Category Archives: Commentary

Bold statements, bald facts

 

 

 

 

According to Brian Feeney: “Reality is that a century of partition has left the north much poorer than the south.” (£)

No one can deny Brian Feeney loves a sweeping statement: “Irish unity will be beneficial to all on the island” – everyone’s a winner  – he says, based supposedly on a report by Paul Gosling and Pat McArt. This may be the same as the report reviewed earlier on This Union, as the claims are as strange as ever. Or it could be from A New Union: A New Society – Ireland 2050 which does credit Pat McArt and appears on Gosling’s website in June, using the earlier report for economic points.

In fact, that The economic impact of an all-island economy published earlier this year assumed unity would be accompanied by quite a major reduction in public sector jobs and spending in Northern Ireland – despite the significant impact that could be expected on the NI economy from this cut, there was no accompanying indication on how the private sector might be able to compensate as local spending power diminishes, significantly. Besides…

Two major fallacies are repeated in Feeney’s article.

First, the relative economic decline of Ulster after the 1920s cannot be attributed to Partition. Exports from Northern Ireland to Southern Ireland were always relatively low so the impact of any loss of a market there was a small factor. Northern Ireland does have a longstanding competitiveness problem, but the creation of a border isn’t either cause or consequence.

Second, somewhat undermining Feeney’s stated assumptions about the strength of a post-unity Irish economy, he repeats the presumption that a subsidy from Whitehall should continue after unity.

Some may find it comforting to assume, as Feeney does, that Westminster caused an investment deficit in NI. The facts are otherwise:

  • for decades public spending per head had been above the UK average.
  • Westminster or Whitehall cannot be blamed that so much money had to be spent on combatting terrorism.
  • NI spending per head on health has exceeded, consistently, the rest of the UK.

Finally:

  • Northern Ireland had a devolved Government during 2007-17. Surely it bears some responsibility for spending decisions?

Brian Feeney’s bold sweeping statements are a bit bald on facts.

 

 

Dr Esmond Birnie – Economist

Blue sky thinking?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a recent report, The Economic Impact of an All Island Economy, the journalist Paul Gosling argues the case for unity. He summarised his point of view in an article in the Belfast Telegraph; 22 February, “Unionists are facing a perfect storm of Brexit and demographic shift”.

His arguments are in some ways strange.

The DUP prioritised The Union. Unionists do that.

 

 

 

 

 

The whole point of the DUP is to safeguard Northern Ireland’s position within the UK. As unionists, they believe in the nation state and see the UK as the rock on which our prosperity, security and identity is built.

It is unsurprising that these views have lead them into a strongly pro-Brexit stance, though even then there is a pragmatism to their politics that is sometimes missed. The government would have known what the DUP’s red lines were before the latest round of talks hit the buffers.

The Irish government denies the charge that it asked that Monday’s Brexit paper be kept from the DUP, but the reality is that the DUP had received only an emollient verbal briefing and had been asking for days to see a paper. It was passed to them only as Theresa May was going to lunch in Brussels; the frantic phone calls that followed stopped the deal in its tracks.

The issue of the Irish border is important, but not as challenging as the Irish government has made it.

The UK is trading just fine, together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a brief response to Ed Conway “The UK is becoming a disunited Kingdom”writing in The Times (£) on 8th December. 

Mr Conway – Sky News Economics Editor – argues that the various UK regions do not constitute an “optimal currency area” and should not be sharing a single UK market and common currency.

Normally questions of single markets and currency areas would be the stuff of arcane economics – the sort of thing I’d be teaching to second and third year university students. However, it is pretty clear how commentary like Mr Conway’s could play into some current debates.

An intuitive presentation of what an optimal currency area might go something like this- because Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Newcastle-under-Lyme and Newcastle County Down do a lot of trade together it makes most sense that they share a currency: the pound sterling.

But imagine a town called Neuburg in Germany, the flow of trade between Germany and any of the UK Newcastles would be much smaller. Also, many other economic conditions would vary between the UK and Germany. Therefore, it makes sense for the UK to use the pound and Germany to use a different currency (the Euro, at the moment).

But, back to Mr Conway.

His argument that the UK-wide single market and currency area is breaking up is rather exaggerated.

