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.


  • 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