Thursday, December 6, 2012

Belfast City Hall

On 4th of December 2012 the Union Jack which has flown over Belfast City Hall every day for more than a century was taken down.

Just over a week before the council vote on 3rd December, the council's strategic policy and resources committee voted 11-9 in favour of removing the flag completely. Nationalists argued that Belfast is a shared space and a neutral environment which should be welcoming for everyone. Symbols such as the British flag they argue, represent only one side of the community. They argued that if the Union Jack was to be flown it should be flown along with the Irish tricolour, otherwise no flag should be flown or an agreed flag should be flown. Unionists would not accept anything less than the Union flag continuing to fly over the City Hall for 365 days a year. As a compromise, The Alliance Party put forward a proposal to fly the flag on 17 designated days per year as recommended by the Equality Commission. And so in the council meeting Nationalists and Alliance voted to bring City Hall into line with Stormont and other government buildings in the North. Unionsits voted against. The motion passed 29 votes to 21.

The wheels were set in motion for this historic council vote in the aftermath of the local government election to Belfast City Council in 2011. When the ballots were counted the results saw Nationalist candidates elected to 24 seats on the council on 48.3% of the vote. Unionists candidates won 21 seats with 36.7% of the vote and The Alliance Party won the remaining 6 seats. It was the first time that Nationalists had won more seats than Unionists in Belfast. The Alliance Party held the balance of power.

 This graph which appears on Nicholas Whyte's excellent Ark website ( shows the voting patterns since 1973 and shows how rapid demographic change which has occured in Belfast.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Time for a Referendum?

This week there has again been calls for a referendum on a United Ireland. Unionist politicians such as Jeffery Donaldson a.k.a Mystic Meg tell us there is no need to call a referendum as neither the South nor the North will vote in favour. Some Nationalists tell us that we should have a referendum but now is not the right time to have it, as there remains a Unionist majority in Stormont and because of the current economic climate.

In my opinion these Nationalists are correct. Now is not the right time. I do not really think Sinn Féin want a referendum in 2013 or in the short term either. But this is not the point. They know the only way of getting a Green Paper on Irish Unity is to have a referendum called. And when it is called or agreed to, there will be alot of work to do before a date for the referendum can be set. You can't expect people to vote for something in the future if you do not know what you are voting for. How would 26 County voters have voted on the Lisbon Treaty before the terms and conditions of the treaty were set out? If around 30% (as some estimate would be the percentage in favour of a UI if a referendum was held today) were in favour before they even read the treaty, the bookies may have stopped taking bets by the time terms were published.

A series of talks should begin bewteen the Irish government, the British govenment and all parties in order to trash out the Green Paper. An agreement could take several years! So in this light Sinn Fein are correct to call for a referendum now as it needs to be set out what a United Ireland would entail - Federal arrangement?, Fiscal policy?, Health? Education?, Welfare?, Commonwealth membership? etc.

The British government will have an important role to play and they will need to be careful. If they maintain that they have no strategic interest they will agree, should the people vote for reunification, to subsidise the transition period as the North's economy is rebalanced (1 public sector job cut for every 2 private sector job created anyone?). Otherwise disidents can argue that the British purposely positioned the North as a welfare dependent economy in order that the South could not initially afford reunification.

I say initially becasue it is not yet known whether the sum of savings from synergies, removal of duplication of servies etc and the extra revenues from suitable fiscal policies, economies of scale etc that would occur in a UI are greater than the current British subvention to the North of Ireland.

And speaking of the economic argument. To those who suggest that people will not vote for a UI for economic reasons, let me ask them this. Say in a UI, the OAP of the South is to be maintained. How many Unionists (and there are alot of them over the age of 65) will vote No to having their weekly income doubled from £97.65 to €230.30 at todays rates?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Scotland to vote on Independence

Today it was announced that an agreement on a referendum on Scottish Independence has been signed beween the Scottish Government and their English masters. The referendum in 2014 will ask the Scots a straight yes or no question. The exact wording of the ballot is not yet clear.

