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'Disappointing' NI economy is lagging behind UK and Ireland

A fall in production output was blamed for the lack of growth in the Northern Ireland economy
Gareth McKeown

THE north's economy has suffered a decline against the backdrop of overall growth in the UK according to new government figures.

The Northern Ireland Composite Economic Index (NICEI) covering the 12 months up to December 2017 shows economic activity fell by 0.2 per cent. This in comparison to growth of 1.4 per cent in the UK and a jump of 7.8 per cent in the Republic of Ireland. The fall was attributed to a decrease in production sector output, which includes manufacturing.

There was some good news though for the local economy over the last quarter of 2017 as the economy grew by 0.4 per cent, the same growth recorded in the UK, but again lower than the Republic's rate of 3.2 per cent.

The boost to the Northern Ireland economy was driven by increases in the construction, production, services and public sectors, which each contributed 0.1 percentage points to the quarterly growth rate. However, despite the positive performance over the quarter the NICEI is currently 5.6 per cent below the maximum value recorded in 2007.

The north's private sector grew by 0.4 per cent over the last quarter of 2017, but decreased by 0.3 per cent over the year, while the public sector jobs index showed a 0.4 per cent rise the quarter and 0.3 per cent climb over the year.

Looking at the past two years there is evidence the overall Northern Ireland economy is slowing with the rate of 1.1 per cent growth over the two years to the end of 2017, less than the 1.5 per cent recorded in the 24 months up to the end of 2016.

Senior economist at the Ulster University Economic Policy Centre, Dr Esmond Birnie said the latest results make for "uncomfortable reading".

"At the end of 2017 the economy was still growing, but there were clear indications that the strength of our rather incomplete economic recovery is draining away," he said.

"In short, a disappointing performance and one that becomes especially challenging as we linger in a situation of no or semi government with a consequent policy vacuum.”

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