NI ministers felt economic price to be paid for ‘political inaction’

 

The bleak state of Northern Ireland’s economy in 1986 is captured in previously confidential files just released in Belfast. A report on the economic situation dated June 23rd, 1986, noted that the oil crisis of the early 1970s had had a severe impact on local economy.

There were 460,000 people employed in the North, reflecting a shrinkage of 11 per cent from 1979. The public sector accounted for 44 per cent of employees, compared with 38 per cent in Britain, and provided spending power to maintain other jobs. In addition, 14,100 people were employed in the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the prison service.

In the period 1979-85, manufacturing output in the North declined by 7.5 per cent, compared with 5.2 per cent in Britain as a whole.

The report noted that the region’s traditional industries, such as clothing, footwear, textiles and tobacco, accounted for most of the collapse in manufacturing industry. Yet “the remaining rump of these traditional industries still accounted for 40 per cent of NI’s manufacturing base”.

Discussed

The report was discussed at a meeting of Northern Ireland Office ministers and senior officials at Stormont Castle on June 15th, 1986.

The head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, Sir Kenneth Bloomfield, said that the North’s economic prospects were a cause for concern. He highlighted the fact that “30 per cent of NI’s A-level students” were entering university education outside the North. Most did not return.

Dr Brian Mawhinney, minister for education in the North, said there would be a need to promote 12,000 jobs a year to keep pace with joblessness.