The economic realities of a united Ireland
A chara, – Newton Emerson claims that “Sinn Féin is still trying to wish away [the] economic realities of a united Ireland” (Opinion & Analysis, November 19th), and that “Sinn Féin’s trick to halve the subvention [of £12 billion per annum by the UK exchequer is to write off Northern Ireland’s entire share of UK-wide public spending”.
He argues that a united Ireland would have to share the costs of “debt interest, defence, borders and immigration, foreign aid, embassies, membership of international organisations and tax collection on the same per capita basis” as Northern Ireland does as part of the UK.
But these costs do not increase on a per capita basis. We will not need extra embassies just because Ireland has become united, and we do not maintain an expensive army, navy and air force complete with nuclear-deterrent capabilities.
The question of whether Ireland would have to take on a proportion of the UK’s sovereign debt is one that would have to be negotiated as part of the handover of sovereignty agreement, and unlike Scotland, there is no way we should agree to that. It is enough that we would agree to take on Northern Ireland’s current liabilities, not some historic debts incurred while we had no sovereign responsibility.
Sinn Féin’s contention that we shouldn’t be paying for British army pensions for ex-soldiers who happen to live in the North hardly seems unreasonable. Let the UK pay for the pensions of their own public servants, and we will take on responsibility for the pensions of those who transfer to serve in a united Ireland for that proportion of their service that occurred under Irish sovereignty, and during which they paid their national insurance contributions to the Irish state.
In general, Newton Emerson’s arguments mirror those of the Brexiteers – that they can have their cake and eat it. The UK cannot hand over responsibility for ongoing Northern Ireland costs to us and expect us to contribute to their historically incurred costs as well. What was done under UK sovereignty has to be paid for by the UK, and we will fund whatever needs to be done under a united Ireland, hopefully with EU and US assistance. If the UK doesn’t like it, they can continue to pump £12 billion per annum into Northern Ireland for as long as they wish. We shouldn’t be funding it or subsidising the UK for past misrule. Taking on any such liability would pose a greater risk to our economic stability and viability than the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit combined, and would undermine our credibility with unionists.
Many of us may see a united Ireland as either a desirable or inevitable eventuality, but not at any price. Unlike the English with Brexit, we will not allow nationalist dogma to trump economic realism. – Yours, etc,