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Executive could slow recession

Published 29/09/2008

Carson’s statue at Stormont famously looks perpetually to the South.

Since they now have additional time on their hands — the time they would have spent preparing for and participating in Executive meetings — our Ministers might be well advised to take a glance over his shoulder in the same direction.

The road from Belfast to Dublin has been one of the great indicators of the economic balance on this island. Improvements to the Southern half of the road, making it a motorway from the border to the urban limits of Dublin, have been a sign of how robust the Republic’s economy had become.

Now that road is looking rockier. Not literally, of course, but the route south is becoming strewn with economic upheavals.

Last week Taoiseach Brian Cowen admitted the Republic’s economy is in recession. The economy shrank by 1% in the first half of the year, and Mr Cowen says that means “painful” budgetary decisions in the future.

Why does that matter here? The primary reason is that Ireland’s two economies have even stronger ties than the island’s two political entities.

We are often subject to a ripple effect from Dublin. Our own housing boom was the product of a number of factors — perhaps the greatest being the moves to a more peaceful and stable society — but one of them was the inflated housing market in the South.

Once places like Newry and Warrenpoint started to be considered part of the Dublin commuter belt, and equity-rich investors from the South started buy

ing Belfast flats, it was clear that we were caught in the swirl.

So if we get caught in the boom, it’s natural to expect that we will also feel the bust. The Republic’s recession will have its effects here.

But things could conceivably be worse. Not long ago — earlier this year, as it happens — some of our Executive Ministers were advocating that we follow Dublin’s lead in developing the financial sector. As the financial sector reels, that’s not looking like such a hot idea now.

The irony is that our dependence on the public sec

tor (which should still be a long-term concern) may actually help Northern Ireland ride out the current storm.

But that will also require a hand on the tiller, and that’s what we don’t have at the moment.

No-one’s saying Stormont could prevent us from feeling the effects of the current credit crunch, because they have no serious powers concerning economic policy.

But the Executive could and should be making coordinated efforts to help consumers, shield commercial interests, protect vital public programmes and, yes, make money-saving cuts where they can.

Instead they continue with an exercise in oneupmanship that makes them look increasingly irrelevant.

No one is standing in a supermarket queue today worrying about when policing and justice powers will be devolved. Other matters are more pressing.

Ministers, especially Sinn Fein Ministers, need to see that.

Belfast Telegraph

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