issue 255 - May 1994
Northern Ireland was once the industrial powerhouse of Ireland.
Now it has sunk into dependence on Britain for its
economic health as well as its military security.
|POPULATION AND RELIGION
The majority of people in Northern Ireland define themselves as Protestants, though the proportion of Catholics has significantly increased since the province was created in 1920.1
Catholics' higher (though declining) birthrate has led to speculation that they will become a majority around 2025. But there would still be a time lag before this majority was reflected in the population of voting age.
Northern Ireland is the poorest of the UK's regions, its GDP per capita being 74% of the European Union average.
Even this position for Northern Ireland is misleading - its economy is artificially kept at this level by vast subsidies from Britain. What was once the economic powerhouse of the Irish island has suffered from deindustrialization with a vengeance while the Irish Republic has an economy with much greater underlying strength. In the long term this might provide the North with an incentive for closer political ties.
|COST TO BRITAIN
Northern Ireland is massively subsidized by the rest of the UK. In 1992-3 the subvention - public spending in the province not covered by tax raised there - amounted to £3.3 billion ($4.8 billion).4
Northern Ireland is now heavily dependent on direct British subsidy for its employment, with an extraordinarily high proportion of jobs being in security fields like prisons, probation, the police etc. One in ten Protestant men now works in these fields.5
The economic subsidy is much more of a drain on the UK Treasury than the cost of keeping the Army there. The total cost of the military presence was £405.6 million ($592.2 million) in 1993 - just 1.7% of the total UK defence budget.4
There are 12,000 British soldiers in Northern Ireland. But responsibility for security is increasingly being devolved to forces drawn from the local population (almost entirely Protestants) such as the Royal Irish Regiment.
The Protestant make-up of the security forces is a major concern for Catholics given that files on more than 3,000 republicans have been passed by the police or army to loyalist paramilitary groups.
Terrorist bombs within Britain get much more publicity but 93 per cent of victims since the Troubles began have been within Northern Ireland. Republican paramilitary groups (particularly the IRA) have been responsible for more than half but loyalist paramilitary groups count a far higher proportion of civilians among their victims.7
Catholic men are 2.2 times more likely to be unemployed than Protestant men (the corresponding figure for women is 1.8 times). Northern Ireland Catholic men have the highest unemployment rate of any group in the UK, while Northern Ireland's Protestants have the second lowest.
1 All population figures from UK and Irish censuses, both from 1991.
2 European Commission figures, reported in The Guardian 26 Jan 1994.
3 Irish News 30 Nov 1993, reporting on a joint study by the Northern Ireland Economic Research Centre in Belfast and the Economic and Social Research Institute in Dublin.
4 UK Government Northern Ireland Office figures.
5 Bob Rowthorn and Naomi Wayne, Northern Ireland: The Political Ecomony of Conflict (Polity 1988).
6 Northern Ireland Fair Employment Commission figures.
7 All figures on deaths in 'The Troubles' are taken from a forthcoming book: Malcolm Sutton Bear in Mind These Dead: An Index of Deaths from the Conflict in Ireland 1969-1993 (Beyond the Pale, Belfast 1993).
8 The figures on civilian casualties are particularly contentious: the IRA see building contractors working for the British Army as combatants; the UDA consider Sinn Fein activists to be combatants too. Both these are included as civilian here, though paramilitary activists are included as combatants.
9 West Midlands PTA Research and Welfare Association.