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The economic realities of a united Ireland

by Frank Schnittger Mon Nov 23rd, 2020 at 03:38:24 AM EST

Newton Emerson is perhaps the leading unionist commentator in Ireland, and has a regular column in the Irish Times, regrettably generally behind a paywall. He provides a valuable insight into unionist thinking in Northern Ireland, which can often be startlingly different from nationalist, liberal or progressive perspectives.

Nevertheless he is no fundamentalist bible thumping bigot, and his political allegiance would lie closer to the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) rather than the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) founded by Ian Paisley.

While appreciating his articulation of often legitimate unionist concerns, I have sometimes taken issue with his conclusions, and in fairness to the Irish Times, they have often published my critiques in response. The letter below is one such critique where I challenge his arguments that a recent Sinn Féin paper misrepresents and underestimates the true costs of re-unifying Ireland:

The economic realities of a united Ireland

A chara, - Newton Emerson claims that "Sinn Féin is still trying to wish away [the] economic realities of a united Ireland" (Opinion & Analysis, November 19th), and that "Sinn Féin's trick to halve the subvention [of £12 billion per annum by the UK exchequer] is to write off Northern Ireland's entire share of UK-wide public spending".

He argues that a united Ireland would have to share the costs of "debt interest, defence, borders and immigration, foreign aid, embassies, membership of international organisations and tax collection on the same per capita basis" as Northern Ireland does as part of the UK.

But these costs do not increase on a per capita basis. We will not need extra embassies just because Ireland has become united, and we do not maintain an expensive army, navy and air force complete with nuclear-deterrent capabilities.

The question of whether Ireland would have to take on a proportion of the UK's sovereign debt is one that would have to be negotiated as part of the handover of sovereignty agreement, and unlike Scotland, there is no way we should agree to that. It is enough that we would agree to take on Northern Ireland's current liabilities, not some historic debts incurred while we had no sovereign responsibility.

Sinn Féin's contention that we shouldn't be paying for British army pensions for ex-soldiers who happen to live in the North hardly seems unreasonable. Let the UK pay for the pensions of their own public servants, and we will take on responsibility for the pensions of those who transfer to serve in a united Ireland for that proportion of their service that occurred under Irish sovereignty, and during which they paid their national insurance contributions to the Irish state.

In general, Newton Emerson's arguments mirror those of the Brexiteers - that they can have their cake and eat it. The UK cannot hand over responsibility for ongoing Northern Ireland costs to us and expect us to contribute to their historically incurred costs as well. What was done under UK sovereignty has to be paid for by the UK, and we will fund whatever needs to be done under a united Ireland, hopefully with EU and US assistance.

If the UK doesn't like it, they can continue to pump £12 billion per annum into Northern Ireland for as long as they wish. We shouldn't be funding it or subsidising the UK for past misrule. Taking on any such liability would pose a greater risk to our economic stability and viability than the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit combined, and would undermine our credibility with unionists.

Many of us may see a united Ireland as either a desirable or inevitable eventuality, but not at any price. Unlike the English with Brexit, we will not allow nationalist dogma to trump economic realism. - Yours, etc,


Regular readers here will know that I have been extremely critical of Brexit and its attempt to undermine the Good Friday Agreement in Ireland, and the peace and stability of the EU more generally. But that does not mean I am blind to the foibles of Irish nationalism, and in particular the Sinn Féin fetish of demanding a referendum on Irish unity at every opportunity, without in any way spelling out how such unity would be achieved, either at the level of inter-community relations or economic viability.

But on this occasion Newton Emerson is trying to imply Irish re-unification would never be possible because the Irish State could never afford the estimated subvention of N. Ireland by the British exchequer to the tune of £12 Billion per annum. Sinn Féin have published a paper arguing that the cost of Irish unification would be much less than that, and it is this thesis that Newton Emerson is seeking to debunk.

I think there is some merit in Sinn Féin's argument some of which I have outlined in my letter. That does not mean that we shouldn't enter into any re-unification process without our eyes open as to the social and political challenges involved, or to the possible economic costs.

Since the decline of the linen, shipbuilding and aircraft manufacturing industries, Northern Ireland has become something of an economic backwater, heavily dependent on UK Exchequer funded public sector jobs. Unionists are right to point out that Ireland couldn't afford similar largesse.

But this rather ignores the fact that the partition of Ireland introduces huge inefficiencies to the island as a whole, and that many of the costs incurred by the UK exchequer are already incurred by the Irish state or wouldn't have to be replicated by the Irish state in a united Ireland.

But my bigger concern is that Irish re-unification will not be driven so much by the will of the Irish people, but by a desire of the UK government to off-load Northern Ireland and associated costs onto the Irish state in the wake of a disastrous Brexit.

