Now Let's Get down to Plastic Ecus

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    Now Let's Get down to Plastic EcusAuthor(s): Jacques MacneeSource: Fortnight, No. 306 (May, 1992), p. 4Published by: Fortnight Publications Ltd.Stable URL: .Accessed: 25/06/2014 08:02

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  • Now let's

    get down

    to plastic


    Mon cher ami,

    Sorry for the long silence, but what with Irish protocols and other ex

    otica, the European agenda has been some

    what crowded these past months. Now I see

    we have to take some more of your peculiar ideas on board.

    George Quigley has been promoting the idea of Ireland as an "island economy" and

    wants the European Community to recognise it as such. Support for his general thesis has come from the Northern Ireland govern ment (via the now-departed Lord Belstead), from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and from various commentators.

    Specifically, Dr Quigley was suggesting that the EC allocate a "block of resources to the island, for allocation by agreement be

    tween the two governments on a basis agreed with the EC". In a subsequent interview he

    spelt it out a bit more. Both north and south, he said, assuming a devolved authority in the north, "as equal partners could negotiate a

    block of resources for the island".

    This is all very interesting and positive, but it makes the chair of the Ulster Bank sound a bit like the Social Democratic and Labour leader, John Hume?and both of them, in this case, a few ecus short of a grant.

    For a start, the island of Ireland is not one

    economy but two. Certainly, there is scope for

    much greater economic co-operation between

    the two parts, for more integrated economic

    and social planning. But even with that there

    would still be two economies.

    Certainly, too, the European Community would like to see such cooperation, and has

    indeed already allocated modest funding to

    encourage it. But an economy consists of the

    whole range of economic activities within an

    area plus its various inputs and outputs. What

    makes the Northern Ireland economy very

    different, and quite distinct from the repub lic's economy, is the annual net input of up to

    ?2,000 million from the UK exchequer. This fact alone makes it almost impossible

    for the EC to treat the economy ofthe island as

    one. If you take the current allocations from

    the structural funds?leaving aside farm sup

    port under the Common Agricultural Policy? Northern Ireland gets ?550 million for the

    period 1989-93, while the republic gets ?2,570 million. The regional policy commissioner, Bruce Millan, has repeatedly said he sees

    nothing unfair about that: the republic is a

    small weak economy, while Northern Ireland

    is part of a large and relatively prosperous

    economy. (From which it gets some ?2,000 million a year, which makes even the repub

    lic's EC rake-off petites pommes de terre, as

    we say in Brussels.) How then could Brussels have one budget

    for Ireland? How could the island be treated as

    one for EC-aid purposes? How, for that mat

    ter, could north and south as equal partners

    negotiate a block of resources with Brussels

    ?since one is a member state and the other is

    a small region of a member state, and ulti

    mately only member state governments nego tiate such deals with Brussels? Ah, says Dr

    Quigley, Ireland is a special case. Mon vieux, as you and he well know, the European Com

    munity is a Community of Special Cases?all so special they have to be treated equally according to the rules.

    Dr Quigley was careful to say that none of

    his suggestions could come about if there were "political agendas, overt or hidden". He

    might as well not have bothered, for the next

    day his proposals were branded by one loyal ist group as "part of the hidden agenda of the

    Anglo-Irish accord" and as "text-book nation

    alist dogma". And Douglas Hamilton

    (Fortnight 305) welcomed his "refreshing" proposals?but added that, without funda

    mental changes to political arrangements, the

    benefits from them would be limited. So what political arrangements are to be

    changed fundamentally? Is there a hidden

    agenda after all?

    The problem with discussing closer north

    south ties within the European Community is that nationalists in the north talk as though the

    EC was founded chiefly to provide an um brella for the unification of Ireland, and the

    unionists believe them. This is a pity, for while it may not be widely perceived in Northern Ireland, the EC was founded for other reasons

    entirely, one of which was to render obsolete

    any ambitions to alter the political boundaries of Europe, and elirr mate quarrels that might flow therefrom.

    Nevertheless, unionists should look again

    at Dr Quigley' s * island economy'. They might

    note that while he called for all sorts of north

    south cooperation, including the setting up by the two governments of "machinery to assist

    in establishing priorities for the strategic allo

    cation of resources", he never once mentioned

    the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Now, article 2 of

    that agreement states that the Intergovern mental Conference established under it will

    deal with four specific policy areas, number

    four of which is "the promotion of cross

    border co-operation". But Dr Quigley is talk

    ing of something else: he wants the Euro-MPs

    and the social partners involved.

