Monday, November 28, 2005

Cloud over North of Ireland investment conference

Irish Echo:

The child-like outbursts of some Irish unionists in response to this newspaper's interview with Peter Hain, Britain's Secretary of State for the Northern Ireland, have astonished many Irish-Americans.

Hain announced a major international conference designed to encourage U.S. companies to take a fresh look at investing in the North. He pointed out that the North, which receives massive subsidies from Britain, was not economically sustainable. He said its future lay in an all-Ireland economy.

Instead of being regarded as having merely stated the facts, Hain was immediately accused of betraying Northern Ireland. The Ulster Unionists said his comments represented a "stab in the back."

The Rev Ian Paisley, leader of the North's largest party, the DUP, called on Hain to resign. Arlene Foster, one of the party's most prominent politicians, said: "Peter Hain's comments to the Irish Echo are an unacceptable slur."

Unionist leaders have written to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, quoting this newspaper and expressing outrage.

And now, a cloud of doubt hangs over the participation of unionists in the investment conference.

In this week's edition of the Irish Echo, the DUP's economic spokesman has warned that if the conference is framed in the all-Ireland context outlined by Hain last week, his party may decide not to attend.

This is the last thing the North's economy needs right now. By any objective analysis, the situation is already dire; the public expenditure represents around 70 per cent of GDP, and the tiny private sector is dominated by British government contract work.

The thing that it needs most is what just might emerge from the conference - real jobs in real industry.

Irish unionists should realize fast that sharing resources and infrastructure with the rest of the country need not erode their identity.

And it would surely improve their economic lot.

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