Picture by Deckab
For many people, the attractiveness or unattractiveness of a re-united Ireland would come down to a question of money. That sounds a bit grubby, and there are other reasons than the financial for wanting to live in a united Ireland or in one that maintains the link with Britain. But it’s fair to say that for a lot of people, the key thing is the financial equation.
So what is that equation? Unionist politicians speak of the £10 billion annual subvention: that is, when you put what Britain gives us alongside what we in the north give Britain, we come out beneficiaries to the tune of £10 billion. No small sum. If it’s accurate.
The fact is, it’s hard to see how it is accurate. For the year 2011-2012, for example, public spending – what came to us from Britain – was somewhere between £17.7 billion and £18.9 billion. Why the vagueness? Because figures produced locally and those produced by the British Treasury don’t match up. Odd, that.
Likewise, there’s no accurate statement of revenue available for the north – that is, what we pass Londonwards is vague. But in 2011-2012 we know we generated at least £14 billion. That doesn’t include income tax, corporation tax and VAT which is generated here by British and international companies but paid in Britain.
So vague though the figures are, thanks to the secrecy and vagueness of the British Treasury, when the figures going out are taken from the figures coming in, we look to be getting something closer to £5 billion annually from Britain, not the £10 billion which is often quoted. No one is saying that £5 billion is small potatoes. But it’s just half the potato that we’ve been led to believe we’re getting.
Then we come to the potential financial benefits of a re-united Ireland. Even a financial illiterate can see that two competing, fractured economies in Ireland block economic recovery in both parts. Two separate systems of health care, of education, of transport, of agriculture, of inward investment make no financial sense on an island with a population of some 6 million people. Ask any successful business or employer, north or south, if the border with its different fiscal policies and tariffs helps or hinders business development. They’ll give you a quick answer. It hinders.
The EU, with all its flaws, was established so that trade and investment could have access to a single, massive market. Ask anyone conducting business in a border area here whether cross-border credit card transaction fees, telecommunication cross-border charges, and two tax and pay-roll systems make trade easier or more difficult. The response may contain language that would make a sailor blush.
So the subvention from Britain to here is considerably less than is claimed and the existence of partition is wasteful in terms of public services and a source of frustration for cross-border business. How come we don’t hear more about these matters, not to mention more transparency from the British Treasury?