Ulster under Home Rule: A Study of the Political and Economic Problems of Northern Ireland

By Thomas Wilson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
DEVOLUTION AND PUBLIC FINANCE

By THOMAS WILSON

1. THE establishment of a regional Parliament such as that of Northern Ireland raises at once a number of difficult and important financial questions. The new assembly, wide though its powers may be within the province, can have no say in such matters as foreign policy or defence to which the term "Imperial Services" is usually applied, for we are dealing here with devolution, not dominion status, and these services must remain with Westminster. Thus the work of government is shared between two Parliaments, and the people so governed can be required to contribute on an equitable basis to both. It is here that the difficulties begin. The taxes collected in, say, Yorkshire go into the exchequer pool from which come both the funds to be spent on common Imperial purposes and those to be spent locally in each county; there is no question of dividing up the taxes paid by Yorkshire between such items of expenditure as warships on the one hand and, on the other, the health services provided by Westminster for the benefit of the people in Yorkshire. But it is obviously a different matter when there are two Parliaments. Both have some claim on the revenue of the province, and means must be found of sharing it that will be 'fair" -- in some sense of the word -- to the two claimants. Now it is here that devolution in Northern Ireland is often held to have been a failure.

The complaint that Northern Ireland is subsidised has been made repeatedly since the new Parliament came into existence. In its more extreme form the argument amounts to saying that the little state of Northern Ireland is a foolish and artificial creation that can be kept alive at all only by the injection of powerful subsidies from Great Britain. This is described as the cost of partition, but not very convincingly, for even if it were true that Ulster was helped in this way by London, it would not follow that in a united Ireland subsidies would be unnecessary to maintain comparable public services; on the contrary, there may be reasons for believing that the Province would be worse off1 if separated from Great Britain, and subsidies would still be needed -- but would clearly not be provided by the other twenty-six counties which are poorer

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1
Cf. chapter 8 on "Economic Policy", by K. S. Isles and N. Cuthbert, especially p. 181.

-115-

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