saying we’re on edge of recession
“We were promised a peace dividend off the back of the Good Friday Agreement … it has not come … the gap in the employment rate between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK has grown since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.”
It’s a “failure of the UK government to recognise its responsibility” and “one reason that peace has not been solidified”.
On Brexit, Gosling believes that it “will clearly be damaging”. He predicts that the Northern Ireland economy will be between 2.5% and 10% smaller than it would have been without Brexit.
He explained to the Féile audience why big companies like Bombardier and Wrightbus are worried about markets in Great Britain as their trade tends to be east-west, and their individual transactions have the greatest value.
Meanwhile, SMEs – who have the greatest volume of transacitons – are more worried about north-south trade.
Paul reminded the audience about the scale of pubic spending in Northern Ireland, the area with the highest public spend per person in the UK.
Official figures explain that the annual net cost to the UK being in the European Union is £8.1 billion. Whereas the size of the annual subvention to Northern Ireland is a whopping £9.2 billion.
It costs more for Northern Ireland to be within the UK than for the UK to be in the EU!
He asked: “why does the United Kingdom pay £9.2 billion a year to keep Northern Ireland?”
While supportive of a border poll, Paul explained during the Q&A that he believes that there is no rush. Better to wait for the impact of Brexit to hit, show how the Irish economy weathers it while the north struggles, and then make a call for a poll.
Any exit from the UK should not be “big bang”.
“We need to get to a negotiated solution in which we move stage-by-stage to a United Ireland because it is in the interest of the Great Britain taxpayer that they reduce the cost of Northern Ireland.”
Paul calculates that the subvention would be somewhat lower if Northern Ireland belonged to the Republic of Ireland rather than the United Kingdom. Some costs wouldn’t transfer across, or would be substantially lower: eg, contribution to defence spending, paying off the UK debt, smaller matters like the Royal Family.
However, we warns that some costs would increase.
In particular the health service in the south needs to match where the National Health Service in the north should be … before it will be attractive.
Greater investment is needed in the north – including Donegal – to drive the economy forward.
“Economically I believe that a United Ireland is achievable: the things that are needed to make the economy work in Northern Ireland are needed whether we remain as part of the UK or as an all island.”
But Paul warned the Féile audience that a broad platform must be assembled to do the persuasion in order to overcome unionist suspicion and traditional outright rejection of anything seen as a Sinn Féin campaign.
The 60 page report is unionist-friendly and it’s a great starting point for those who agree with Peter Robinson’s assertion that contingency planning is as crucial in politics as it is in business.
Alan Meban. Normally to be found blogging over at Alan in Belfast where you’ll find an irregular set of postings, weaving an intricate pattern around a diverse set of subjects. Comment on cinema, books, technology and the occasional rant about life. On Slugger, the posts will mainly be about political events and processes. Tweets as @alaninbelfast.