Irish unification would cost €4bn a year not €10bn - research finds

Ireland’s Future document says true cost of unification not Earth-shattering in context of Government spending

A united Ireland would cost the Republic €4 billion a year and would be affordable, according to new research.

The claim is made in a document released by Ireland’s Future, a civic society organisation campaigning for a united Ireland.

The document is called Shaping a New and United Ireland and includes contributions from academics who have already participated in previous meetings organised by Ireland’s Future.

Shaping a New and United Ireland will be launched at the Ireland’s Future event in the 3Arena in Dublin on Saturday.


The fiscal gap between taxes collected in the North and public spending in 2017/2018 was £9.2 billion (€10.5 billion).

The document posits that the true cost of subvention is much lower than that. It states that the North’s contribution to UK defence spending, debt servicing costs and international services would not be relevant in a united Ireland scenario. This would decrease the subvention by 25 per cent.

Ireland’s Future also anticipates that the UK state would continue to pay the old-age pension in the North for a time period saving a further £3.2 billion (€3.64 billion) a year.

This would leave an estimated annual subvention of €4.04 billion – a figure Ireland’s Future states is “not an earth-shattering amount of money in the context of Irish Government spending”.

It further anticipates that the North would receive funding from the EU and from the USA to address structural problems in the economy.

“Arguably, there will also be a moral responsibility on the part of any departing UK government to provide additional financial supports in ensuring a successful transition to a new constitutional and economic framework,” it adds.

“Nevertheless, debates around the likely size of the subvention figure are essentially a deflection as they will almost certainly overstate the cost, if any, of unification to the Irish Exchequer. They ignore both the growth potential of the North’s economy and the productivity improvements that are achievable during any effective transition to unity.”

In his contribution to the document, Michael Tomlinson, Emeritus Professor of Social Policy at Queen’s University Belfast, writes that the “assumption that the North is a costly basket-case economy, requiring a high level of subvention from the British treasury, is already built into political narratives in the South.”

The idea that the subvention would cost €10 billion had been “debunked” and a “myth”, he adds.

Ireland’s Future anticipates that a referendum on unification would occur with concurrent votes North and South on the same day similar to the Belfast Agreement poll.

Only Irish citizens would be allowed to vote in the Republic as happens in all referendums, but the franchise for a vote in Northern Ireland has not yet been determined.

Ireland’s Future suggests that 16-year-olds should be allowed to vote in a Border poll in the North as they will be the ones who will be most impacted by the decision. The vote should also be extended to EU citizens living in the North, it believes.

The document states that a “simple majority” would be sufficient for the vote to pass in Northern Ireland. Suggestions that a 50 per cent plus one margin would not be enough are dismissed as “undemocratic and an attempt to frustrate the self-determination provisions”.

Ireland’s Future stresses that the provisions of the Belfast Agreement would remain in the event of unification.

British citizenship would still be available for those who want it in the North and for future generations.

The Northern Ireland Assembly would also remain and would “presumably continue unless and until alternative institutions are approved”.

The Northern Ireland protocol would no longer be needed as the whole of Ireland would be subsumed by the return of Northern Ireland to the EU as was accepted by the European Council in April 2017.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times