I attended an interesting report-launch yesterday. It was in Leinster House, where a cross-party group produced a report on “an All-Island Economy”.
If you’re first reaction was to wince at the title, that was mine too. The compound word they’re avoiding is, of course, All-Ireland; but while in former times I’d probably have been critical of such tip-toeing around unionist sensitivities, I think that was probably a wise enough title. As the painter Robert Ballagh has pointed out, there are some words we have which are trigger words, banishing all hope of rational thought or discussion, and “All-Ireland” seems to be one of them. So let’s hope this report gets rational consideration.
You’ll get some idea of its contents and importance from the 10-minute video of Peadar Tóibín that I took. He was the Rapporteur of the group ( which is another way of saying he did most of the work) and that’s Marcella Corcoran Kennedy of Fine Gael seated besidehim – she was the Committee Chair. The report itself (which you can read online) has probably dozens of discussion points, but I asked what seemed to me the most crucial question: what was the main obstacle – apart from the border – to the establishment of an All-Island economy?
There were several answers. One is, of course, that some unionist politicians express fear that a united economy, north and south, might be a precursor of a politically united Ireland (oops, I’ve done it again – politically united island?) and so resist what the report shows clearly is economic sense. A second reason, I was surprised (but shouldn’t have been) to learn was that existing bodies north and south are fearful of merger or working too closely together because that might mean they lose their present power-base. I find that entirely credible. I saw it in action when the Ulster Polytechnic merged with the New University of Ulster: the amount of animosity and scurrying around to protect out-moded boundaries was a sight to behold).
A third reason cited was the difference in currencies north and south, with this acting a s a brake on business development.
Finally, as Peadar Tóibín conceded, the development of an all-island economy, which would patently be in the interests of both parts of Ireland, is fairly low on the agenda of both governments. This is truly scandalous. As the report shows again and again, co-ordinated economic planning and execution in a whole range of areas would most certainly provide financial benefit on both sides of the border; but because politicians are more intent on serving their separate jurisdictions, they don’t bother to raise their eyes and consider actions which would mean greater wealth and enhanced life-opportunities for everyone on the island. OK , in Ireland. Satisfied?
Here’s a ten-minute excerpt from Peadar Tóibín’s speech