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Don't listen to lazy economic arguments against Irish unity. They couldn't be further from the truth

Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy responds to a column published on TheJournal.ie last week.

Matt Carthy

First published – 8am

AARON MCKENNA MADE a weak argument against Irish unity in his column for TheJournal.ie last week, using a tired logic and a failed economic position that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

Of course, a debate on a united Ireland cannot and should not be limited to the economics. But seeing as McKenna emphasises it, let me respond to some of his key points.

The “unmitigated disaster” in this story is the absolute failure that partition has been for the people of Ireland, north and south.

No independent analyst given the task of designing the best economic model for an island of 6.4 million people would dream of separating the north-east corner from the rest of the country and, in turn, creating two separate competing currencies, tax systems, legal frameworks and two administrations.

Island-wide reconciliation

McKenna’s column makes the same fundamental mistake when considering the outworkings of Irish unity as almost every partitionist since our country was first divided by an artificial border – either by laziness or lack of imagination they can only consider a united Ireland to mean an extension of the current 26 county southern state.

That is not what proponents of change are seeking. The type of nation building and island-wide reconciliation that Sinn Féin, for example, is working towards is not about grafting the north onto the current political, cultural and economic status quo of the south.

We are seeking a new, agreed and united Ireland that caters for the aspirations of all of us who share this island. We want to build a just, fair and equal Ireland.

Securing a referendum on Irish unity north and south is only one step within the process of nation building and reconciliation.

Taxes returned to Britain

Some commentators and political figures try to distract and halt demands for change by focusing on estimates of public expenditure in the north.

The truth is we would all be better off with a single economy within Ireland.

Outlandish numbers are frequently presented to illustrate the level of subsidy of the north by Britain, with no focus upon resources generated within the north.

The fact is the people of the north pay taxes that are returned directly to Britain, but the British government has refused on repeated occasions to publish the exact amount of taxes that are raised in the north.

The most recent and complete estimates of the level of taxes raised in the north are available in a report commissioned by the former Finance Minister in the north, Sammy Wilson, and it underestimates the amount of revenue raised in the north in 2011-12 at £14.1 billion.

These figures are incomplete because they fail to take account of the level of corporation tax and VAT generated within the north by companies with British headquarters. The British Treasury tells us that in the same year for which Sammy Wilson has provided us with an estimate for revenue, the northern executive and councils spent £17.7bn.

That leaves an over-estimated fiscal gap of £3.6 billion, much less than the deficit McKenna quotes. Sinn Féin will continue to demand that the British government release full and accurate details of the amount of revenue generated in the north so that we can move beyond this stale non-debate.

Integrated economy

Let’s be clear, simply maintaining the status quo in the form of two separate competing economies on a tiny island will not deliver prosperity for the people of this island.

There are no advantages for a small island nation on the edge of Europe having separate tax regimes, regulatory and legal systems, disparate economic development agencies and programmes, divergent and competing investment strategies and economic policies.

Harmonised and integrated policies, laws and structures across the island are central to creating a fully integrated and healthy economy.

Healthcare is one area in which the case for Irish unity is strong.

There are multiple examples in which a better service has been delivered through an all-Ireland approach. The new joint cancer centre in Derry now provides services for patients from throughout the north-west. No longer will patients from Donegal or Derry have to travel to Belfast or Dublin for treatments.

There are opportunities within a new integrated island wide structure to reconfigure how we deliver health services across this island.

The total money spent per person within the current regressive health system in the south is more than what is spent per person in the north of Ireland or in Britain.

With vision, commitment and determination we could deliver better services to all the people of Ireland north and south.

Democratic choice

The real question of Irish unity is about a fundamental democratic choice for us all.

Is an all-Ireland government representative of all the people best placed to deliver prosperity, equality and reconciliation or should that ultimately rest with an unaccountable and unrepresentative government in Westminster and political administrations that can only serve some of our people?

It can no longer be a case of asking if we can afford a united Ireland. The real question is how much longer can we afford partition, and the duplication and inefficiencies it has created.

Matt Carthy is a Sinn Féin MEP for Midlands North West.

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Matt Carthy

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