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

By Thomas Wilson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
ULSTER'S ECONOMIC STRUCTURE

By K. S. ISLES and N. CUTHBERT

NORTHERN Ireland is economically so interwoven with Great Britain that, looked at broadly, it is not a separate economy at all but an undifferentiated part of a single economic system embracing the whole of the United Kingdom. This economic unity is closely bound up with political unity. On the one hand, natural conditions promoting economic interdependence with Great Britain form one of the main foundation stones on which political union rests; and, reciprocally, this natural tendency to economic integration has been greatly strengthened by the fact of political union. As a result of political union, and its implied recognition that economic union is desirable, the main policy decisions affecting economic conditions in Northern Ireland are made by the central government and apply indiscriminately to the whole of the United Kingdom; and, likewise, the main economic and financial institutions are common to the whole. Thus Northern Ireland and Great Britain are served by the one monetary and financial system and are both subject to the same monetary policy. Again, though Northern Ireland's fiscal system is not wholly common with that of Great Britain it is very largely so, and even where differences are formally permissible the scope for effective independent action by Northern Ireland is not very great in practice. Then again, social services are in all important respects on the same footing as those in Great Britain; for even though they are formally separate, economic integration is too close in other ways to permit of significant differences. Even more important, between Northern Ireland and Great Britain there is no restriction whatever on the passage of goods or the transfer of capital in either direction; and people are free to move from one to the other without let or hindrance and to live and work wherever they please.1 Moreover, most of the other economic institutions, such as trade unions, trade associations and wage-fixing machinery, are either unified with those in Great Britain or are run on parallel lines; many of the trade unions, for example, are national bodies with their headquarters in England.

____________________
1
Owing to the existence of heavy unemployment, the government of Northern Ireland has in recent years imposed a system of employment permits in certain occupations with the object of giving preference to local workers. But this restriction does not affect the migration of Northern Ireland workers to Great Britain or their subsequent return.

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