Posted By: August 31, 2013


Patrick Murphy. Irish News ( Belfast). Saturday, September 31, 2013

With the likelihood of a united Ireland now gone, northern nationalists are
focussing instead on what they see as the next best thing - an all-Ireland economy.

It is, no doubt, a noble ideal - although ballad writers will find it harder to
capture heroic economic failure in the same way they romanticise political and
military defeat. (Can you imagine the Wolfe tones singing 'the tragedy of a
two-Currency Ireland'?)

On the plus side, economics is unlikely to provoke violence. (Although some might
advocate violence towards economists, since most of them failed to anticipate the
Irish economy's collapse.) So as we shuffle uncomfortably away from the defeat of
political nationalism (without a single ballad to lament the creation of a
two-nations Ireland) our two nationalist parties express a spectrum of economic
aspirations, from cross-border cooperation to an all-island economy. Having conceded
the principle of political partition, they will fight forthcoming elections on which
of them contains the most patriotic economists. their position has two supporting
arguments. the first is that unionist misrule has left a legacy of skewed economic
geography in the north, by concentrating infrastructure and investment in the east
of the state. Politically biased decisions included the new university (Coleraine),
the Northern Ireland Polytech (Jordanstown) and the new city (Portadown/Lurgan).

Only the M1 motorway went west, but that was to steer it away from Dublin or Derry.
Even the M2 does not aim for the Glenshane Pass.

All civil service departments had their headquarters in Belfast, with the exception
of the Department of Education - it was located in Bangor.

A second argument is efficiency of scale. Economic planning in both Irish states
cannot reasonably ignore an all-Ireland context, particularly in border regions. But
there are significant obstacles to north-south economic cooperation, including two
separate currencies and competition between two governments (which extends to within
Sinn Fein) for inward investment. These obstacles presumably explain why economic
nationalism has not progressed from party policy to Stormont practice. The
Executive's programme for government has no reference to cross-border economic
cooperation. Meanwhile, Sinn Fein criticises the existence of two separate education
systems on this island, while overseeing two academic selection systems in the one

Even the body charged with cross-border economic cooperation appears confused.
Intertrade Ireland (no hyphens, commas or spaces - it must be the recession) says
its job is to develop "linkages between Ireland and Northern Ireland". This conjures
an image of Northern Ireland floating freely somewhere off the coast of Cavan. Their
first step might be to master an all-Ireland vocabulary. Then there is the question
of possible ideological differences between governments. What sort of all-Ireland
economy do nationalists want - thatcherite, mixed or socialist? (You are right -
that was a silly question.) So how likely is an all-Ireland economy? As in the case
of Irish Home Rule 100 years ago, the answer depends on European politics. A century
ago, James Connolly pointed out that there was not much to choose between king and
kaiser. Today the king's granddaughter rules the Six Counties (she is also a
relative of the kaiser, but never mind) and Kaiser Merkel rules the Twenty Six. The
objective of the European Union (think Kaiser) is to create a single European
economy in one big federal state. The United Kingdom (think King) aims to reap the
benefits of a single European market, while remaining outside a unitary European

As long as Britain retains sterling, an all-Ireland economy is impossible. In the
unlikely event of Britain joining the Euro and conceding political independence, an
all-Ireland economy is inevitable. "Hurrah", you shout, as we throw our hats in the
air to commemorate people throwing their hats in the air one hundred years ago, when
they thought they had achieved Home Rule. But, like then, today's 'hurrah' is rather
premature, because an all-Ireland economy would just be an all-Europe economy in
Ireland. Union with Britain would have been replaced by union with Germany.

A century ago, Arthur Griffith placed a similar emphasis on economic nationalism,
advocating a self-sufficient island under the British Crown. To achieve his aim he
founded a new party. Its title, Sinn Fein (meaning 'Us') refers more to economic,
than political independence. So nationalists viewing Ireland in economic rather than
political terms, is nothing new. It reflects what happened 100 years ago, while this
time proclaiming loyalty to the EU Kaiser.

In many ways, modern nationalists are simply re-enacting a centenary, which is made
all the more endearing by the fact that it is not clear how many of them realise
what they are doing.