“Spending serious southern money in the North is a signpost few will miss.”

It’s worth sharing some of the detail from this excellent piece from Newton Emerson in the Irish Times on why (and how) the Shared Island Fund is a muscular declaration of tangible politics, rather than more the ‘painless waffle’ of promises that never get delivered…

The Shared Island initiative has been allocated €500 million over five years, an apparently trivial sum compared to Stormont’s £13.8 billion annual budget.

However, the funding is mainly for capital projects and is equivalent to 6 per cent of Stormont’s capital spending – a substantial and valid comparison. Nobody is expecting Dublin to contribute to Northern Ireland’s everyday running costs, yet.

That’s in total, and as Newton mentions, a lot of this will be spent in the border areas, but a lot won’t…

High-speed rail (or higher-speed rail, any rate) is seen as the initiative’s infrastructure flagship. It is unworkable without bypassing the Dart and commuter rail line through North Dublin, at astronomical expense and little benefit to the Republic alone.

About €100 million should be spent directly in Northern Ireland on the A5 dual carriageway, on the basis of connecting Dublin to Donegal. It appears that Derry will get most of the bricks and mortar investment in third-level educational co-operation.

In total, perhaps half of the €500 million could end up north of the border, equivalent to 3 per cent of Stormont’s capital budget. This is a great deal more than has ever been seen before.

Of course, there will be caution, particularly in Northern Ireland. The News Letter has already come out strongly to suggest that unionists should not touch a penny. Money has been promised for the A5 road before and not made it to the final phase when the recession bit and Fine Gael/Labour pulled it.

And to be effective it needs reciprocation from both London and Stormont. However, the money shot [Ahem – Ed] is how it delineates a key difference between real actions and the familiar old hollow pointless gesture:

This renewed first attempt at a major fiscal transfer could once again be seen as a political landmark. Money talks: it says the Republic’s aspiration to unity is more than painless waffle.

And finally, it shows just how tedious and time-wasting most of this consideration of a border poll that no main party in the Republic (including Sinn Féin) is willing to call…

It is a sharp correction to the nonsense that has so far passed for debate on all-Ireland economics. Some advocates for unification have claimed Northern Ireland requires little or no subsidy if mysterious British accounting tricks are disregarded, a denial so ignorant it feels disreputable even to engage with it. Other advocates claim Northern Ireland only needs a subsidy because it is an inevitable failure, as if regional funding is a unionist vice rather than a feature of every developed country.

Above all, money pays for real work to get on with while waiting for the two monoliths of the constitutional argument to shift very slightly in any direction. It is presumably the most effective pitch to Northern Ireland’s growing unaligned bloc, the decisive voters in any Border poll, who should prefer pragmatism to nationalism by definition. Investing in infrastructure, education and other forms of cross-Border development could reduce the North’s need for regional funding, or change the terms in which it is viewed.

The EU clearly believes there is an identity-building effect to such investment, which is partly why it insists on having its logo prominently displayed beside new roads and railways. [emphasis added]

Welcome back to the real world…

Photo by jarmoluk is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA