25 October 2007 Edition
The Mitchel McLaughlin Column
Economic integration essential for a better futureDUP Minister Nigel Dodds is allowing his politics to blur his judgement on an all-Ireland economy. His refusal to countenance the merging of Invest NI and the Industrial Development Agency in the South is based on a false premise. He claims that the competitive nature of procuring Foreign Direct Investment and significant differences in product offering would make a single operation impossible.
But for as long as economic sovereignty over the Six Counties is exercised by a British Government it will not be possible for the North to reach its full economic and developmental potential. The attitude adopted by the DUP only serves to exacerbate the effects of the North’s exclusion from both the economic advances being experienced in the 26 Counties and the lack of power to influence formulation of the economic policy that affects us most – that being driven by the British Exchequer.
The Six County economy is distorted and abnormally dependent on subsidy and the public sector for employment. It is unsustainable by itself and cannot exist in isolation from the rest of the island, a fact which has been publicly conceded by former British Secretary of State, Peter Hain and many leading economists and business organisations.
What is required is imaginative forward planning and attraction of alternative employment opportunities that would help to offset this dependency. From any perspective duplication and replication of service provision is wasteful and inefficient. These outmoded policies impose an unnecessary administrative burden on those wishing to do business in both jurisdictions, and create barriers to economies of scale. A single investment and job creation agency approach would eliminate this counterproductive anomaly regarding inward investment, eradicate the waste of duplication and open wider opportunities to business throughout the island and generally contribute to growing the economy.
Despite the reticence of Nigel Dodds, a growing all-Ireland economy already exists today. The clear cost-effectiveness of this new reality has long been recognised by the business community and the island economy is becoming more interdependent and integrated every year. Increased co-operation on an all-Ireland basis in relation to the economy is the accepted way of the future.
Common Chapter commitments made under the GFA commit both governments to advance all-Ireland economic development through joint planning in nine specified areas. Energy, Communications, Electronic Commerce, Human Resource Development, Agriculture and Rural Development, Tourism, Transport, Environment, Education, Health and EU funding. These should be seen as only the beginning of a strategy for all-Ireland development in all facets of life and not a limitation.
In building and strengthening the all-Ireland economy we should be striving to overcome obstacles to mobility, harmonising fiscal and business environments, and adopting and implementing proactive measures to ensure strong economic development. We will not progress in these areas by adopting a dismissive or insular attitude to opportunities for change.