6 March 2008 Edition
The Mitchel McLaughlin Column
Building a prosperous all-Ireland economy
SINN FÉIN has long held the view that to build a sustainable and prosperous economy it needs to be in an all-Ireland context. I welcome the fact that more and more political and economic opinion throughout Ireland is accepting the validity of that view.
Many families are working longer hours than ever because of low wages, with no pensions and creeping stealth taxes as they face higher mortgages, health insurance, energy and public service charges.
One way to protect workers’ living standards is by delivering real tax reform. What we must develop is a just and fair system across the island, with no loopholes for the rich and real enforcement of tax law for all.
Only this week the 26-County Revenue Commissioner reported over €900 million has been recovered in tax from wealthy citizens operating illegal offshore accounts.
Also in the 26 Counties, we face billions wasted in over-runs on the Dublin Port Tunnel, the LUAS light rail system, the M50 and the health service. More efficient spending would mean more for investment in desperately-needed schools, special teachers, affordable homes, economic development and other services.
The key problem facing the North is that economic policies such as tax and public expenditure are dictated in Whitehall. Partition and union with Britain is economically disastrous for the North. The admission by former British Secretary of State Peter Hain that the Six-County economy is unsustainable would indicate the British Government also accepts that partition retards the North’s economy.
Competition between North and South and neglect of all-Ireland opportunities is economic madness. The most efficient use of finite resources in addressing the infrastructure deficit outside of Dublin and Belfast is to deal with it on an all-island basis. Roads and transport, energy and telecommunications, agriculture and the environment, for example, all need a clear, island-wide perspective.
Research and development also needs an all-Ireland approach, drawing on the strengths and resources of institutions and businesses, North and South. Already there are some excellent examples of what can be done but they are lacking an overall, comprehensive approach.
We need to work towards harmonising income and corporation taxes across Ireland. Incentives for investment should be complementary and used to encourage enterprises to take advantage of the availability of labour mobility throughout the island to create a single Irish labour market.
Invest NI and IDA Ireland should amalgamate. In the short-term, rather than being competitors, they should work together on harmonising investment regimes in a regionally balanced manner.
The benefits of the all-Ireland economy should not be confined to entrepreneurs and speculators. It needs to be shared by everyone – in Donegal, Cork and Kerry, in Antrim, Fermanagh and Derry – and it must put people, not profits, at its core.