Belfast Telegraph

Friday 24 October 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Why our past means nothing to investors

Richard Haass

In a democracy the main business of government is maintaining the living standards of the governed and improving the life opportunities of the voters.

That is another reason to cut a deal on the Haass (above) proposals rather than allowing our five party leaders to spend too long agonising and haggling over every detail.

In that sense it may be a positive sign that the First and deputy First Ministers are already planning to spend the run-up to St Patrick's Day on the American West coast touting for investment.

They will probably make the Washington shindig, which is being held a couple of days early on March 14 or 15 because Congress breaks up on March 17, but their focus is on attracting and securing jobs here.

"Invest NI wants us to go to the west coast of the United States and to speak to a number of potential clients there," Mr Robinson said in Stormont on Thursday.

For much of Northern Ireland's history, unionist politicians congratulated themselves on the fact that our living standards were higher than the Republic's.

Yet last week figures published by this newspaper showed that on some measures average wages south of the border are now £8,000 a year more than they are here. A lot of that is down to the ability of the Republic to attract highly paid, high-tech jobs. Many of them come from the American West coast where the Republic is seen as a stable, friendly, tax-efficient place to set up European operations.

We can't at this stage match some of the tax offering but we can at least try to increase stability and stop sending messages to the outside world that our political settlement is shaky.

Falling living standards at the main problem facing most people in Northern Ireland and it will only get worse while political attention remains ensnared in such issues as flags, parading and the past.

Maurice Goldring, a French historian who writes incisively about Ireland, spotted this. "A people whose sole justification for the present situation is probing the wounds of the past hastens its own downfall, even if it experiences intense pleasure in doing so," he observed acidly.

There is no point Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness going to America and expecting a sympathy vote because we are still struggling with a divided history.

People with a choice don't invest in division and instability.

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