Unionists regularly complain that no one advocating Irish unity ever presents a case for the economic advantages of unity.
Other unionists say the Irish Republic couldn’t afford the north, couldn’t pay to maintain the standard of living here and even, couldn’t pay the welfare benefits people here are used to. Most of these objections are based on complete ignorance, some on received prejudices about the south which were out of date a generation ago. All of them are nonsense.
The fact is that there are several presentations demonstrating the economic advantages of unity in one form or another but when they are published they are either ignored or pooh-poohed as, ‘following the Sinn Féin agenda’ or the ‘Sinn Féin playbook’ or ‘playing into the hands of Sinn Féin’. You’ve heard that refrain ad nauseam. No unionist has ever seriously examined any of the arguments, probably because, as Peter Robinson reminded them last week, they prefer to stick their heads so far into the sand that only their feet remain visible.
The latest, and so far most valuable economic report, was compiled by Paul Gosling and Pat McArt. Typically, it received little coverage. Derry based Gosling, a well-regarded economist and no wild-eyed republican, laid out his case at the west Belfast Feile last week to precious little notice.
It comes in two parts. First, a century of partition has impoverished the north and secondly, it will take years of investment and economic restructuring by an all-Ireland government with EU subsidies to raise the standard of living here and rescue the north from the certain basket case that Brexit will guarantee for it thanks to the DUP propping up this demented British government.
First the deleterious effects of partition. It has reversed the north’s position as the most prosperous part of the island. In 1920 the greater Belfast area, with Belfast the biggest city on the island, produced 80 per cent of Irish industrial output. Now the Republic’s economy is four times the size of the north’s and its industrial output ten times larger. Exports from the Republic are seventeen times those from the north. Last year economic growth here was 1.4 per cent compared to 4.9 per cent in the Republic. Average income in 2017 in the south was €39,873 compared to €23,700 here. It’s true higher living costs in the south blunt that difference but that far from wipes out the disparity where a worker in the south is paid half as much again as a northern worker, more if you add in the fall in the value of the pound since June 2016.
The economist David McWilliams in December 2017 showed that in the last sixty years incomes in the south have grown by a factor of twenty while here they have grown by five. Welfare payments in the Republic like the equivalent of Job Seekers Allowance or the new draconian Universal Credit system are more than twice as high as here.
Those are just a few figures to illustrate the failure of partition which prevented the north developing its own appropriate economic policies separate from those London dictated.
In the event of unity the north would immediately return to the EU. Gosling argues that the EU will assist in restructuring costs as it did with German unification after 1990. The European Investment Bank would play a key role supplying cheap borrowing to develop an integrated Irish economy. Britain would be responsible for all pension, redundancy and much restructuring costs since the huge public sector in the north has been paying into both state and occupational pensions and indeed the whole population has been paying into state benefits. This arrangement would continue until at least 2050.
Remember, despite leaving the EU Britain will have to pay billions for its own EU civil servants’ and MEPs’ pensions for decades. Finally, Britain needs to address the infrastructure deficit here caused by its chronic under-investment in roads, water, sewage, health and rail.
Gosling is not alone in producing economic proposals which demonstrate that Irish unity will be beneficial to all on the island but particularly to the north which lags at the bottom of European growth charts. He is not alone either in having them ignored by governments and unionists.