April 18, 2015

T.K. Whitaker - A United Ireland would pose a "formidable" if not "intolerable" burden (1968)

Jack Lynch and Terence O'Neill, with T.K. Whitaker in the rear-ground, Ireland's rough equivalent to Sir Kenneth Bloomfield
Stormont is like a giant ATM, a quango spending a budget. Ireland has unshackled itself from the worst of Troika rule but stills faces severe fiscal headwinds and uncomfortable belt-tightening. Northern Ireland is an overgrown man child dependent on parental handouts. Southern Ireland is a recently graduated student trying to find a job and a stable footing in the world. Neither is in a position to make matrimony. Not at the moment and not without substantial reforms and rehabilitative measures from Northern Ireland and a more rebalanced economic structure in the south.

The south is in no position to take on a Stormont portfolio that relies on a multi-billion pound subvention. 

Interestingly, the man who made modern Ireland, T.K Whitaker said in 1968 that unity was almost fiscally impossible. I look at what he said about this below. But first a word from him on partition, he wrote in 1968:
"The British are not blameless, as far as the origins of Partition are concerned, but neither are they wholly to blame."
And another stout statement, roundly pragmatic:
"It is much too naive to believe that Britain simply imposed it on Ireland."
And on Unionism, Whitaker says "fears" drives an affection for the Union:
"For the Northern Unionists the main motive binding them to the United Kingdom is fear rather than loyalty - fear of loss of power, property, privilege and even religious independence if they were subject to a Dublin Parliament."
And then the important bit, expenditure as an explanation for loyalty to the Crown:
"They are also conscious (as are many Nationalists, too) of the superior financial advantages, in terms of agricultural subsidies, social services, etc., of being part of the ‘United Kingdom rather than an independent dominion or part of an Ireland receiving no annual subventions from Westminster. At present, the annual subsidy from Westminster (over and above entitlement based on N.I. tax contributions) is of the order of £90 million."
And on the stance of London on reunification:
"We have already drawn the conclusion that all we can expect from the British is a benevolent ‘neutrality - that no British interest will be interposed to prevent the re-unification of Ireland when Irishmen, North and South, have reached agreement."
And the budgetary and planning measure required before reunification of north and south could be possible:
"This, of itself, will be cold comfort if we cannot, in addition, achieve a, good “marriage settlement”, in the form of a tapering-off over a long period of present British subsidisation of NI. Otherwise, we in the South will be imposing on ourselves a formidable burden which many of our own citizens, however strong their desire for Irish unity, may find intolerable. 
We cannot lay certain social ills in the North at the door of Partition without acknowledging (at least in private) that conditions for the Catholics in N.I. would be far worse if Partition were abolished overnight."
And a final note on the subsidy differential between London and Dublin:
"We could not for a long time offer more than partial compensation for the loss of the enormous U.K. grants and subsidies."
Read in full here
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