Facing History: Northern Ireland Q&A

On the Facing History’s online forum, Paul Frankmann posed a list of questions. This is my attempt to answer as many as possible:

(1) Who are the different “we’s” and “they’s” that one would hope to integrate? Who is who in Northern Ireland?

Most commentators describe Northern Ireland as an area of “two communities”, one Protestant-unionist and the other Catholic-nationalist. The Alliance Party describes Northern Ireland as one community, with different sections and cultural traditions. The main division is between Protestants and Catholics and competing national aspirations. Alliance would see the future of Northern Ireland built within the context of the Good Friday Agreement. We also see an increasing role of the political development of the European Union, with Northern Ireland as one of many of the existing regions of Europe.

(2) Does economic growth in Northern Ireland share a trend of economic growth, or does it rise and fall with the fortunes of the United Kingdom?

The economies of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are notably different. The Republic (the South) has grown largely due to its government’s aggressive pursuit of foreign direct investment. The corporate tax rate is as low as 10%, whereas in Northern Ireland it is at 30% (and which the Northern Ireland Government has no control over). The Republic uses the euro for its currency; Northern Ireland uses the Pound Sterling (as the UK has not joined the euro). But perhaps the most important difference is the high reliance on the public sector in Northern Ireland: about 2/3rds of its GDP is from the public purse. This hinders creativity and innovation in the Northern Ireland economy, while also insulating it from the sharper downturns in the rest of the UK economy.

(3) Wouldn’t the appeal of Ireland as the wave of the future appeal to the practical sense of those living in Northern Ireland?

“Wave of the future” being the operative phrase. I will limit my remarks to the argument the Alliance Party (and others) put forward, that because there is much economic activity between Northern Ireland and the South, it makes practical sense for Northern Ireland to join the euro currency.

(4) How free are the people of Northern Ireland to move? How deeply are they rooted? Are high school and university graduates staying in Northern Ireland or moving (and to where)?

People of Northern Ireland are completely free to move, yet a relatively insular culture keeps many home. One observation is that more Protestants than Catholics will go outside Northern Ireland for their university education, with Scotland as a popular destination. Many do not return afterwards. Also, some people (both religions) will go to London to build their professional career, then return to Northern Ireland some years later for the better quality of life here (the cost of living is lower).

(5) What opportunities do Irish students have to travel and study abroad?

No limits, but what I think you may find interesting is when people from Northern Ireland travel (students and adults, Protestants and Catholics), they tend to describe themselves as “Irish”, but when they return, they revert to more local labels, e.g. “unionist” and “nationalist”.

(6) Is there any national service requirement (military or civilian)?

No. Military conscription or compulsory service would certainly not work in the ethno-nationally divided society of Northern Ireland. However, the idea of a short civilian service is an interesting one. I will have to float this idea in some discussion groups, e.g. Slugger O’Toole.

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