He claims, for example:

 “…Northern Ireland is edging closer to its immediate neighbour”

However, the most recent data show that 86% of all of the sales of the Northern Ireland economy stay within the UK – 66% to Northern Ireland itself and the rest to GB – compared to only 5% to the Republic of Ireland.

Other UK regions are also trade dependent on the rest of the UK.

The UK optimal currency area/single market still has a strong economic rationale.

 

Dr Esmond Birnie – Economist

That was the deal that wasn’t.

 

 

 

 

 

What might have been the economic impact on Northern Ireland if the Prime Minister had in fact accepted the deal which was proposed by Brussels on the morning of Monday 4 December? Here are some key points:

  1. In order to ensure regulations continued to be aligned between Northern Ireland and the EU notwithstanding any changes in the rest of the UK, this deal implied a substantial increase in the extent of devolution to Northern Ireland.

That begs several questions. Even if we assume devolution can be restored, would it be sensible to give Stormont extra powers when we’ve seen just how erratic the progress of devolved government has been in its almost 20 years 1999-2017?

  1. If regulatory harmony between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (plus the other 26 EU members) is obtained at the price of opening up a regulatory gap between Northern Ireland and Great Britain that will imply a very large economic cost.

A sensible deal on the Northern Ireland border is very achievable

 

 

 

 

 

Brussels and Dublin should stop playing games.

Hell hath no fury like a Commission scorned.

Since the UK is breaking up the European Commission’s cherished Union, the Commission retaliates by supporting those wishing to break up the UK.

The first attempt was Jean-Claude Juncker’s wooing of Nicola Sturgeon when she visited Brussels to drum up support for Scottish independence. The hugs and kisses to camera signified EU support for her efforts, but it all came to nought as falling oil prices rendered an independent Scotland financially unviable.

The second attempt will be equally futile but could cause trouble along the way. This is the suggestion in a Commission document ‘Dialogue on Ireland/Northern Ireland’, leaked last week, that ‘it is essential that the UK commits to avoiding a hard border by remaining part of the EU customs union, and continues to abide by the rules of the EU single market and customs union’.

Mind your language

 

 

 

 

 

Ever since Irish Republicans realised they had lost their so-called ‘armed conflict’ there was no doubt that culture wars would emerge to take precedence. That became apparent in the development of residents’ groups and the demonization of parading – it was no coincidence that among the first targets were parades relating to Somme Commemoration.

The latest frontier is the Irish language – rather the specific Irish Language Act,  the latest campaign on the front line of Sinn Fein’s culture war; though forays have been taking place for many years locally.

So far the campaign promoting an Irish Language Act in Northern Ireland has been notable by its crude rhetorical bombardment on, and desperate frontal assaults against, logic and common sense.

We need new arguments not new parties

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

It’s become common to assert that Brexit has changed the contours of British politics forever.

That remains to be seen. After the UK leaves the EU, older loyalties and divisions may re-emerge, as allegiances and rivalries that developed since the referendum become irrelevant.

That hasn’t prevented some fairly animated discussion about the potential for new parties to reflect a ‘realignment’ of politics after Brexit.

History repeating

 

 

 

As you approach the Military Museum in Vienna there is a large sign at the entrance proclaiming ‘Kriege gehoeren ins Museum’ (wars belong in the museum). That is a fine sentiment indeed and a striking one.

If you are interested in the wars of the Habsburg Monarchy – especially the Empire’s calamitous experience in the First World War – then the Military Museum is a must see if you are ever in the city.

Austrians are, however, still reluctant to devote the same attention to the country’s incorporation into the Third Reich and its military role in the Second World War.

It isn’t that there is no information. It isn’t that the appeal of Hitler and Nazism is ignored. It’s just that 1939-45 appears to be someone else’s war – suggesting that some wars don’t belong so easily in museums after all.

Despite this coyness, one exhibit is striking.

EU’s position on ‘Ireland’ is neither coherent nor constructive

 

 

 

 

 

Last month the government published its Brexit position paper on ‘Northern Ireland and Ireland’ (by which it meant the Irish Republic). It was hardly a scintillating document, but at least it tried to imagine how a ‘seamless and frictionless’ border might work in practice.

In response, the EU Commission issued a set of truculent and unhelpful ‘Guiding principles for the dialogue on Ireland / Northern Ireland’.