Modeling Irish Unification – a report commissioned by a Sinn Fein-friendly organisation in San Francisco – was launched in New York last November. It suggested that the political and economic unification of Ireland could potentially deliver a €35.6 billion boost in GDP for the island in the first eight years. It further suggested that unification could possibly deliver a more sizeable boost in economic output and incomes in Northern Ireland, with a predicted 4-7.5 per cent long-term improvement in GDP.
Marcus Noland, executive vice-president and director of studies at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, described the report as “an important, timely examination of the economics of Irish unification, applying state-of-the-art modelling techniques to the issue at hand. The modelling work illustrates a variety of channels which are likely to be at play in the Irish case and concludes that Irish unification would be economically beneficial to both parts of the island, especially for smaller, poorer, Northern Ireland.”
Michael Burke, economic consultant and former senior international economist at Citibank in London, added: “The issue of the benefits of a unified Irish economy are unfortunately largely overlooked. This paper goes some way to correcting that and will help develop discussion in this neglected area.”
The report didn’t get much traction last November, largely because it was wordy, woolly, dull and very speculative. It read like the stuff that was being churned out by the SNP’s pet economists in the run-up to the independence referendum: stuff that now reads like the work of madmen in the aftermath of the oil price collapse.
Had Scotland voted for independence it would today be facing a budget deficit of 9.4 per cent of GDP, leaving Scots with a deficit of £2,850 a head compared with £850 in the rest of Britain. I wonder how Nicola Sturgeon would have sold the cuts she would have had to impose to balance the books?
One gets the feeling that Sinn Fein – who made a huge song and dance of approval when it was published – allowed the report to disappear from their agenda when it was clear that the sums didn’t necessarily add up. Adams isn’t good at economics at the best of times and he clearly didn’t want to be lumbered with this stuff in the middle of the Irish election. Yet the report was relaunched last week in Belfast, with more bleats of approval from Sinn Fein. But why bother? It still doesn’t make sense.
The truth, I suppose, is that it doesn’t really need to make sense. It isn’t aimed at unionists, it isn’t aimed at the British or Irish governments and it isn’t even aimed at Sinn Fein’s core support. It is aimed at those pesky small-n nationalists who don’t seem to want a united Ireland (something which Sinn Fein has never been able to understand) because they are suspicious of Sinn Fein’s legacy and wider agenda and cautious about rocking any boats at a time when Northern Ireland is emerging, albeit slowly, from decades of conflict.
So instead of trying to sell these people the ‘A Nation Once Again’ mythology, Sinn Fein is trying to hook them with a reconciliation project (McGuinness made a major speech about it last week) and the promise of some sort of economic utopia.
But when all is said and done the entire plan – reconciliation and wealth – hinges on a united Ireland: something that isn’t happening anytime soon. And the other humbug at the heart of the strategy is that both Sinn Fein and their supportive economists are presupposing that a united Ireland will appear in the very particular form required for their analysis to work.
It won’t. Even if a border poll removed Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom that would merely be the start of a very long process of negotiation between the British and Irish governments and between unionism and the Irish political/electoral establishment.
Almost anything could emerge from that process: and it is worth bearing in mind that it could be a process accompanied by widespread violence across Northern Ireland.
Unionism would have to be accommodated in any new institutions and since unionist parties tend to be socially/economically conservative (and would form a sizeable and influential voting bloc in a united Ireland) it is very likely that they would scupper many of the economic policies supported by Sinn Fein. They may even want their identity protected by some sort of devolutionary process in what was Northern Ireland and that, too, would have an impact on Sinn Fein’s present proposals.
The other thing that Sinn Fein ignores is the fact that unionists aren’t likely to abandon their unionism or identity for financial gain. And, let’s be honest, most Sinn Fein supporters – and all of their members – would vote for Irish unity even if there were no guarantees of economic prosperity. Citizenship for most people is much bigger than GDP statistics and trade figures. It’s about who they are and who they want to be. A united Ireland would mean the end of unionism and the end of British citizenship – because I’m pretty sure there’ll be no offers of border polls or exit routes if everything goes pear shaped.
Sinn Fein had few moral qualms about a terror campaign to wrest British citizenship from unionists. It didn’t work. Do they really think that those same unionists and small-n nationalists will fall for a mountain of purely speculative statistics and the promise of something better under Adams’ socialist mantras? Think again, guys.