Did you see that little news item about Wales around the beginning of August? It featured a report issued by researchers in Harvard which argued that if Wales had been independent since 1990, the people of that country would be nearly 40% better off today. “Opponents of independence and further devolution have often misused the current economic problems to suggest that small countries would struggle for survival in tough economic times. Many conclusions of this report blow these assumptions out of the water”. The report was commissioned by Plaid Cymru, the Welsh nationalist party.
Interesting, eh? A major argument advanced by unionists – in Scotland, Wales and here in the north of Ireland – is that to remain part of the UK is to our economic advantage and to break the link would be economic suicide. Irish nationalists and republicans take a different view. They insist that to have two systems of everything on this small island is economic lunacy. In fact, the economic argument is one of the main reasons urged by Sinn Féin for an end to partition or at the very least fuller cross-border integration of services. Martin McGuinness raised it in a speech the other week: “The way forward out of our current economic morass is through integrated economic structures for the island. We cannot expect to reach our full economic potential by maintaining two economic and political structures for a population of six million people”.
Is he right? I suspect he is but I don’t know. Maybe somewhere in the bowels of Stormont, locked in a royal blue box, there’s a report similar to the Welsh one, showing that an end to partition would save millions and cut out the massive waste involved in two separate systems. Or maybe it shows the opposite. But if a report of any kind exists, nobody’s talking about it.
Not that the economic argument is the be-all and end-all of partition. I remember speaking to a West German shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. He was lamenting the amount of money it would cost West Germany to integrate with East Germany and bring their separated brethren up to an acceptable economic level. But while he complained and fretted, he took it as read that German partition must end, the price must somehow be paid. And that’s what happened.
So it’s about time that we in Ireland resolved this one. Enough of the partition is wasteful/partition makes pounds-and-pence sense claims. An independent body should be established, speedily, to measure the cost involved in running two separate systems of health, education, transport – the lot. Building on this, a calculation should be made to show the savings, if any, from integrating the two into one. If the results add up in support of one system, great. If they don’t, so be it. It’ll then be time to stop loitering in what has proved a blind alley, time to ask ourselves if there are other reasons for national unity that transcend economics. In the meantime, anyone found arguing for or against partition on economic grounds should be flung into a dungeon, shackled to the wall and the key swallowed by Uri Geller, to be regurgitated and used for release only when said report is published.