While this is a matter entirely for the Scottish people there is no doubt that the result of the referendum will have a very significant effect on Ireland. In recent times we have seen Unionist politicians desperately plea for the Scots to vote against independence. Of course this position is not surprising given the fact that a vote in favour of independence would mean a break up of the UK and strike a final blow to the British Empire. It is very difficult to envisage a future Union of England, Wales and a minority in Ireland.

Should Nationalists hope for the Scottish to vote for independence? On one hand the end of an imperialist and opressive Empire built on theft, bloodshed and murder must be welcomed. On the other hand, I am not convinced another English speaking, Independent country with a well educated workforce and fit for purpose fical policy would be good for Ireland. As Enda Kenny stated this week a United Ireland will happen one day regardless of the constitutional position of Scotland.

So what are the chances of Scotland becoming independent? Polls show that support for Scottish independence lies at between 30% and 40%. However, the British Government finds itself in deep recession and struggling with a debt which has long since topped £1 trillion. Deep Tory cuts are inevitable and will be extremely unpopular among ordinary Scots who see the Conservatives as an English party (look at their support in Scotland).

2014 is also the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, when Scottish forces led by Robert the Bruce defeated English invaders. Expect to see this film multiple times in 2014

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Fianna Fáil - "The Republican Party"

The advent of the Celtic Tiger in the early 1990s saw the beginning of what became a genuinely booming economy in Ireland. Exports began to boom, there was huge foreign direct investment, tax revenues soared, unemployment declined, emigration ceased and wealth increased.

Enter Fianna Fáil. The party increased spending dramatically. By 1996 competitiveness had began to erode as a result of high government expenditure. Around this time houses were beginning to increase in price sharply and activity in the consturction industry was on the rise. Tax revenues from stamp duty, capital gains tax, income tax from construction workers and vat from increased consumer spending due to higher levels of disposable income swelled the exchequer's coffers. Fianna Fáil's response was to add fuel to the fire. Tax incentives were given to gready developers who were encouraged to build and develope more and more and more. Regualtion of the banks was non existent. At best FF turned a blind eye on the reckless lending of bankers. It appeared that anyone could qualify for a mortgage whether they could afford it or not.

As the property secor began to boom, inflation augmented and tax revenues rocketed. Although the general economy was continuing to perform outstandingly, the extra revenues gained from the property boom brought about huge budget surpluses. Regardless of the fact that tax revenue from construction activity is not sustainable, upcoming elections loomed and Fianna Fáil had the resources to stay in power.

Giveaway budgets threw money at everthing. Social Welfare payments increased to world record levels, public sector pay increased expotentially, the health budget increased dramatically without proportional increases in efficiency. Grants were given out like confetti. The FF led government were spending recklessly. The purpose was to buy elections and stay in power. It worked.

While all this was happening competitiveness eroded dramatically. The growth of the property sector disguised the fact that the underlying economy had began to falter.

Had Fianna Fáil governed responsibly and taken advice from independent advisors and economists, spending increases would have been kept at modest levels, the property sector would have been cooled before the bubble began to form and the Celtic Tiger would still be roaring today.

Fianna Fáil have damaged this country hugely. However the fundamentals of the Irish economy are strong. Competitiveness has largely been restored. Exports are booming again. All that is missing is strong domestic demand. This will not return until the programme of austerity is complete. This may take another three or four years. Once austerity is finished, economic stimulus will be required. A new Celtic Tiger will be reborn. The state of the world economy will dictate the strenght of the new Tiger's roar. When the conditions are right for another Celtic Tiger people should not forget the reason why first Celtic Tiger was tamed.

Fianna Fáil claim to be "The Republican Party". Have a look at their website:

On one section of the website there is a notice of the party's annual Wolfe Tone Commemoration. On another section browsers are invited to browse by constituency. This map shows a bold line meandering through the North of Ireland. There are 18 constituencies missing inside the line. A Republican party would not partition a map of Ireland. A Republican part would not organise on a partitionist basis. A Republican party would contest elections in all parts of Ireland. Fianna Fáil are not a Republican Party let alone "The Republican Party".

