Bloomfield on Irish unity

Slugger points us to a very significant speech by Sir Kenneth Bloomfield at the Merriman Summer School in Lisdoonvarna, former head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, in which he raises some practical questions about the possibility of a united Ireland:

some fundamental questions remain
unanswered or even unaddressed. What would be the costs falling to be
borne by the Irish Exchequer in the event of a pattern of Irish unity
guaranteeing no reduction in the standard of services and benefits in
Northern Ireland? Would the consequence of such a guarantee be an increase
in the burden of taxation currently borne by taxpayers in the Republic,
and an increase from British tax levels in the North? Or would there have
to be recourse to substantial borrowing for an extended transitional
period? Would the British government of the day, in light of shedding a
continuing indefinite burden, ease the transition by some kind of tapering
"dowry"? (I may say that I heard this canvassed at a conference years ago,
and drawing gales of sceptical laughter from a very senior English
bureaucrat). If these costs were fully investigated and openly revealed,
would all those concerned be willing to meet them? We have before us, I
would remind you, the history of Germany since the removal of the Wall and
the collapse of communism. The assimilation of the former DDR has proved
neither easy nor inexpensive. (

One doesn’t get the sense that Bloomfield is raising this and other questions simply as an argument for the status quo, although he makes it clear he’s quite comfortable with the current devolution settlement. These are exactly the kind of issues that will have to be addressed to make a united Ireland a realistic prospect.






4 responses to “Bloomfield on Irish unity”

  1. kensei avatar

    Wiki lists the subvention as £5bn (we’ll say $10bn), which would be roughly in line with the quoted figure of about £3,000 per head. Wiki also lists the nominal GDP of the Republic as $200 million. So the subvention is around 5% of Irish GDP.
    This is significant, but even if nothing was done, possible through some harsh cuts in spending. A few points however:
    – Assuming the British Government has no intention of throwing any more money at us – and it looks like they don’t – if GDP in the Republic growth outpaces that in NI, then the size of the subvention relative to Irish GDP drops, and the subvention becomes more affordable
    – If NI growth is significant on the other hand, it is likely that the absolute size of the subvention will decrease as NI will be contributing more to the British Exchequer. There are also optimal combinations of the above.
    – If cuts in public spending have not been made by the time unity is a possibility, then they will have been long, long overdue, and a short term painful necessity in whatever jurisdiction NI is in.
    – I take it with some salt, but there were also some £1.5 bn in saving identified based on duplicated provision.
    – Regardless of the English bureaucrat, I think it is a reasonable planning assumption that there will be some short term transitional income from a combination of Britain, the EU and possibly America.
    – There’s be duplication of functions with the South where savings could also be made.
    So I don’t think the subvention is a deal breaker at the moment and less so in the future. There might be other transitional costs that could be – it means a change of regulation, currency, law, branding, the works. The one that would worry me would be the transitional costs of introducing the 12.5% tax rate, which could have significant short term costs. I think this is why the North-South bodies are significant (and the pressure for the 12.5% rate) – it allows harmonization of many of these functions long before it is likely to happen and remove many future stumbling blocks.
    He is right that they haven’t been investigated or outlined and there is a certain amount of chicken and egg scenario in the necessity. But the Republic is coming out of a period of very high growth and NI is just bedding down, so planning would difficult. I think it’d be one of the things SF would push for if they recover in the Republic in the next election.

  2. Tom Griffin avatar

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see a move towards fiscal autonomy for all parts of the UK in the next few years. That may well become a factor as well.

  3. Tom Griffin avatar

    Some of the other issues that Bloomfield raises would make a difference as well? Would a united Ireland be based on a unitary or a federal model? I assume the former would be cheaper, but unionists might prefer the latter, (which would require three sets of institutions to avoid a West Lothian type mess.)

  4. kensei avatar

    I have a suspicion that if a United Ireland ever became a reality our glorified council would be kept. I also think it would be a bad thing in the long run as it would be a barrier to full integration into the new state, and in tackling divisions that are almost certain still to remain. And as you state, it’s an added expense.
    My own view is that it is wrong for Nationalists, particularly Northern Nationalists, to get caught in the notion that the whole focus must be on Unionism and no one else. Any deal also has to be sold to the Southern electorate, which is by far more numerous. In terms of devolution, there are wider issues at play, I think – I read somewhere last week that Dublin was set to grow by another 40%, and given that the greater Dublin area already takes in a huge percentage of the southern electorate, I think that the wider issue of local governance and decentralisation of power form Dublin will eventually need addressed. Even if that comes before a United Ireland, it presents a possible framework into which the six counties (or all of Ulster) can fit. Similarly, in terms of the Constitution, or the symbols of the states, we now have a huge and growing immigrant population North and South, and these groups need considered, as well as just Nationalism and Unionism.

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