Belfast Telegraph

Specific policies on economy were conspicuously absent in Northern Ireland election campaign

Opinion

By John Simpson

Government policy for the Northern Ireland economy took a relatively low place in the election priorities of the larger political parties.

None of the bigger parties acknowledged that in the last decade the Northern Ireland economy had lagged behind even the modest growth recorded for the UK. Specific policies that might help a catch-up and overtake ambition were conspicuous by their absence.

The two largest parties made brief mention of their ambitions for economic policy in simple headline summaries.

The DUP relied on a five-point plan where the key was to create more jobs and increase incomes. This was supported by an ambition to invest in infrastructure. There was a continuing reliance on the possible incentive to greater business investment through the introduction of the 12.5% rate of corporation tax.

The five-point plan lacked any elaboration of operational detail and quantified objectives. Some party spokespersons alluded to a possible 50,000 extra jobs in the period up to and after 2020.

Sinn Fein, in a coincidental parallel presentation, had a 10-point programme, repeated from the 2016 election papers, which specified 50,000 new jobs as the headline for the economy alongside a £6bn infrastructure budget to improve roads, transport and public services.

The biggest contrast between the two largest parties was a stark difference on the implications of Brexit. Sinn Fein asks 'for a designated special status for the north within the EU' which would largely maintain the main policy and financial relationships with Brussels.

In contrast the DUP accepts the result of the referendum and wants to get on with the work to make leaving the EU a success. The DUP also asks for a seamless, frictionless border and maintenance of the common travel area. That ambition may be difficult to translate into reality.

The Alliance Party regrets the UK leaving the EU. It argues that not being in the EU would seriously harm our economy.

The SDLP wants to minimise the damage of Brexit with an endorsement of the plan for special status for Northern Ireland which would minimise the disruption of a restored economic border.

The UUP accepted the referendum result must now be implemented but presents a long list of emerging problems to be solved. The possible answers include 'no hard border' and unfettered access to the EU single market.

None of the larger parties tackles one major unstated problem: with the current and emerging funding pressures at Stormont, how can a realistic and acceptable workable budget be prepared?

The search for agreed power-sharing and consensual action plans is needed now more than ever.

Belfast Telegraph

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