Note: This article was published in The Irish News on 17th March 2014.
The economies of Ireland, North and South are interlinked and interdependent. The all-Ireland economy in not political rhetoric but a reality. Just look at the impact of the current economic downturn. Two of the four major banks in the north are owned and regulated in Dublin and billions are outstanding to loans to enterprises in the North.
Nama is the largest landlord on either side of the border. Companies recruit on an all-Ireland basis and trade north and south is an important economic driver. Economic downturn in one jurisdiction impacts on the other, and the same for growth.
Ireland is a small island in theEuropean and global economy. The south has expanded in the current markets an developed new markets. With exports driving increases in GDP. Britain is the largest single trading partner for Ireland north and south and would continue to be regardless of any constitutional change.
Yet macroeconomic policy effecting Trade, employment and Investment is made in Westminster for the benefit of the 97% that makes up the UK economy and not for the 3% in the north. This leads to disjoint between policy north and south that undermines enterprise, trade and employment. It is our workers, farmers, and enterprises that are paying the cost.
The starting point for any economic policy is the people.
Building an economy that will deliver equality, and prosperity. That will provide for essential public services.
Key to this is securing and using economic powers to manage and deliver a fair and prosperous economy for the benefit of all our people. To tackle the barriers to growth and unleash the full potential of our people and our island.
The current governments in Dublin and London are about managing the crisis and returning to the old failed ways of working. That is not good enough.
Sinn Féin has a wider vision and greater ambition, for our people and economy.
Sinn Féin recognises that the economies of both the north and south of Ireland are fractured and in need of substantial reform.
There are no advantages for an island nation of 6.4 million on the edge of Europe with two separate tax regimes, two currency and legal systems and two separate economies.
The power to harmonise structures across the island would be central to creating a fully integrated and healthy economy. Yet the British Tory Government is planning to split the island further by introducing a levy on vehicles crossing the border from the south to the north.
Under new legislation being introduced from Westminster, all HGVs crossing the border into the North from this April will be liable to pay up £10 a day levy. As a representative from the border region I know all to well the potential damage this will cause. The imposition of this levy would have a detrimental effect on the expanding island wide trade which currently generates £2.3bn for this island and could dissuade investment in northern operations by southern based parent companies. This would have a particularly negative impact on the agri-food sector - our fastest growing sector north and south.
Sinn Féin has been vocal in its opposition to this levy, and our representatives north and south have been to the forefront in highlighting the issue in every elected forum. The British government needs to amend the legislation to exempt the north from this regressive charge and the Irish government must ensure that they challenge their British counterparts to stop this charge which has the potential to severely affect the future viability of small and medium businesses especially along the already struggling border region.
It is time to focus on building not dividing the island economy. A single island economy for all citizens across Ireland would provide the opportunity for fair and harmonised progression taxation, regulation and trade. It would provide the tools to create greater opportunities for growth, harmonise workers’ rights and create a better business climate for advancement of entrepreneurial spirit north and south.
In the North this will require the Executive to secure the transfer of the full suite of fiscal powers from Whitehall to Belfast.
In the South this will require collaboration and co-operation with the North to devise an economic model, not made in either London or Brussels, which could deliver economic stability and sustainability for the people of Ireland.
There is no doubt that a planned and agreed approach to economic development across the island of Ireland would deliver greater:
•Export trade and inward investment;
•economic and jobs growth and improved workforce skills;
•productivity and innovation
•All Ireland trade and reduce costs.
•and research and development.
The all Ireland economy is a reality, let us now begin to agree and implement policies across the island that will deliver prosperity and equality for our people, promote economic growth and trade for our enterprises, safeguard public services and create and sustain jobs.
Partition never made economic sense. A new stronger economy arising from the integration of both existing states into a new, agreed island economic unit can deliver sustainable prosperity that the present status quo is incapable of delivering.
Together we can build a new stronger economy that works for us all.
This threatens no-one and will benefit all.