For Ireland to naively take on the costs and liabilities of the N. Ireland state could be, proportionately, a bigger disaster than Brexit may be for the British. And this is before we even consider the economic costs incurred as a result of unresolved inter-community tensions and possible violence in the North.

So what is required, before any referendum on Irish unity, is a mature discussion and comprehensive plan as to how the human rights of northern Ireland unionists can be protected as a minority within a united Ireland, how their identity and culture can be incorporated into the new all island state, how their aspirations can be respected, and how the whole process will not require a massive loss of living standards all round.

Irish re-unification will require a referendum in favour both north and south. It is vital that any such referendum should be based not on some vague nationalist aspiration for unity, or unionist aspirations to remain part of the UK, but on a precise plan which sets out what a united Ireland would look like, how it would be funded, and what democratic safeguards would be provided in its constitution.

If Brexit has taught us anything, it is that a referendum on a vague aspiration to national sovereignty, in the absence of a precise plan as to what it will look like and how it will come about, can lead to disaster. It needs to be about much more than a sectarian headcount.

That is in any case not how referenda work in Ireland. They are always based on a precise wording to be included in the written Irish constitution, and are accompanied by a booklet explaining the significance of the proposed change written in plain English (and Irish) by an independent judicial referendum commission.

No doubt there are is a lot of wishful thinking in Sinn Féin's paper as to the costs of re-unification. But Newton Emerson will have to do a better job of critiquing its contents if he wants his arguments to have much purchase outside the confines of his unionist confreres. I may return to critiquing the Sinn Féin paper in more detail at a later point, but first it was important to challenge Newton's rather shallow critique.

The Unloved, Unwanted Garrison -
The Unionist Community in Northern Ireland

In a last message to his constituents as he lay dying of cancer in February 1990, Harold McCusker, Ulster Unionist MP for Upper Bann repeated what he had said in the House of Commons at the time of the ratification of the Anglo-Irish Agreement:

    I shall carry to my grave with ignominy the sense of injustice that I have shown to my constituents down the years when in their darkest hours I exhorted them to put their trust in this House of Commons, which one day would honour its fundamental obligation to treat them as equal British citizens.

These bitter words convey all the bafflement and frustration of a community which sees its history as one of defending Britain and British interests, yet has felt utterly rejected by the nation that created it. What is so sad is that whereas for the last seventy-five years, but particularly for the last twenty-five years Unionists have had doubts cast on their identity, have been vilified in the British media and academic worlds, have been ignored, have been isolated, have been told that Britain has no interest in Northern Ireland, have been treated politically different from the rest of the country, and have been subjected to fearsome terror and economic sabotage, they are still loyal and carry on political discussion to try and obtain equality of conditions with their co-nationals as if this was actually possible, that common sense would, in the end, prevail.

What has puzzled many Unionists is that often a new secretary of state for Northern Ireland is appointed who immediately makes enthusiastically pro-Unionist comments. Then suddenly, after a few weeks, it is as if the unfortunate man has been taken aside, to a small room, and been shown something or had something said to him which had the effect of altering his attitude.

[Source: Understanding Ulster
by Antony Alcock (1994)]

by Oui on Mon Nov 23rd, 2020 at 04:03:43 PM EST
Like many settler communities, northern unionists suffer from perpetual insecurity and identity anxiety, unsure as to whether their future lies with the motherland or with the country they have settled, which they claim to own.

This insecurity is manifested in extravagant displays of loyalism, a stubborn refusal to consider all olive branches from their co-inhabitants, a messianic fundamentalism and delusions of being "a chosen people", and ruthless displays of self interest masquerading as the defence of freedom.

Continually demanding that their "loyalty" be reciprocated by their mother country, attention seeking behaviour at every opportunity for fear of being forgotten, and a quaint refusal to recognise that their mother country has actually moved on and is no longer the country their forebears left, are other symptoms of this anxiety.

Loyalists will celebrate their victories over their nationalist foes many centuries ago, their losses at the Somme and other imperial adventures, the contributions of their alumni to the imperial efforts of long ago.

But it is all in vain. Their leaders doth protest too much. They have become an almighty pain and embarrassment to the leaders of their mother country and are chiefly indulged as useful idiots, if at all.

In the meantime their future is staring them in the face, but few have the courage to acknowledge it, and those that do are quickly ostracised.  They will fight for the Union to the last drop of somebody else's blood, declare that they will leave, and take their business with them if the unthinkable happens an a united Ireland happens, and then stick around as uncomfortable guests, not knowing which way to look.

They will whinge and whine, as UK expats are wont to do, at the inadequacies of their new country and its leadership, regardless of whether all there needs and concerns have been catered to. In the end no one will much care, as every caring gesture will have been treated with condescension and contempt.