    This begins to sound like an idea floated in the 70s?an Economic Council of Ireland. It is

    an idea whose time may be coming again. The

    upcoming talks on Northern Ireland are all

    about replacing the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Mr Reynolds may pretend they will reopen the

    question of partition, but they are essentially about finding a new agreement acceptable to

    the unionists. Most unionists concede there

    must be a substantial Irish dimension. As they will never accept the political input of the

    republic as in the quasi-joint authority Hillsbor

    ough accord, it would make sense for them to

    deliver the absolute maximum on all sorts of

    other cross-border matters, particularly the

    economy. Economic commentators agree that there

    are gains to be made, jobs to be created,

    through stimulating commerce and trade within

    the island. Opinions differ on how big these

    gains might be, but most agree that economic

    activity within the island is less than it should and could be. Unionists need to brush up their

    image. What better than to present an entirely

    positive face to the new secretary of state and

    the resumed talks?maximum economic unity, as far as that is possible without changing the

    political set-up? A joint British-Irish pitch towards the EC

    for special funding is unlikely to yield mas sive dividends, and clearly the unionists and

    sensible nationalists would not want to go down any road that might put in jeopardy the

    vastly greater UK transfers. But, while guard

    ing against that, the unionists could well af

    ford to back calls for more EC funding for cross-border schemes.

    The hard facts of European life are that EC funds will flow in far greater volume to a poor

    member state like the republic, than they ever

    will to a not-so-poor region of a reasonably

    wealthy member state like the UK. But in an

    integrating island economy, the north could

    hope to share to a considerable degree in the

    beneficial effects of EC aid to the republic, and might also hope to squeeze out additional resources for programmes and projects planned on an all-Ireland basis.

    That way the unionists might get not just some ecus, but some badly-needed kudos. As

    this latter is not yet within the European mon

    etary system, mere might be considerable

    speculative gains from such an investment.

    A bientot,

    Jacques Macnee


    This content downloaded from on Wed, 25 Jun 2014 08:02:13 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

    Article Contentsp. 4

    Issue Table of ContentsFortnight, No. 306 (May, 1992), pp. 1-44Front MatterNow Let's Get down to Plastic Ecus [p. 4-4]LeaderWe'll Get There despite Them [p. 5-5]

    BriefingDemocratic Experiment [p. 6-6]X for the Exiles [p. 6-6]Regionalist or Racist? [pp. 6-7]Le Pen Is Still Mighty [pp. 7-8]They're Not Giving up [p. 7-7]Still Not Cohesive [p. 8-8]Spotlight on Rights [p. 8-8]They Took Their Time [pp. 8-9]Courting Couple [p. 9-9]

    Cover Story: UK Election: The AftermathSir Patrick Has His Day [p. 11-11]All over Bar the Talking? [pp. 12-14]Right Prescription [pp. 14-15]England, True and Blue [pp. 15-16]Spoiling for a (Real) Fight [p. 16-16]

    A Sea-Change in Attitudes [p. 18-18]A Hundred Flowers Blooming [pp. 19-20]Daisy and Larry Go to Baghdad [p. 21-21]No More Violent Eruptions, Please [p. 23-23]It's a Dream Still [pp. 24-26]This One Turned Sour [p. 25-25]Personally Speaking: Unaware, out of Touch [p. 26-26]Letters [p. 27-27]'Troubles' Chronology [pp. 28-29]BooksObituary: Michael McLaverty: Part of His Own Posterity [p. 31-31]Review: Breaking the Ice [pp. 31-32]Review: Sagart an Ghr [p. 32-32]Review: Missing the Target [pp. 32-33]Review: Annus Mirabilis: 1989 [pp. 33-34]Review: Masterly Survey [p. 34-34]

    Melting-Pot Music [p. 35-35]Less Sex, More Sashes [p. 36-36]Strong, Yet Subtle [p. 36-36]Midsummer Night and Easter Week [p. 37-37]Crowd-Pulling Versifiers [p. 37-37]Cultural Domination [p. 38-38]... and Cultural Exchange [pp. 38-39]New Summer School [p. 39-39]Unpeeling the Parish [p. 39-39]Poems [p. 41-41]Correction: Poems [p. 41-41]Sidelines: The Paddy Factor [p. 42-42]Back Matter