Tuesday, January 31, 2006


North and south 'must work together to prosper' - Hain

Let's work together!The economies of NI and the Republic of Ireland must forge closer links if they are to prosper in an increasingly competitive world marketplace, British Secretary of State Peter Hain has said.

With more manufacturing and service jobs being outsourced to countries like China and India, Peter Hain insisted the North needed to develop a high-value skills economy in conjunction with the Republic.

Mr Hain told the Fabian Society at Stormont that meant developing a common inward investment strategy and companies on one side of the border expanding in the other.

He argued: "The island of Ireland faces common external threats from globalisation which, by working together, we can help overcome.

"The Republic’s enormous success has led to some of its companies being prevented from expanding because of a lack of additional capacity and skill shortages. They should be encouraged to outsource in the North.

"More Northern Ireland-based businesses should follow those which have successfully expanded into the South.

"In addition, both governments should have a joined-up strategy to attract inward investment, especially maximising the South’s strong relationship with Irish American business to showcase opportunities in the North.

"We should also work on a joint audit of opportunities for further economic co-operation to mutual advantage both sides of the border, bearing in mind, for example, the Republic’s proposed €7.5m investment in the City of Derry Airport which will benefit Donegal as much as the north-west of Northern Ireland, and which is an integral element of the €100bn investment plans for the island’s infrastructure over the next 10 years.

"I believe all of this is good, common-sense co-operation on matters of mutual interest across both jurisdictions."

While unemployment levels in the North had been halved and reached an historic low at 4%, Mr Hain said the level of economic inactivity among adults of a working age remained alarmingly high at 27.4%.

Ireland's north, he said, had a much higher percentage of long-term unemployed than the UK – 33.8% compared with the national average of 20.7% - while 23% of the working population had no qualifications whatsoever, compared with 13% nationally.

"Only 15% of the Northern Ireland workforce has a degree or equivalent, compared to 18% in the UK," he observed.

"Therefore, it is vital to invest in opportunities and skills, with greater access to vocational education, training and apprenticeships, to ensure no young person is left behind.

The minister said the North’s economy also had to wean itself off its current over-dependence on the public sector.

Public expenditure accounted for around two-thirds of the North’s GDP, he said, whereas the UK average was around 40%.

The private sector remained under-developed, with the public sector accounting for almost a third of all jobs in Northern Ireland compared with the UK average of a fifth.

Public expenditure as a percentage of GDP was significantly higher in the North than elsewhere – accounting for some two-thirds of regional GDP, compared with the national average of around 40%.

I have to applaud Mr Hain for his ideas. The island of Ireland does need to unite for the benefit of the people throughout the island.

The North needs help and the south can provide it.

Keep up the good work, Mr Hain.


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