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

By Thomas Wilson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7
ECONOMIC POLICY

BY K. S. ISLES and N. CUTHBERT

BEFORE turning to examine the provincial government's economic policy, it will be helpful to recall the broad limits to its constitutional power to legislate on economic matters, and to note the further limitations on its freedom of independent action imposed by the basic facts of economic integration with Great Britain and the existence of common institutions. So far as constitutional limitations are concerned, the essence of the matter is that Northern Ireland is unable to make use of any of those techniques by which separate countries follow a policy of economic independence. On the one hand, it is precluded from establishing a separate tariff and from otherwise interfering with external trade, interregional or international: in its trade with other countries it is treated as an integral part of the United Kingdom, and between Northern Ireland and Great Britain the only restriction is the cost of transport. On the other hand, although a small degree of flexibility might conceivably be obtained through the banking system, Northern Ireland has no power to follow an independent monetary policy, involving separate rates of exchange, or to adopt an independent fiscal policy apart from minor concessions to adapt general fiscal policy to local needs. This means that it may not use any of the ordinary devices for stabilising employment through control of the economic climate. The economic integration with Great Britain arising from common policy in these matters, and from the existence of common institutions -- in particular, the integration involved by the free transfer of goods and property rights and the free migration of workers to Great Britain and back -- gives rise to two tendencies which are of vital importance both in assessing the provincial government's economic policy and in understanding the limited scope for usefully increasing its constitutional powers. Firstly, wage rates for any given class of labour tend to be adjusted in response to changes in the corresponding rates in Great Britain. The strength of this tendency was discussed in Chapter 5. It is due to the interregional mobility of labour and the integration of the wage-fixing machinery with that in Great Britain. Secondly, the new investment funds available each year for increasing the fixed and work-

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