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Census results - First Release - Phase 2

Phase 2 of the census results were published today. The results are effectively a breakdown of Phase 1 results by Local Government Districts (LGD). While today's publication does not give us a breakdown by community background, we can nonetheless break each LGD into Majority Nationalist (>55% CNR community background), Majority Unionist (>55% PUL communtiy background) and Balanced (both CNR & PUL community background 45%-55%) areas based on the 2001 census results.

Catholic majority areas have increased in population by an average of 9.2%. Protestant majority areas have increased in population by an average of 7.4%. Balanced areas have increased by 5.1%. Of course the LGDs in the tables above rely on the 2001 census which is ten years out of date. It is likely that some LGDs belong in a different group. For example the next batch of census results may show that Lisburn is a balanced LGD and at least one of the LGDs in the balanced areas group will have changed to the Catholic Majority group.

The phase 2 results also give us a breakdown of the population per LGD by age. In Nationalist districts west of the Bann and close to the border, the population is predominantly young.  This is demonstrated in the chart below showing the proportion of 0-15 year olds in each district as a percentage of the overall population.

In Unionist districts to the east, the population is predominantly old. This is demonstrated in the charts below showing the proportion of 65-84 year olds and over 85 year olds in each district as a percentage of the overall population.

Phase 2 of the 2011 census tells us that population growth in CNR community background areas is greater than in PUL community background areas. It also tell us that the CNR districts have predominantly young populations whereas the PUL districts have predominantly elderly populations. While I am uncomfortable speaking of the passing of elderly people in positive terms, it is only natural that as the older generation die off they will be replaced by children of the younger generation. Interesting times ahead.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Digital Switchover

On 24 October analogue transmissions will cease. The digital switchover will mean that RTÉ1, RTÉ2 & TG4 will be freely available throughout all of Northern Ireland.

Those living close to the border will receive RTÉ One, RTÉ Two HD, TV3, TG4, 3e, RTÉ News Now, RTÉjr and RTÉ One +1 through Saorview/Freeview approved set top boxes or TV sets. Those living further afield where Freeview HD-capable set top boxes or TV sets are unable to receive southern transmissions will receive RTÉ 1, RTÉ2 & TG4.

It is unfortunate that viewers in locations far from the border will not have channels TV3, 3e, RTÉ News Now, RTÉjr and RTÉ One +1 on Freeview. RTÉ1, RTÉ2 and TG4 will however be available from transmitters on Black Mountain, Carnmoney Hill and Brougher Mountain. Even so some sports programmes and films may be unavailable to them due to rights restrictions.

Despite this the benefits that the digital switchover will bring cannot be underestimated:

"RTÉ should grow from being the state broadcaster of the south to the national broadcaster of Ireland. People north and south will be able to watch the same programmes, follow the same stories, and interact with each other through panel shows and feedback. It will contribute in a small way to removing some remaining barriers. Once digital TV arrives everyone in Ireland will have equal access to the same broadcasters, and the carefully erected partition of the media will be over" (Horseman February 2010).

RTÉ gaining 1.8 million extra viewers will certainly encourage the broadcaster to include much more Northern topics in it's news and current affairs programmes which should strenghten connections and lead to better understanding among all people in Ireland.

The free availability of TG4 in particular will help Nationalists in their Irish language strategy and push for an Irish Language Act to be introduced.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Economic woes

In a week that we have learned that 11,000 private sector jobs have been lost in two years a leading economist has warned that the North's economy is facing meltdown.

Attempts to lower the North's Corporation Tax rate appear to have failed. Although we hear Finance Minister Sammy Wilson insisting that the issue will be revisited in the Autumn, the fact is, The North will not receive a special dispensastion for a reduced CT rate. The main reasons for this are that if NI were to receive a lower CT rate from the rest of the UK, there would be nothing to stop British firms based in London from moving operations to The North in order to avail of the lower CT rate. The other reason is that if NI got a lower tax rate Scotland, Wales and North East England would be screaming from the rooftops for equal treatment. With a Scottish referendum on independence in the pipeline, offering NI a lower CT rate while refusing to give it to Scotland is a high risk strategy for the Tory-Lib Dem coalition. It could be enough to swing the referendum for the 'Yes' side.

