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Irish Examiner view: Irish unity may have serious long-term cost impact



A financial report from the Institute of International and European Affairs has shouldered its way into the headlines with some sobering estimates of the cost of a united Ireland.

The report suggests that unification would cost the Republic €20bn every year for 20 years, an expense on such a scale as to require an increase in taxation of around 25% or a significant reduction in expenditure. Or both.

To put the cost in perspective, one of the report’s authors said yesterday that it was the equivalent of one third of the IMF bank bailout being paid every year for two decades.

Obviously this is a vast sum, and if the report is accurate then this has the potential to have a serious impact on all aspects of life on this island for 20 years. The first item of business, therefore, has been to examine how accurate the predictions is.

The Economic and Social Research Institute weighed in early to query the figures, pointing out that predicting costs on such a scale and timeframe depends on a number of “wildly varying” assumptions, ranging from productivity levels improving in the North to the UK’s pension policy, in the case of the North being subsumed into the Republic. Politicians have also questioned whether this is a worst-case scenario.

It is worth pointing out that the Republic already has financial commitments in the North, commitments which are aimed directly at improving infrastructure in the region. Under the Shared Island initiative, Ireland has pledged, for example, €50m towards the redevelopment of Casement Park in Belfast, as well as recommitting €600m to the long-delayed A5 road linking Monaghan to Derry.

Those commitments are one 20th of the total envisaged in the IIEA report, but it is still striking to acknowledge that what has for a long time been considered an ideological aspiration is becoming a subject considered for fiscal evaluation.

Removing barriers to swimming participation

Yesterday morning dawned with an early release from the Public Health, Wellbeing, and National Drugs Strategy Minister Hildegarde Naughton, who announced a €500,000 funding scheme to facilitate outdoor swimming.

Grants of up to €30,000 may be awarded for projects that enable broader participation in outdoor swimming — projects such as improving access, developing and enhancing changing facilities, and procuring equipment to assist people with disabilities.

Louise Burke of Sport Ireland, Hildegarde Naughton, and chief medical officer Prof Breda Smyth announce €500,000 in Healthy Ireland funding for outdoor swimming facilities.

Clearly this is a welcome development — anything that boosts participation in sport and exercise is good news, and outdoor swimming deserves support given its reliance on natural resources; the fact that it is by definition an outdoor activity increases the health benefits on offer to participants.

It is also encouraging to see a specific focus in the provisions of the scheme on enhancing facilities and equipment to help people with disabilities to enjoy outdoor swimming. The temptation is to regard seas, rivers, and lakes as open and accessible to all, when that is clearly not the case.

That lack of accessibility is not confined to those with disabilities either. There are plenty of people who do not have the wherewithal to travel to coastal areas or inland lakes to enjoy a swim.

With that in mind it was interesting to note the remarks of Sport Ireland CEO Una May in welcoming the minister’s announcement: “Open Water swimming overcomes many geographic and economic barriers, and through the Local Sports Partnerships and the local authorities, we will work with Swim Ireland and Healthy Ireland to increase the use of river, lake, and sea swimming locations across the country.”

Many barriers, but not all — hence the commitment to work to increase the use of locations. Dressing rooms and showers at rivers and beaches may be the obvious projects one considers for this new scheme, but are there more imaginative possibilities? A shuttle bus service from city centres to rural swimming locations might be a significant aid to participation in this invaluable healthy activity.

A movie offer perhaps better refused

This week was the centenary of the birth of Marlon Brando, who revolutionised screen acting in the 1950s and became one of the most admired actors of the 20th century.

His performances were also the inspiration behind a million terrible imitations, with his fans reprising the ‘I coulda been a contender’ speech from his early star turn in On The Waterfront or the ‘I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse’ line in The Godfather.

Marlon Brando and John Hurt during filming of 'Divine Rapture' at Ballycotton. Picture: Dan Linehan
Marlon Brando and John Hurt during filming of ‘Divine Rapture’ at Ballycotton. Picture: Dan Linehan

The centenary has led to a rash of articles ranking his performances in order of quality and evaluating his influence on other actors over the years.

Brando had some Irish ancestry going back to one of his great-grandfathers, but he had an impact on one Irish town which went deeper than a distant ancestor. In 1995 he, Johnny Depp, and Debra Winger were among the actors and crew who landed in Ballycotton, East Cork, to film the movie Divine Rapture.

Unfortunately, after a couple of weeks of filming the movie’s financing fell through and the production left town, leaving many locals seriously out of pocket. It is believed that one of the actors did not suffer a similar fate, as Brando had received at least part of his fee in advance.

The experience left a bad taste, and Ballycotton natives could be forgiven for switching off The Godfather when it comes on TV, long before Brando starts talking about offers people can’t refuse.

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