Tuesday, 7 June 2011

A 'Beggar' Nation? It's a little more complex than that.

Well, it seems Shane Greer has a thing for Northern Ireland right now. Last week he was on the Nolan Show talking about how the level of subsidy that Northern Ireland receives is unfair to English taxpayers. To follow that he then sought to further clarify his point with a post on Total Politics entitled 'Northern Ireland is a beggar'. As if that wasn't enough, Shane was back on Nolan again this morning to argue his position, this time in the face of significant, and mostly irrelevant (he's forgotten his roots) and offensive (his accent is funny & his wife is stupid) opposition from the show's callers.

It was the kind of debate that we have come to expect from The Nolan Show which clearly seeks to provoke such arguments over and above reasoned debate. In fairness, it does make for good listening but it rather misses the whole point which for me is; is Shane Greer right in what he says?

Well, the answer to that is Yes. But it's also No. Please bear with me while I try to outline where I think his points have merit and where he completely, and possibly deliberately (for Greer is nothing if not an Agent Provocateur) fails to address the underlying issues that have brought about the undeniable fact that Northern Ireland is far too dependent on funding from and through the Public Sector.

Underlying the whole thing though is an issue of wealth concentration & distribution. No matter your best efforts, in a mainly capitalist society there will always be areas where the wealth is vastly disproportionate. Within England that area is the South East & London while within the UK that area is England. Accepting that as fact then the logical journey is that if NI is a beggar then so is the North of England yet Shane Greer had no issue with the North of England.

Greer has argued with me that as NI is a separate state with control of its own budget it's a different matter. There's a whole further argument to be had there about the Union at what it means but for now I'll paraphrase President Josiah Bartlet somewhat: It wasn't England that declared war on Hitler's Germany, but the United Kingdom and it isn't English troops that make up the British Army. Our contribution to the Union is not solely monetary.

In his piece, Greer makes reference to The Troubles but almost immediately dismisses them as justification for Northern Ireland’s special status. This is very dangerous. Only a fool would argue that crime is not linked to poverty. In NI, crime takes on a very different and massively consequential meaning when it is umbrella'd under a cause. I'm not suggesting that we pay people not to commit crime but that, when considering cuts and the value they may provide, to ignore the unique political environment is, frankly, ridiculous.

The PSNI will confirm that there is a very real threat of increased terrorism. A new generation, unable to secure work, feeling abandoned and unwanted by their ultimate government will make up the new recruits that fuel that threat. What Greer may have missed is that should that happen, it won't just be an NI problem and the cost may end up far higher - the insurers of London's docklands can testify to that effect.

I'm sure Greer believes that somehow, the Public Sector in NI inhibits growth in Private Sector enterprise but I've never understood this argument. What inhibits growth here is a lack of incentive, poor infrastructure and if we're not careful - terrorism. I'm not sure how any of those factors arise from the public sector save for a lack of funding for infrastructure projects which ironically requires more money from the treasury coffers.

Speaking of the treasury coffers, Greer points out, incorrectly, that over and above our block grant this money is English taxpayers money. It's not. It includes revenue from English based companies recording revenue from NI, Scotland & Wales but declaring it in England. Why? Because we are United and so why not? HMRC are quite happy that profits generated in NI, Scotland & Wales aren't split so why should the distribution of public money be based on a divided model?

It serves no purpose for Greer to attack those looking to defend Public Sector workers. It is not the amount of money spent on public services that is the problem in NI, it is the proportion in relation to income from the private sector.

Yes, there are efficiencies to be made and there are indeed some areas that are probably due a cut but if, as is often argued, these cuts are about efficiencies then bringing in the disproportionate funding to NI is irrelevant. Are you cutting because you need to or because you have to?  Too much focus on public spending draws time and attention away from developing a real strategy for growth.

However, even considering the above, it is clear that Northern Ireland is still overly reliant on public money and that we desperately need to grow the private sector but I’m not sure the description of beggar suits.

Within a relationship where one partner relies on the other for the majority of their income, would it be appropriate to call the other partner a beggar for requesting a share of the income that is needed to keep the house in order when it clearly benefits both in the relationship? Of course, the wealthier partner could leave but then they would also no longer enjoy the benefits the relationship offers.

So yes, Shane Greer; NI does have a dependency on the wealthier parts of the UK, but no, it is not a beggar and to be viewed as such by our partners in this particular relationship is unfair & insulting and says more about you than it does about us.


  1. Ed wished you could have came on and debated directly with Shane this am on Nolan Show. You both make valid points and yes Shane is maybe trying to be profociate calling us all "beggars" in Northern Ireland.
    The debate was dragged downwards when callers personally attacked Shane's accent and his wife's Nationality!! Very childish attitude by callers responsible.
    Truth be told not many of the callers understood what Shane was actually saying which speaks volumes for standard of callers on Nolan Show some days.
    You both have valid points on either side of the debate, but until we have changed from the Public Sector employing 70% plus of work force in NI we won't have much of a chance to reduce block grant to more even ratio. Lets hope we will have 70% plus of private sector employment within the next 10 to 15 years. Reduction in corporation tax will hopefully be first step towards threat goal.

  2. Cop out Greer's argument is flawed. He will not accept that money raised by companies such as Tesco and BP, goes into the Barnett formula as revenue raised in London. I've put the question to him several times on Twitter and each time he can't give answers. He's a fool with a gripe and should keep his little mouth shut until he knows the real extent of the matter.

    England always has been, and always will be, a sponge on the people of the other countries in the UK. Look at under investment in the North of Ireland, and the drain from England of our people. Replicate that for Scotland and Wales and it is clear; give them nothing, take their people, and let England prosper.

    The Act of Union of 1800 was supposed to help Ireland; all it has done is suck the blood from our land. Bram Stokers Dracula depicts this with excellence!