With a CT rate of 24% a deterrent to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), the key strategy used to attact FDI to The North has been Sustainable Financial Assistance (SFA). This is basically EU funding used to offer foreign companies cash to locate to the region. This economic lever used to attract FDI to NI is due to be abolished by the EU next year. Given that SFA sounds very much like bribery this should not come as a surprise.

With the two most powerful economic levers either being phased out (SFA) or unattainable (CT), The North does not have many hands left to play. There is one hand though, a pocket of aces, if only it could be seen!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

We've Struck Oil!

After decades of being told that Ireland has no natural resources, years of digging and after some 215 barron holes, in March of this year Ireland's first commercial oil well was discovered by Providence Resources off the Cork coast. Initial estimates stated that the Barryroe oil well contained between 373 and 893 million barrels of oil. However today Providence has stated that the oil field may contain up to 1.6 billion barrels of oil, four times the original estimate!

We are rich, rich I tell you, rich beyond our wildest dreams! Not quite. Given that all previous attempts to find oil off the Irish coast have been fruitless the Irish government, in an attempt to attract exploration and investment has had to set a relatively low tax levy of 25% on profits companies make from oil and gas found in Irish territories. For the same reason the state does not receive Royalties from oil and gas discoveries. reports that even with the low tax levies and lack of royalties, the State could benefit to the tune of a whopping €100 billion. Others stress that significant losses on Providence's books will be written off against profits made on the Barryroe oil well hugely reducing the benefit to the Irish exchequer.

Even if the latter is correct, not all is lost. It is likely that the Government will increase the 25% tax and introduce royalties in order to benefit from further discoveries but not to an extent that will scare off future investment, exploration and drilling.

But is there more oil and gas and if so why has it not been found previously? Well it is generally accepted that the twenty fist centuary has shown enormous advancements in technology. If it is there they will find it. But is it there? David Horgan MD of Petrel Resources plc certainly think so.

"The oil world has been transformed in recent years: despite fluctuations, the oil price remains high. Ireland’s fiscal terms are competitive and legal title is secure.

"Technology has leaped ahead on several fronts, reducing costs and risks. The combination of three dimensional seismic surveys and directional drilling allow explorers to map and drain complex reservoirs.

"The planned development of the 1981 Ballyroe discovery, after a dramatic increase in reserves, shows what is now possible. We believe that the Irish offshore will be increasingly attractive to investors."

Monday, July 16, 2012

Census results - First Release - Phase 1

The first figures from the 2011 census have been relased by NISRA.

I have taken some of the more interesting statistics that have been released and will expand in due course.

"In 2001, a person aged 35 would have been in the older half of the population in Northern Ireland. In 2011 a person would need to have been aged 38 to be in the older half of the population"

We can take from this that the age of 37 represents the median age of the population (half the population is aged under 37 years and half the population is aged over 37 years). This is interesting because the 2001 census showed that the 'tipping point' between the two main religous groups was age 27 (Census table s306a). That is, those people under the age of 27 were majority Catholic and those over the age of 27 were majority Protestant. All things being equal we can assume that the 'tipping point' has increased 10 years to the age of 37, the exact same as the median age. This would mean that parity has been reached between the two main religous groups in the North. However all is not equal. We know that the older half of the populus have a larger Protestant majority than the Catholic majority among the younger half. By how much? We do not know exactly. All will be revealed when Phase 2 & 3 of the census are released later in the year.

What we do know is what the religious breakdown of the 'big three' blocks was in 2001. Table S306 of the 2001 census tells us that Protestants made up 53.1% of the population, Catholics made up 43.8% and Others made up the remaining 3.1%. We aslo know of demographic factors such as a high Catholic birth rate, a Catholic majority in our Schools (53%) and Universities (66%). We know that 51% of applicants and 52% of appointees to the workforce are Catholic. We know that the 2001 census revealed that Protestants make up 66% of the 65 years and older age cohort. This is reflected in the higher death rate in majority Protestant areas.

We are less certain of the other major factor which will effect the full census results. Migration. It is clear that there has been a sharp increase in immigration but what effect this will have on the general population remains to be seen. In terms of Emigration one can assume that as the economy has fallen the numbers of young people moving abroad to work has sharply increased. Again we will have to wait to see what effect this will have on the population but my guess that emigration of the two main communities in the North is similar.