For some people there is no future. They are the living dead. Important only in their own minds. Central only in their own universe. Embittered, betrayed, lost.  An embarrassment to their own children, who are getting on with their lives and wondering what all the fuss is about.

They are the passengers of history who imagine they are its drivers. Best to just let them go on their own journey to nowhere. They have no  destination, no promised land. They are not the Israelites of their own fond imagination. God has not left them They just didn't recognise him when he came.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Nov 23rd, 2020 at 04:48:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Don't be too somber Frank ... a few millennia perhaps?
by Oui on Mon Nov 23rd, 2020 at 05:59:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That was the cheerful end of the spectrum!

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Nov 23rd, 2020 at 07:07:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
They still have allies and supporters in the UK military and intelligence agencies capable of supplying their logistic needs and could also give them intelligence and counter-intelligence directly and indirectly from Interpol & etc.

The US has millions of these kind of people and they are vicious fucks - think KKK - when provoked.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Tue Nov 24th, 2020 at 02:54:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
For that reason it is important that any UK Ireland transfer of sovereignty deal ensures that the UK co-owns the problem of making it work for both parties at least for a 10 year transitionary period. The UK will also need to ensure that UK EU relations remain as positive as possible even if elements within the UK want to f*ck with Ireland.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Nov 24th, 2020 at 09:39:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What has been remarkable in the US (to an outside observer) is the degree to which the far right has lost the support of "deep state" intelligence and policing agencies who have done little to support Trump. Imagine the US progressive left trumpeting the probity of the electoral process 4 or 20 years ago!

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Nov 24th, 2020 at 09:42:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The Deep State has its own progressive/regressive split. Trump, Bannon and the rest are tentacles of the regressive faction.

The visible TLAs aren't wholly part of the Deep State at all, although factions working within them may be.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Nov 24th, 2020 at 03:19:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
by generic on Tue Nov 24th, 2020 at 03:29:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My experience is that the political views of the members of the various  US government agencies is comparable to that of the population overall. Even the military is not as conservative as some people would like to think.

There's a lot of "I'm not saying anything because I don't want to get into an argument."

by asdf on Tue Nov 24th, 2020 at 11:17:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I can see at least two reasons: the "far right" in US is now overlapping with the fringe that thinks government is The Enemy - especially the government spooks, and on the other hand many people from the conservative working class having lost family members in the useless, never-ending wars they want to stop, which is completely opposite of the "deep state" agenda.
by pelgus on Wed Nov 25th, 2020 at 08:41:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Wasn't there always some a strong current of performative anti-intellectualism on the far right, while the intelligence agencies almost entirely recruit from elite universities? And the biggest far right organization in the country is still the Fraternal Order of Police, which was all in on Trump. I'm also not that surprised that Democratic loyalists would taut the integrity of the election process. After all, one side committing high treason to land the October surprise while the other side pretends everything is fine describes about every second US election in the last 50 years.
by generic on Wed Nov 25th, 2020 at 01:03:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The economic effect of an all-island economy - 2018

Since partition, the economic strength of the north and the south have gone into reverse. In 1920, 80% of Irish industrial output was in and around Belfast, with Belfast the largest city in the island of Ireland.  The economy of the Republic is now four times larger than that of Northern Ireland, with industrial output ten times larger than that of Northern Ireland.

Author: Paul Gosling

by Oui on Mon Nov 23rd, 2020 at 04:13:45 PM EST
... between EU countries.

by Bernard on Fri Nov 27th, 2020 at 06:26:52 PM EST
Yes, we are trying to reduce France's isolation, post Brexit.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Nov 27th, 2020 at 07:23:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It will take ~24 hours instead of ~12 hours.  Which doesn't really matter.  For logistic purposes transition time isn't as critical as predictable transition time for Just In Time Deliveries.  It doesn't cost the buyer any extra to have two - or three or twelve for that matter - deliveries in route instead of one.  As long as the stuff arrives in time, it's cool.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Sat Nov 28th, 2020 at 03:55:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Exactly. Predictability is what you want in business, there are plenty of examples:

  • Anti-discrimination policies are fine with big corporations, as long as the rules are applied uniformly and fairly.
  • Project schedule and financial projections are acceptable if they tell a bad story, as long as the story is accurate.
  • Shipping time for many items (not fresh fruits and vegetables) is not important, as long as they get there when promised.
  • Delivering something early does not get you a reward, because it doesn't fit into the scheme of things: Where am I supposed to store that truckload of parts between now and when I need them???
by asdf on Sat Nov 28th, 2020 at 06:32:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
by Oui on Wed Dec 9th, 2020 at 07:47:36 PM EST

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