Leading economist David McWilliams says DUP needs 'prosperity, not Protestantism' to prevent united Ireland

Economist David McWilliams said politicians in the Republic are talking about Irish unity in a way he has not heard before
Digital staff

A leading economist has said embracing 'special status' for Northern Ireland is "unionism's only long-term option" as Irish unity becomes a more realistic prospect.

David McWilliams said Brexit has accelerated the demographic impetus towards a united Ireland - something he insists is economically viable.

The Dubliner, who is married to a northern Protestant and travels regularly across the border, was writing in the Financial Times ahead of a Féile an Phobail appearance in Belfast next week to discuss 'Why the idea of a united Ireland is back in play'.

The author of best-selling books including The Pope's Children claimed the DUP's decision to champion Brexit "is looking increasingly like an own goal" as opinion polls suggest a majority in the north now favour entering a political and economic alliance with the Republic if it would help the economy.

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Mr McWilliams pointed to demographic changes, with census figures showing that while Protestants easily outnumber Catholics in the elderly population, the split among children born since 2008 is 34 per cent Protestant and 45 per cent Catholic


On the economics of unification, he said while at the time of partition the six northern counties accounted for 80 per cent of the island's industrial output, "commercially the union has been a calamity for Northern Ireland".

"Exports of goods and services from the Republic are €282.4bn; total exports from the north stand at a paltry €10.1bn. This obviously reflects the investment of multinationals, but it also underscores just how far ahead is the Republic’s industrial base."

Mr McWilliams added that while the UK's annual subvention to the north of just over €10bn annually appears a significant figure, Northern Ireland "would cost less than 4 per cent of the Irish Republic’s GDP annually".

"In pure budgetary terms, there is little doubt that the Republic’s economy could absorb the north and this is before the commercial dynamism of unification kicks in."

He said: "Demographics imply that unionists will soon need nationalists to vote unionist to preserve the union. This will only happen if Northern Ireland is prosperous and open, rendering the union more attractive for middle-class Catholics than joining the resurgent, tolerant Republic.

"Arguably the best way Northern Ireland might achieve this is by embracing the 'special status' trading option offered by the EU, whereby Northern Ireland would be a special trading region within both the EU and the UK. Investment would flood into Northern Ireland, the type of investment that has made the Republic wealthy.

"This is unionism’s only long-term option. Prosperity, not Protestantism, will save the union. Right now the biggest threat to this is the DUP and their Brexiter allies."

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