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Northern Ireland economy 'could take a generation to recover'

Construction output was down in the north in the last quarter if 2019 - long before coronavirus hit
Gary McDonald Business Editor

IT could be a generation until people in Northern Ireland enjoy anything like the boom times of the early and mid-noughties, new data is suggesting.

With hundreds of millions of pounds being thrown at dealing with the immediacy of coronavirus - money which will ultimately have to be paid back - Ulster University economists claim the north's economy is set to shrink by as much as 10 per cent this year as 250,000 workers are signed on to the government’s job retention scheme.

And separate figures revealed that the region's economic output increased by 0.2 per cent in the October-December quarter and by 0.6 per cent over the year.

That is still four whole percentage points below where it was in the boom days of spring 2007.

And with another recession now inevitable when the UK emerges from the current covid catastrophe, it will could be at least a decade - but likely much longer - until the economy gets back on an even keel.

Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey says: "Quarter two 2020 will be a freak economic indicator fest. Private sector output fell 13 per cent in the last recession, Q2 2007 to Q2 2013).

"But that fall, over six years, is likely to be exceeded in just one quarter."

It comes as a report for the Ulster University Economic Policy Centre (UUEPC) painted a grim picture of the economy in the short term.

Its director Gareth Hetherington said: "This crisis is unique, because never before have governments collectively told their populations to stay at home and in doing so shut down a significant proportion of global economic capacity."

He added: "It's quite correct to prioritise public health, but economic recessions and depressions also come with a significant human cost.

"But the unenviable decision facing our political leaders will be how to balance public health and economic normalisation.

"The timing of that decision will be very difficult and highly contentious."

Meanwhile another regular business barometer out yesterday, looking at construction output by Northern Ireland firms, found that in the fourth quarter of 2019 workloads were down 1.2 per cent on the previous three months and 1.3 per cent down on the same quarter in 2018.

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