Neale Richmond: Ireland north and south needs to work together to reap economic dividends

Minister of State, Fine Gael’s Neale Richmond
Minister of State, Fine Gael’s Neale Richmond Minister of State, Fine Gael’s Neale Richmond

I recently addressed the Thomas D’Arcy McGee Summer School in Carlingford where the theme of the discussion was ‘towards the next 25 years’ of the Good Friday Agreement.

I took the opportunity to discuss the progress of the past 25 years, and the peace and economic dividends of the Agreement.

Has the Good Friday Agreement delivered? While it would be wrong to say that all violence in Northern Ireland ended in 1998, the security situation in Northern Ireland today bears little resemblance to that of 25 years ago and that is a fairly substantial delivery.

This is of course, transformative, but have we seen the economic benefits of this peace? Northern Ireland’s economy was massively impacted by the Troubles, its GDP reduced by 10 per cent and 46,000 potential jobs went elsewhere.

However, over the past 25 years, we have not seen the economic recovery that many hoped for. We cannot talk about Northern Ireland’s economy without mentioning Brexit and the Windsor Framework.

Though it may have taken years to reach this point, the Windsor Framework can be revolutionary for Northern Irish businesses.

Not only do they have certainty, but they have full access to both the EU and UK markets. Of course, we would prefer that this access came through EU membership, but we have to move on with the deal at hand.

Nowhere else in the world has the same access that Northern Ireland does: it should be a magnet for investment.

Neale Richmond says both sides of the island need to work together to reap economic benefits
Neale Richmond says both sides of the island need to work together to reap economic benefits Neale Richmond says both sides of the island need to work together to reap economic benefits

Predictions have been made that the Framework could help boost GDP by up to 50 per cent over the next decade, create up to 33,000 jobs, boost tourism and much more.

The all-island economy is a major selling point as when businesses look to Northern Ireland for investment, what they have before them is also the entire island.

We should not be competing against each other but instead working together. I want to see all corners of our island thrive and if we focus on increasing our economic links then this will be a reality.

The fact is that a more economically linked island of Ireland benefits absolutely everyone, regardless of their aspirations for the future.

This work is already ongoing, through organisations such as the Dublin-Belfast Economic Corridor and InterTradeIreland. According to their research, businesses who utilise the all-island economy have higher productivity, higher turnover and employ more people.

This all sounds fantastic, but without political leadership from all political persuasions actively working to attract this investment to Northern Ireland, the full potential may not be reached. Let’s look at the approach in the South, there is a huge amount of work done by State Agencies such as the IDA and Enterprise Ireland who, along with Irish Ministers, travel the world and sell Ireland as a place to do business.

The absence of a functioning Executive is undoubtedly difficult for Northern Ireland. With no Executive, there are no Ministers to make these trips, no representative of the people to sell Northern Ireland directly to businesses across the world.

I would love to have a counterpart in Northern Ireland who I could meet with on a regular basis, sit down and thrash out the issues that impact businesses and retailers in both of our jurisdictions so we can find common solutions.

The Anglo-Irish relationship has improved significantly over the past year, and I wish the same for Northern Ireland.

So, to answer my earlier question, has the economic aspect of the peace dividend come to Northern Ireland?

The honest answer may be no, but I think that this can soon change. If the political dividend could move forward alongside the economic, Northern Ireland will be unstoppable.

:: Neale Richmond, Fine Gael TD and Minister at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment with special responsibility for Employment Affairs and Retai, Dublin Rathdown