Northern Ireland

Platform: The Alliance economic vision for a shared island

Better linking north and south for the mutual benefit of every one of us

Alliance MLA David Honeyford
Alliance MLA David Honeyford

“It’s the economy, stupid” was the famous catchphrase that spurred Bill Clinton to triumph over George Bush Sr in the 1992 US presidential election, the question being “Change? or More of the same?”

Change is the only option we have in Northern Ireland, “More of the same” is no-longer sustainable.

Our economy is believed to have been in deficit since the 1930s and is heavily reliant on the public sector.

This is unsustainable and the resulting squeeze has been brought into sharp focus by the UK Treasury’s below-need funding of Northern Ireland spending.

We can no longer afford to view the economy as a side issue; our economy is central to creating our future. This affects job opportunities, the amount of money each of us has in our pockets, our mortgage or rent payments and our energy costs, to name a few.

Our economic success is also central to funding our public services, to reforming and improving them.

I recently met with the Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Hilary Benn and a delegation of his fellow Labour MPs.

One of these was Greater Manchester MP Mike Kane. We discussed the similarities between our local economies. I asked him simply: “What’s the first thing you do to fix this in Manchester?” His answer was swift and to the point: “We need better connectivity to the south, fast railways, etc.”

To drive our economic growth, Alliance believes we need to implement something very similar on this island, better linking north and south for the mutual benefit of every one of us.

Focusing on collaboration and connectivity, it would include fast railways between Derry-Londonderry, Belfast, Dublin and Cork. It would include the A1 and A5 road upgrades. Connectivity, bringing more European, American and international air connections. All of this would help reposition and focus growth towards the north.

Our business community is already leading this economic change. Increased trade values have exploded post-Brexit.

Alliance aspires to enhanced north/south economic co-operation, bringing shared economic opportunity across the island of Ireland, alongside continuing to support our trade with Great Britain, which remains our largest trading partner.

With dual market access into the European Union, there also needs to be an urgent focus on developing EU trade links.

To grow our foreign direct investment, Invest NI should be working together in partnership with the south’s investment body, the IDA, to attract investment north of the border and not trying to compete with them. Marketing ourselves to the world, much as we already do with tourism. Prioritising working together to deliver jobs, investment and raising our GDP.

If we are to fully exploit the dual market access it is essential that we focus on delivery now. It requires more than words but needs action. It’s about demanding better.

In order to address our productivity, we must value all education achievement equally, including all-age apprenticeships and skills opportunities; something my Alliance colleague Sorcha Eastwood MLA has promoted as a vital priority.

We need to develop our Further Education colleges along the lines of the technical university model, which operates successfully across Europe. They will operate in synergy with our research universities at Queen’s and Ulster University.

Sticking with the subject of academic partnership, the arbitrary barriers to northern students applying to universities in the south must be removed. A-level results are currently undervalued under the south’s admissions system. This inequity can easily be resolved with a little imagination and partnership.

“It’s the economy stupid.”

The Alliance vision looks to a future of opportunity, hope and ambition, working together to deliver change. It is driven by the value of making life better here; opening up possibilities of mutual benefit for everyone.

:: David Honeyford is the Alliance spokesperson for economy, trade and industry