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Hurrah!  Another Northern investment conference

Tales of gloom and doom about the political crisis in the North of Ireland have been counterbalanced by media tales of yet another investment conference that will finally, with maybe a short delay of a few months, deliver the mythical "peace dividend" guaranteed to revive the local economy. The myth was given flesh by Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, standing in tuxedos, riven by hatred, but with frozen smiles on their face. Days before Sinn Fein had declared a crisis in the peace process, but McGuinness was able to assure the assembled financiers that the North was a great place, absolutely stable. 

The series of conferences over 15 years have failed to deliver anything. The idea was that political stability would attract trans-national investment. In fact the political stability is more fictional than real. Senior BBC journalist John Simpson, on a recent visit, expressed astonishment at the external story of success and the internal story of sectarian hatred. The investment strategy was really a copy of the Irish government’s strategy—one that has left the southern economy a basket case. So bankrupt are the Sinn Fein/DUP coalition in the North that their main lobbying proposal to the British is to take hundreds of millions from the welfare grant and give it to transnational companies in the form of a 12.5% corporation tax subsidy. 

Insofar as there was a peace dividend it was a retail boom as British stores expanded followed by a housing bubble which quickly burst. 

Some investment was claimed from the last conference, but this came from a political manoeuvre that allowed access to New York City Pension funds as a line of credit. The “Emerald fund” was never taken up, mainly because it was tied to extortionate rates of interest to counter the risk of investing in the North. 

The real function of the conference is as life support for a political system in crisis. It ranks alongside Derry as UK city of culture, the G8 summit and endless cultural and sporting events subsided by the public purse to provide a facade of normality. 

The local economy rests on a contracting public sector. Transnational investment marks time and produces few jobs. The small local manufacturing sector fills niche roles. 

The local assembly has no answers and will react to economic downturn with frantic sectarian rivalry for control of patronage. 

The late Charlie Haughey was a compulsive liar, but when he described the Northern statelet as a failed political entity he hit the right note. 

Despite massive support from the British, Europe and the US, it remains a failed economic entity also.


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