A key part of the debate about the future direction of the Northern Ireland economy is the question of the possible benefits that may arise from deeper economic and business ties between the north and south of the island. Some argue that cross-border commercial interactions have not been fully developed, and as a result a range of positive economic benefits are being left untapped. Others take a different position, suggesting that the potential gains from greater north-south economic cooperation are minimal. This chapter reviews the debate about the merits or otherwise of deeper all-island economic connections, and argues that, while some gains can be realised by intensifying business flows across the border, these should not be overestimated. Certainly the gains are not of the magnitude to decisively impact on economic performance either north or south. Nevertheless, given that it may prove an effective means of integrating Catholics into a new Northern Ireland, cross-border cooperation is deemed to be a crucial part of any overall political settlement.
This chapter does not deal with the economics of Irish unity, an issue frequently conflated with the debate about cross-border economic cooperation. These are two distinct issues and should be dealt with separately: many passionate advocates of greater commercial ties between both parts of the island are not supporters of Irish unification. In any event, the debate about the economic feasibility of Irish unity is now almost obselete since virtually every political party and group on the island appears to accept that such an arrangement is a non-starter for the foreseeable future. Those with an interest in this debate are referred to the work of J. Bradley.1