Therefore when Phase 2 & 3 figures are released it is likely that the Catholic and Other percentages will show an increase on the 2001 figure. This would mean that the Protestant figure will decrease.

The reason for the partition of Ireland was to manufacture a Protestant majority in the North. A decrease of 3.1% or more on the 2001 figure will mean that the purpose of the sectarian carve up of Ireland is defunct as the Protestant population will have fallen below 50%.

Table 1 – Census Year Population Estimates by Age (1911 and 2011) Age Group 1911 2011
Number % Number %
0-15 404,400 32% 379,300 21%
16-39 467,500 37% 593,800 33%
40-64 267,700 21% 574,000 32%
65-84 106,900 9% 232,300 13%
85+ 4,100 0.3% 31,400 1.7%
Total 1,250,500 100% 1,810,900 100%
(Census 2011)

Sunday, July 1, 2012

School's Census

In February every year the School Census relating to students of nursery, primary, post primary and special schools in the North is published. The department of education has publised a spreadsheet of the religious background of students here. The graph below uses the data in the spreadsheet to show us the trends over the last ten years among the three main groups 'Catholic', 'Protestant/Other Christian' and 'Other'.

The trend is clear to see. The Catholic percentage of the student population which has been increasing year on year remains steady at 50.9%. The Protestant/Other Christian percentage has been in decline and now stands at 39.9%.

No doubt some would cling to the fact that the 'Other' group (9.2%) has increased in an equal but opposite direction to that of 'Protestant/Other Christian'. This of course would be to assume that the 'Other' group (which includes Non Christian and Other/No Religion/Not Recorded) is made up entirely of students from Protestant communtiy backgrounds. Logically this is not ture. However according to NISRA Protestants are more likely not to declare their religion.

In the 2001 census NISRA allocated children and teenagers of the 'Other/No Religion group' into both community backgrounds (religion or religion brought up in)as follows

•For children aged 5-11, those who were declared as 'None/Not Stated': 24.3% to 'Catholic', 40.0% to 'Protestant and other Christian', 0.5% to 'Non-Christian, and 35.2% to 'None'

•For children aged 12-18, those who were declared as 'None/Not Stated': 25.4% to 'Catholic', 46.5% to 'Protestant and other Christian', 0.5% to 'Non-Christian, and 27.6% to 'None'

Using these figues to allocate the 'Other/No Religion/Not Recorded' group in the Schools census figures we get a truer reflection of the community background of students. Students of a Catholic community background have increased to 53.0%. Students of a Protestant community background has decreased to 43.5%

UEFA award for Ireland Fans

Ireland Fans which have been labelled the "best fans in the world" are to have their contribution to Euro 2012 recognised by UEFA when Michael Platini travels to Dublin to present the award.

While some might see the award as slightly patronising given the dissappointing performances of the team, albeit against the two teams which have gone on to contend the final, most welcome the award. No doubt it is entirely deserved as an estimated 35,000 Ireland supporters from each of the 32 counties flooded into Poznan and Gdansk.

The verdict:

The mayor of Gdansk is to nominate Irish fans for a UEFA fair play award
Singing green army leave as legends - Irish news, Euro 2012 -

A spokesman said the Irish drink a lot of beer, but were no trouble, and were in a word, "wonderful."
Singing green army leave as legends - Irish news, Euro 2012 -

About as threatening as a kindergarten school trip, their purpose is enjoyment rather than intimidation; they are here to have fun rather than to act out some historical domination fantasy
Euro 2012: Ireland fans bring colour and kindness to P oznan - Telegraph

Legacy of the Irish in Poznan

Opinion of Spanish and Polish supporters
Video: Irish fans in Gdansk in full voice as others hail magnificent support ·

Unlike other international teams in Ireland and Britain, Ireland supporters continue to make headlines for all the right reasons. Hopefully the World Cup in Brazil in 2014 will allow the team to give the supporters the results they deserve.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Economic argument part 1

This week the UK Treasury has dashed hopes of a cut in the Corporation Tax (CT) in Northern Ireland from the UK rate of 24% to 12.5% to match the rate of the Republic of Ireland. This of course does not come as any surpirse. There are two main reasons why the Westminster Government and Treasury would not/will not agree to a cut in CT.

