Talk of an ‘all-Ireland economy’ is just a Trojan horse for republicans’ goal of Irish unity, writes Nelson McCausland
Leo Varadkar was clearly enjoying himself in Dublin on Monday. There he was, standing beside Boris Johnson at a Press conference, declaring to the world that there had to be a backstop, because, “we must protect the burgeoning all-island economy” — not just the “all-island economy”, but the “burgeoning all-island economy”.
It’s another of those phrases that Irish nationalists use to support their opposition to Brexit, along with the ubiquitous “peace process” and “protect the Good Friday Agreement”.
So, is the Irish economy doing well? And where did this “all-island”, or “all-Ireland”, economy thinking come from?
The economy of the Irish Republic has been built on slashing its corporation tax to 12.5%, well below that in the UK, to attract inward investment away from the UK, including Northern Ireland.
Forget the cosy, “all-island” talk, there is nothing cosy about Dublin. This is cut-throat competition.
Indeed, Dublin was so aggressive that it cut a special deal with global giant Apple to get it to locate in the Republic.
That’s why, back in 2016, the European Union found that the Irish government had granted around £12bn of illegal tax benefits to Apple (Ireland), which is Ireland’s biggest company and represents over one-fifth of Ireland’s GDP.
The key word there is the word “illegal”, because the European Commission judged that they had broken EU state-aid rules.
Most governments want tax revenue, but Dublin said they didn’t want the money from Apple — they had broken EU rules to get Apple and they wanted to hold on to Apple at all costs. After all, it is one-fifth of their GDP.
Apple, too, was unhappy with the EU and appealed, but last September, pending the appeal, they had to lodge £12bn in a special bank account.
Is it any wonder that a Nobel-prize winning economist coined the phrase “leprechaun economics”?
That helps to shed some light on the fragility of the Irish economy, much of which is built on having made the Republic the world’s largest corporate tax haven and undermines arguments for a United Ireland.
That EU judgment is something Irish nationalists, on both sides of the border, don’t like to talk about.
It also sheds some light on the real relationship between Dublin and Brussels. Indeed, you might wonder what part it plays in the intransigence of the Dublin government.
Turning, then, to the phase “all-Ireland economy”: where did that come from? And when?
In December 1995, the Irish Management Institute organised a conference in Belfast on the economic potential of the island of Ireland.
It was sponsored by KPMG and Independent Newspapers and a report in the Irish Independent commented that it would draw an array of “corporate and academic power rarely seen” in Ireland.
It also explained that it had “its genesis in the ideas of Sir George Quigley, chairman of the Ulster Bank, on whether the whole island could become a vibrant economic zone”.
Irish nationalists and republicans looked at this and welcomed it, saying that an “all-Ireland economy” was good for the “political process” and a step towards an “all-Ireland state”.
Gerry Adams gave it his imprimatur when he addressed the assembled Northern Ireland Chambers of Conference in February 1998 and newspapers reported that this had already been advocated by Sir George Quigley.
When the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body met in Belfast in October 2006, Sir George spoke to them about his vision of an “all-Ireland economy” and Martin McGuinness spoke about it at a Uniting Ireland conference in Londonderry.
The former IRA commander said: “I believe in moving forward inexorably towards an all-Ireland economy. Sir George Quigley has been at the forefront of that argument.”
Our economy is important and it is best developed within the United Kingdom and, hopefully, soon free from the shackles of Brussels, not in the context of some “green myth” of an all-Ireland economy based on “leprechaun economics”.
The Apple debacle has been running on for years now and has still to reach its conclusion.
But it is remarkable how little we hear about that multi-billion pound scandal, just down the road in Dublin.