Opinion

Brian Feeney: DUP persists in inflicting damage on north's economy

Brian Feeney

Brian Feeney

Historian and political commentator Brian Feeney has been a columnist with The Irish News for three decades. He is a former SDLP councillor in Belfast and co-author of the award-winning book Lost Lives

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson. Photo: Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire.
DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson. Photo: Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire.

Economics guru David McWilliams wrote in June that “partition has been an economic calamity” for the north.

His figures are irrefutable. In 1911 Belfast was the biggest city on the island. Two-thirds of the industrial production of the island came from the east of the place that was to become Northern Ireland. Protestants made up 26 per cent of the island’s population but constituted 40 per cent of the industrial population, again concentrated in the greater Belfast region.

Nowadays, as McWilliams shows, the Republic’s economy is six times larger than the north’s generated by a workforce only two and a half times bigger than the north’s. The north is entirely dependant on a hand-out from Britain. As McWilliams says, if it had to stand on its own with a budget deficit of 27 per cent of GDP, “it wouldn’t last a day”. The median income per head in the south is 30 per cent higher at €43,915 compared to €33,550 in the north – and the gap is widening.

That’s not to say that the south is nirvana. There’s a desperate housing crisis which is likely to do in the current government. There’s a crisis in healthcare and there’s a cost of living crisis with inflation and soaring energy bills like everywhere else. The point is that it’s much worse here because being attached to Britain and wholly dependant on Britain is calamitous.

The Resolution Foundation produced an excellent report last month called Stagnation Nation, a title which speaks for itself. Between 1970 and 2007 average UK wages rose 33 per cent per decade. They haven’t risen at all since 2008. In the meantime the rich got richer. Britain is an outstandingly unequal state. The standard of living of lower income people is falling. For example, the Resolution Foundation report shows that a typical low income household in Britain is £3,800 a year worse off than the equivalent family in France. Of course everything is much worse here, the UK’s poorest region, as Seamus Heaney said, “always sucking on the hind tit”.

As this paper’s Business Editor reported, families here have on average £93.50 a week left over after paying mortgage/rent, rates and energy bills. The UK average is £204. That means people here are disproportionately hit by the withdrawal of the Universal Credit rise. The bottom 20 per cent of households had a shortfall of £60 a week in June when the bills mentioned above are paid.

There’s only one bright spot in all this gloom: the protocol. As a result of access to both GB and EU the north performed better than any other UK region this year. Between January and April exports from south to north went up 40 per cent compared to 2021. Similarly business north-south also increased. Now here’s the thing. Both the British government and their DUP dupes want to abolish the advantage the protocol gives the north. In other words the DUP conspires with the British government to impoverish people here for reasons of dogma and ideology, not economics. Or, in the case of the DUP, is it even worse: just sentiment and emotion?

Jeffrey Donaldson let the cat out of the bag in 2019 when he told BBC he was prepared to “live with 40,000 job losses” so anxious was he to get a hard British border in Ireland. Then, as now, he denies reality. The DUP attitude also raises serious questions about the crisis in Invest NI whose report last week recorded failure to reach its targets. To what extent has the DUP been circumscribing Invest NI’s ability to promote the advantages of the protocol, thereby deliberately diminishing prospects of people’s prosperity here? We know the DUP has done its damnedest to frustrate Tourism NI operating, even advertising, on an all-island basis. They also support an Electronic Travel Authorisation to the north knowing that will further damage business here.

Curiously business and commerce here never question why the DUP consistently acts to damage the north economically.