Sunday, 19 June 2011
Unifying Ireland: the economic case
Sinn Féin hosted a conference in Dublin yesterday titled "Unifying Ireland". It had an impressive array of speakers - Gerry Adams, Pearse Doherty, Mary-Lou McDonald - but it also had non-Shinner people - Dr Pádraic White, ex-Managing Director of the IDA and Dr. John Bradley, an economic consultant who was formerly an ESRI Research Professor and advises the European Commission, the World Bank and others. The talks were informative - did you know, for example, that business people north and south don't particularly mind two different currencies, it's when their relative value fluctuates that they get twitchy? Or that the foreign direct investment firms in the south are weathering the recession pretty well, it's the indigenous firms that are taking a pounding.
A few points.
One, even if there were no economic case - if research showed that an all-island, unified economy would make Ireland less well-off than before, I'd still favour Irish unity and independence, for the same reason I wouldn't have wanted the man next door to rear two of my children, even if he had given them a better standard of living. In other words, the economic argument for or against Irish re-unification may be very important, but there are political, social and even moral reasons that trump it.
Two, while the economic points made at the conference - about the currencies, for example - were interesting and informative, none of the speakers answered a crucial question: is there a major study showing a unified economy would be better (or worse) than our present ruptured north-south economy? You hear statements from both sides: of course duplication of business and services is wasteful, of course duplication of business and services is really good. Either there is no independent, objective study which places the partitioned cost alongside what unified cost might look like, or people are busy hiding it. There were small-scale examples offered by several speakers that suggested unified cross-border health services, for example, or integrated business would benefit north and south, but no big, detailed study.
Why do I think it would make a helluva lot of sense for such a study - far-reaching, rigorously objective and independent - to be done as soon as possible? Because we need the facts. If, as nationalists/republicans claim, partition means duplication means we all pay more, I have little doubt pragmatic unionists would look at it long and hard. If on the other hand the study shows that partition does not mean waste, so be it. Those who think a re-united Ireland is a good idea would have to abandon the economic argument and produce other grounds. At the moment, the economic argument is fascinating, frequently-cited but bitty and lacking supportive data.
The truth - all of it - is out there. All of us, nationalist, republican and unionist, Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter should be given it.