The North is a failed political and economic entity

Posted By: August 26, 2020

Distributed to Congress by Irish National Caucus
“Belfast columnist Brian Feeney continues to speak truth to power with his no nonsense articles. In this article he explains that Northern Ireland/The North is not only a failed political state but also a failed economic entity.”
—Fr. Sean McManus

In 1920 The North was twice as rich as the south, now it is twice as poor

Brian Feeney, Irish News. Belfast. Wednesday, August 26, 2020

 Michelle O’Neill was indisputably correct when she responded to Boris Johnson’s absurd boosterism about celebrating the centenary of the north as part of “the most successful political union in the world”.

 She said there’s nothing to celebrate. The evidence is overwhelming that The North has been, and is, a failed political entity. It’s undeniable. Despite repeated attempts to shore it up with various ingenious devices its institutions lurch from crisis to crisis and stand-off to stand-off: the present executive is dysfunctional.

However, the emphasis on the continuous political mess means not enough attention is paid to The North’s abject failure as an economic region, disastrous for all its people. There’s an interview on YouTube between the economist David McWilliams and the writer Martina Devlin on West Belfast’s virtual Féile on August 6. It should be compulsory viewing for Unionists as McWilliams pulls apart all the false history and illusory assumptions Unionists still believe. Why would they not believe? Their leaders never tell them the truth.

You can see why the millionaire industrialists who ran this place on cheap mass labor a century ago wanted to break away from the rest of the island. In 1920, 80 per cent of the wealth of the island was generated in Belfast and the three adjacent counties. Belfast was the biggest city on the island, a center of industrial technology and innovation. Now the situation is reversed. The North is an economic backwater, like East Germany compared to West Germany before 1989.

 The “Union” [ with Britain] has crippled The North whereas independence has enriched the south, especially since 1998. Ironically the peace dividend went south because, as a sovereign state, it can manage its own economy and not depend on handouts from the EU (soon to end) and London. Being attached to an ever centralizing UK government has been profoundly damaging economically for The North just as for Scotland, Wales, and indeed the north of England.

 In 1920 the north was twice as rich as the south. Now the north is twice as poor. Check it out. McWilliams pours out the figures, the painful facts. The southern economy is about €300 billion;

The North’s is about €50 billion. The North paid for itself until the 1940s, then after the war industrialism and manufacturing slowly collapsed. Now The North requires an annual £10 billion subsidy from London, the reality of which is disputed by many; that’s about 4 per cent of the Republic’s GDP. The Republic’s economy is four times bigger than The North’s, generated by a workforce only two and a half times bigger. The Republic’s industrial output is ten times larger and its exports 17 times larger. Average income per head in the south is €40,000 compared to €24,000 here. Unemployment benefit in the south starts at €185 a week; here it starts at £58.

 In contrast to 1920,  Dublin is now three times bigger than Belfast, with a cosmopolitan population of about 1.5 million and home to hundreds of international companies. TikTok is setting up its European HQ in the south in the next year or so. McWilliams has what he calls his ‘Trip Advisor test’ for prosperity and lifestyle. Armagh and Kilkenny, similar sizes, both have city status. Trip Advisor reviews 176 restaurants in Kilkenny but just 73 in Armagh. Coleraine has a mere 58, Antrim 43.

 As McWilliams says, partition is like an economic laboratory experiment. You set up two jurisdictions, one independent, one dependent, and see how they fare. The results are in. After 100 years what passes for the economy in The North (and many would deny The North has an economy, so dependent is it) is profoundly worse than the Republic’s. The fact is that The North has everything to gain from economic unity.

 Admittedly, not a word of this will convince anyone voting DUP. However, the number of people available to vote Unionist is declining rapidly, a decline which Brexit and demography will accelerate.