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Economic dependence, the back door to Dublin rule

At the beginning of December 1995, the Europa Hotel in Belfast hosted a gathering of the Irish Management Institute. It was billed as an encouragement to cross-border trade but there was much more to it than this. Much of the atmosphere can be read from the title, ' The island of Ireland - a natural economic zone for business?' However, there wasn't much of a question mark over the proceedings. An affirmative answer to this was treated as a matter beyond dispute. The Dublin foreign minister and tanaiste Dick Spring called for more new north-south bodies including a political executive. This would develop 'dynamic new relationships'. We bet they would - all the one way! We are reminded of the words of the late John McMichael during the talks between Margaret Thatcher and Charles Haughey about the 'totality of relationships' in 1981 : 'Instead of having political institutions -like a Council-d of Ireland, they are trying to by-pass the Ulster people and make Northern Ireland more economically dependent on Southern Ireland than it is on Great Britain . They're shifting the economic dependence on the South. The next step would be political frameworks emerging on an all-lreland basis. In short, the Anglo Irish talks are a way to bring about the unification of Ireland in a very subtle and long term fashion.

This conference is clearly all about the shift in economic dependence which John McMichael predicted fifteen years ago. There is nothing so crude here as Provo violence or intimidation - merely the unchallenged assertion of the 'economic inevitability' of treating the whole island as a single economic unit. Those who say otherwise are regarded as standing in the way of progress for 'political' reasons. For example, The Irish News can say that Ireland - the geographical rather than the political entity, - has a very strong sales pitch to make. In marketing terms it provides a strong brand image which people in other parts of the world can relate to. It makes no sense at all to be selling this island as two separate units.

Of course they would say that!

Ulster patriots have no problem with cross-border trade. We want to be good neighbours with the Republic and we would like any co-operation to be on equal terms for mutual benefit. The problem as we see it at present is that the Republic sees itself as a major shareholder which is itching to gain full control of Ulster's assets at the earliest opportunity. Dick Spring's intervention made this quite blatant.

Ulsterfolk took everything that the Provos could throw at them for over 25 years but remained unbowed and unbeaten. However, this policy of creeping integration with the economy of the Republic is something which will be harder to combat than the IRA campaign ever was. It's meant to be that way. It is easy for a hapless fly to get into a spider's web but it is not designed for an easy exit.

However, creeping economic unification is not an inevitable law of economics as pretended by the Irish News and the Irish Management Institute - it is the outcome of political decisions taken for political reasons. The Irish Free State managed to disentangle itself from the wider economy of the British Isles when it was necessary in 1921, Scotland could do so tomorrow as could Ulster in the context of this island.



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