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Editorial: Massive cost of united Ireland cannot be ignored



One of the authors of the report, Professor John FitzGerald, said that absorbing Northern Ireland could put “huge financial pressure” on people in the Republic that would result in “an immediate, major reduction in their living standards”.

But Prof FitzGerald argued the cost of unification could be substantially reduced if Northern Ireland made major changes in its economy to raise its productivity. His co-author, Prof Edgar Morgenroth, said some costs would also eventually be offset by the benefits of integration into the wider EU economy, but this would take “some considerable time” — at least two decades.

In the Republic, there has long been a general view in favour of Irish unity, reflected again in today’s Sunday Independent/Ireland Thinks opinion poll that finds 60pc in favour, 25pc who would prefer Northern Ireland to remain in the UK and 15pc unsure.

However, the poll also finds the issues raised by the IIEA to be of considerable relevance to citizens in the Republic: only 12pc would be prepared to pay significantly higher personal taxation to fund a united Ireland, while 31pc would be prepared to pay moderately higher taxes — a combined 43pc willing to take a hit in the pocket; 42pc would not countenance any higher taxes, and 10pc would not vote for a united Ireland regardless of the cost, with 5pc unsure.

Sinn Féin, which strongly advocates for Irish unity, has disputed the methodology of the IIEA publication, arguing that the actual subvention would be much less and stating that the report assumes there will be no economic growth in Northern Ireland.

Supporters of a united Ireland have also pointed to German reunification, applying the same model, and argued that unity could boost the all-island economy by €35bn over eight years.

The report’s authors, though, have stoutly ­defended their analysis, pointing to other factors such as evidence that regions that lag in productivity, such as Northern Ireland, tend not to actually catch-up quickly with the richer regions, such as the Republic.

Prof Morgenroth, who previously worked on German unification, also pointed out that decades later, costs are still mounting there, into the trillions of euro, but said three-quarters of German people, when asked, were happy with unification and willing to for it. However, there remains compelling arguments as to why the same policy mix in the two parts of the island, post-unity, would see Northern Ireland’s economy continue to perform poorly in comparison with the Republic.

The evidence in our poll suggests people here would be more unwilling than Germans to pay for unification through personal tax rises and, indeed, cuts to public services. As such, the IIEA report should give those who assume that people here would support unification, irrespective of personal cost, considerable pause for thought.

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