Expert warns that strength of Northern Ireland's economic growth is diminishing
The Northern Ireland economy is stagnating with growth figures making "uncomfortable reading," according to an expert.
The composite economic index said output increased by around 0.4% towards the end of last year with growth spread across all sectors - the same rate of growth in UK GDP over the period.
But year-on-year, there was a fall of 0.2% between the fourth quarter of 2016 and the end of 2017, contrasting with growth of 1.4% in the UK and nearly 8% in the Republic.
However, the growth experienced at the end of the year was evenly spread between the construction, services, production and the public sectors. And the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra) said that annualised figures over the last three years showed that growth was slowing down.
Annualised average growth over the last four quarters to quarter four compared to the previous four quarters was 1.1%.
That was lower than annual growth over the previous two years of 1.5%.
Ulster University senior economist Dr Esmond Birnie said: "The results make for uncomfortable reading - at the end of 2017 the economy was still growing but there were clear indications that the strength of our rather incomplete economic recovery is draining away."
He said the growth of 0.4% at the end of the year contrasted with zero growth the quarter before, and a decline in the quarter before that, adding: "In fact, in six of the last 20 quarters, the NICEI indicates output decline in Northern Ireland, whereas growth has been continuous in the UK."
And any growth there had been in the economy here since the economic crash was underwhelming compared to the UK, according to the Dr Birnie, who is part of the Ulster University economic policy centre.
"Another way of indicating just how weak the recovery has been in Northern Ireland is to note that quarter four output was still 5.6% lower than the previous pre-banking crisis and recession peak in quarter two 2007," he explained.
"In contrast, UK GDP is now 10.7% above the previous peak."
And he said the fact that job numbers had grown in the economy over the year to the last quarter signalled a productivity problem, as more people were contributing to a diminished output.
"In short, a disappointing performance and one that becomes especially challenging as we linger in a situation of 'no' or 'semi government' with a consequent policy vacuum."