McWilliams has dated view of NI

Article misses Northern Ireland’s transitions

Sir, – David McWilliams’s “Truth is the union with Britain has been an economic calamity for Northern Ireland” (Opinion, June 18th) is riddled with wearied tropes and an unfortunate use of terms such as “we”, “it” and “them” in a manner replete with binary thinking. The article misses Northern Ireland’s transitions. Agribusiness feeds 10 million people in the UK, and the new economy around cybercrime, fintech, legal services and cultural production drives up skills and wages. Belfast, a city in which around a quarter of the retail space was bombed, was in 2017 ranked seventh for gross value added out of 179 local area regions in the UK. The idea that unionists are “fetishising long-defunct industries, snarling at the modern world” is risible. Leadership from Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness imagined and delivered the new economy. The majority of pro-union people support marriage equality and abortion rights, snarling only at those who oppose them. Many unionists know and articulate the NI protocol as a unique opportunity while others have taken a hapless and distorted route. David McWilliams permits no space for critique of Ireland’s GDP figures and the pernicious role venture capitalists play upon the housing market. He opts for the notion that Northern Ireland is akin to East Germany in which hapless citizens, watch West German TV and dream of swapping the Trabant for a BMW. That is not to deny that median wages are higher in the South but comparison has to factor in Ireland as the most expensive country in the EU, with living standards depressed by fees for public services. David McWilliams sees only politics and spreadsheet economics. He does not account for post-conflict change. Since 2005, for example, sectarian crime has fallen by some 60 per cent. Investors, entrepreneurs, community leaders and researchers drive change and think not of sectarian ways. Irrespective of background they contribute to wealth creation, social economy and anti-poverty campaigns. Knowing what is happening beyond the spreadsheet and the travails of identity politics advances reasonable understandings of the North. I would encourage McWilliams to join those who favour interdependences across the island. Forgo outdated identity labelling and aid the mapping of trade, cultural and R&D linkages. That is the path to meaningful change and not the stereotypical language of “we’”, “it” and “them”. – Yours, etc,


Institute of Irish Studies,

University of Liverpool.