Byline: PHILIP McDONAGH
AS CABINET ministers wade through 2,500 pages of the Treasury's 18 technical studies to get a hint of whether the euro will be good for the UK - or vice versa - Northern Ireland business appears to have made up its collective mind.
If a referendum to join the euro were held today, over sixty percent of Northern Ireland businesses claim they would vote 'yes'.
As part of the annual survey of business attitudes for PwC's 2003, Northern Ireland Economic Review and Prospects, a representative sample of local firms was asked how they would vote if a referendum on the Euro was held today.
Over 63 per cent of all respondents would vote in favour, 24 per cent against, with 13 per cent remaining undecided. That comes exactly a year after the survey for the 2002 Economic Review suggested that nearly 70 per cent of local companies favoured Northern Ireland introducing a dual currency system that would give the euro equal legal status with sterling within Northern Ireland.
But with little over a week to go before the Chancellor announces whether or not there will be a referendum during this parliament, hard-pressed Cabinet ministers are about to receive the Chancellor's 300-page assessment of the five economic tests - the 'ideal' economic conditions for entry.
The usual leaks from the usual sources suggest that four of the five, have been failed, although some more narrowly than others. If that proves to be correct, euro-unity goes straight on the political back burner.
But is that really bad news for Northern Ireland? Elsewhere in the UK, business organisations and Chambers of Commerce are either opposed to joining the euro or remain unconvinced by either argument, so what makes Northern Ireland different?
Northern Ireland's apparent love affair with the euro is more a transfer of affections from the punt than the impact of cupid's arrow fired from Brussels. It is also an affair fuelled more by pragmatism than lust.
The latest PwC survey suggests that 94 per cent of all Northern Ireland companies sell their goods and services in Northern Ireland, with 66 per cent also selling to the Republic. That compares with 53 per cent of the sample selling elsewhere in the UK and 25 per cent exporting to other EU member states.
Regardless of size or ownership, more Northern Ireland companies deal with the South than with Britain. Even the traditional manufacturing has shifted market share from Britain to the Republic of Ireland, with 76 per cent of manufacturers exporting south, compared with 67 per cent looking across the Irish Sea. …