Sinn Féin preliminary comments on Social and Economic Consequences of Peace and Economic Reconstruction
Sinn Féin welcomes the completion of the economic study being discussed here today. For Irish republicans the completion of such a report is a further vindication of the long articulated republican belief that the ending of conflict, the dismantling of partition and the creation of a lasting peace could transform the Irish economy.
Indeed positive views and analysis of the prospects for the Irish economy were thin on the ground in the last seventy years. It has only been over the last three years that academia, the business sector and other political groupings have accepted the Sinn Féin premise that partition and conflict has hampered and damaged the economic development of this island.
This affects not only trade, industry and agriculture, but by association all parts of the economy. The people of Ireland are the victims of this process, condemned to at best lower living standards, or at worst widespread unemployment and poverty.
Sinn Féin believes that in the economy of a new Ireland the guiding principles must be equality, employment, efficiency and environmental protection. These principles can only be achieved by the creation of a bottom up, participatory democracy where there is a recognition that a national economy must reflect everyone's interests democratically. It is through these principles and with the objective of a national economic democracy in mind that Sinn Féin comments on the report from the economic consultants.
The report before us today is a complex macro study of the Irish economy and requires detailed consideration. Our comments today are therefore a preliminary response to the report. The report pulls together many strands of academic work and empirical studies of aspects of the Irish economy. It sets a benchmark start for further work.
Also coming as it does from consultants who are in a sense at one remove from the economic coalface of community marginalisation, unemployment, and discrimination means that the work and the conclusions before us today are only one half of the equation. What is needed now is the responses from the communities, the active groups, the ordinary people who need to have a role in the actual process of economic reconstruction. The forum has held one day seminars on 'Sharing the Peace Dividend'. However it might consider the need to consult again the participants in those seminars on this important report.
Here in Sinn Féin's preliminary response we highlight a number of comments and general queries on the consultants report.
In Section 2.4, The Economic Context, it states on page 12, paragraph 3, that the 26 Counties employment content of GDP growth has been particularly low. In essence it means that growth in state wealth has not meant a growth in employment. Instead much of the benefits of economic growth have been siphoned into the cash flows of domestic and multinationals corporations. This is a crucial factor as any economic benefits from peace such as increased economic growth might be siphoned out of the Irish economy.
Given that the ESRI have just last week predicted a 19% increase in the amount of profits repatriated by multinationals out of the 26-County economy in 1995, meaning a possible ,5 billion outflow, why does the report not tackle this important issue. It is unclear from the report how the consultants feel this problem could be overcome.
Also on page 12 the report deals with the GDP composition in the Six Counties emphasising the high level of public sector expenditure. The report does not deal with how this expenditure has been systematically spent disproportionately in the unionist communities creating a situation where per capita GDP for many nationalists is effectively much lower than the state average. A recent report on women's wages in the Six Counties highlighted this by showing that over 60% of Catholic women in the Six Counties earned less than ,100 a week. Such a gap would need specific measures in any process of economic reconstruction, but the report does not highlight this need.
The brief section on page 13 and 14 titled sub regional trends deals all to briefly with a crucial sector, that of the urgent need for economic regeneration of border areas. I would contend that there is a need for a detailed micro-study of the border regions?
Pages 17 to 19 deals with the prospects for inward investment to the Irish economy. The figures and the study are invaluable, however there is no attempt to analyse the efficiency of the IDB and the IDA. The report does deal with the issues of the two agencies competing for new inward investors but it does not deal with either the flawed records of both agencies or the need for a more democratic role in their structures and industrial development policies. For instance the British Auditor General reported in 1994 that the IDB had wasted millions of pounds on unnecessary projects, while only two years ago in 1993 the IDA faced a situation where every new job they created another was lost in other IDA backed enterprises. For this they spent ,154 million. Such flaws and inefficiencies could reduce the benefits of any peace dividends.
There is also a need to deal with the net effect of inward investment on host communities, many of whom throughout Ireland have had bitter experiences of failed multinational enterprises. The reports macro study does not deal with these issues and it takes away from the conclusions.
The Section on Security Expenditure is a ground breaking section as it clarifies the true level of British subsistence for an undemocratic status quo. In the context of the Six Counties though there are figures on employment changes as a result of a overall peace settlement. What is not considered is the unit labour costs. It would be a useful exercise to highlight the salary levels of in particular those employed in the RUC and the prison service. It is unclear too how much of any of this change in employment could be run down over time as natural wastage as workers in this sector retire.
Also not considered are the changes in security costs in Britain. For instance MI5 has admitted that 44% of its ,150 million budget was devoted to combatting the IRA. Should this and other costs not have been included in estimating future trends in such expenditure by Britain.
In the context of the 26 Counties, where more funding was allocated to policing the border than funding the IDA, the report states that the prospects of savings seem limited. Could the consultants elaborate why this is so? On page 39 the report offers possible areas for expenditure switching as a result of the peace process. They include expansion in urban and economic programmes, community employment schemes, harmonisation of taxation and infrastructural investment.
Some costings are included in the report. However, issues such as tax harmonisation are very important, could more detail be provided on the overall issues of tax revenue and harmonisation between the two states? It has been highlighted by both workers and employers organisations as a crucial factor in ensuring positive integration.
In section 4, The Economic Impact of Peace, two scenarios are offered with figures for prospective employment gains and losses. Could we have more detail on how the estimates were generated? This is also relevant for the estimates given on page 48 for the impact of peace on the border region.
Considerable space is given in section 5 to considering the recently launched 'Northern Ireland Growth Challenge'. Does this not slightly unbalance the report as little consideration is given in my view to other more worthwhile proposals such as those from the ICTU, the INOU, Combat Poverty, the Belfast Unemployment Unit not to mention Sinn Féin.
Finally in Section 6 and 7, the report deals with tackling economic disadvantage and social exclusion. Again there is much positive ground breaking work. However the sections on social exclusion do not specifically deal with exclusion of nationalists and this could be seen as a drawback. Is there not a need for a section in the report dealing with the exclusion and discrimination against nationalists in the Six Counties? I certainly think so.
Also, in the section on page 84 to 86 which deals with prisoners, it states on page 85 that the Apossession of a criminal record will affect the opportunity for obtaining employment. Terms such as 'criminal' take away from this section and are uninformed. They are clearly offensive and are rejected in any case by the vast majority of people in all communities in the North.
In conclusion it should be reaffirmed that the report is a positive first step but much work still needs to be done to ensure that the issues of economic justice, security, freedom from discrimination, parity of esteem, access to employment, social services and quality of life are all made achievable tangible objectives.