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Economic output suffers fall amid concerns over Northern Ireland's political instability

By John Mulgrew

Local economic output has slowed and there are concerns that political instability will further hinder future growth.

Economic output fell 0.9% between the second and third quarters of last year, according to the Northern Ireland Composite Economic Index.

The decrease was fuelled by falls in the services and production sectors, which dropped by 0.3%.

However, overall economic activity increased by 1.6% in the 12-month period to quarter three of last year.

Despite that, Northern Ireland still lags behind the economic fortunes of the Republic and the UK as a whole.

Comparisons showed that UK GDP grew by 2.2% over the year to quarter three of 2016, whereas Northern Ireland output increased by 1.6%.

In the Republic, meanwhile, GDP grew by 6.6% over the same time period.

Ulster University senior economist Esmond Birnie said that "if the figures are taken at face value", they paint a gloomy picture for Northern Ireland.

"An output decline in third quarter 2016 is in contrast to strong UK growth," he added.

"Perhaps even more worryingly is that there is further confirmation that Northern Ireland's trend rate of growth seriously lags behind the UK average."

Overall economic activity increased between quarter three in 2015 and quarter three this year, according to figures from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency.

The organisation said the increase was in part driven by a rise in the services sector, which increased by 1.4%.

The increase was offset by a decrease over the year in the public sector jobs index, which fell by 0.6%.

Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey warned there were difficult times ahead.

"In recent months we have heard about the UK's and Northern Ireland's poor and deteriorating productivity performance," he added.

"To put this in perspective, our private sector output in quarter three 2016 is below where it was 11-and-a-half years ago.

"The big difference is that the number of private sector jobs has increased by 51,000 over the same period."

He also said "not having an Executive, a budget and a live economic strategy" made improving productivity an "even greater challenge".

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