One reason is that if NI received a special dispensation to cut it's rate of CT, Scotland, Wales and North East England would be up in arms if they are not also allowed a similar cut. The other major reason is that if the cut in CT for NI was enforced there would also be nothing to stop large companies based in London and other parts of Britain from relocating in Northern Ireland to avail of the lower rates and pay less taxes resulting in fundamental job losses in greater London and other parts of Britain as well as decimating the tax take from Corporation Tax for the UK exchequer.

Calls for a reduction in CT in the North demonstrate the weakness of the Northern Ireland economy. The reason for this weak economy boils down to simple economic policy. Economic policy of course is made up largely of fiscal policy. In NI fiscal policy is controlled by London. The UK government determines fiscal and economic policy on the basis of policy decisions which will maximise the tax take for the UK as a whole. Not surprisingly this is entirely based on what is in the best interests of the greater London and South East England region. The UK government can afford to charge high Corporation Tax in London as being one of the major cities of the world and a financial powerhouse companies need to have a base in London regardless of the taxes imposed. The UK government can also charge other high taxes such as airport passenger duty (APD) for similar reasons without affecting tourism or business in the greater London area.

While British economic policy may indeed maximise the tax revenues for the UK exchequer it has done nothing to prevent a basket case economy that has developed in the North with a public sector which employs almost a third of its total workforce, compared with 21 per cent across the UK and less than 20% in the Republic. By throwing thousands of poorly paid public sector jobs and a block grant of some £6 billion at Northern Ireland the UK government has largely succeeded in disguising the real state of the local economy in Northern Ireland. The truth is that NI will never reach its potential as part of the UK and will forever point the begging bowl towards London.

Of course there is an alternative, an alternative where economic and fiscal policy would be focused on what is in the best interests of the region, economic and fiscal policy which would allow Northern Ireland to reach its undoubted potential. The economic opportunities and strenghts of Northern Ireland are almost identical to that of the Republic of Ireland. In this context a United Ireland makes economic sense. An all Ireland economic policy would have huge benefits for the six north eastern counties of Ireland. CT of 12.5% would create between 58,000  and  90,000 private sector jobs in the medium term. The abolishment of APD and agressive marketing of Ireland as one country would see the north reach it's vast tourism potential creating thousands of additional jobs in this industry vital to Ireland's economy.

These are just two examples of how focused economic policy that would be brought about in a United Ireland would allow Northern Ireland to dramatically increase foreign direct investment, tourism numbers leading to mass job creation allowing NI to  rebalance the economy (in terms of reducing public sector jobs and creating private sector jobs) and create wealth. Economic policy of the Republic of Ireland implemented in Northern Ireland would allow the region to reach its undoubted vast potential which cannot happen so long as NI is subject to UK economic policy tailored to meet the best interests of South East England. .

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Equality Commission 21st Monitoring Report

On 16 December 2011 the Equality Comission published its 21st Monitoring Report. This report gives us a breakdown of the numbers and percentage of Protestants and Catholics in the both the public and private sectors of the workforce in Northern Ireland for the year 2010. Protestants represented 54.1% of the workforce, down by 0.5% in 2009. Catholics in the workforce stood at 45.9%, an increase of 0.5% from the 2009 figure of 45.4%. The Protestant percentage has again declined as the Catholic percentage has increased. This trend has been constant as is represented in the following graph

The reason why this graph is converging is due to the fact that the numbers of Catholic appointees to the workforce in 2010 was 52.0% which is significantly greater than the amount of Catholics in the overall workforce. The numbers of Protestants appointed  to the workforce was 48.0% which is significantly lower than their representation in the entire workforce.

The Equality Commission Report for 2010 also shows us the composition of applicants to join the workforce by community background. In 2009 the Catholic percentage stood at 50.7% and the Protestant percentage was 49.3%.

In 2009, for the first time ever the number of Catholics seeking employment was greater than the number of Protestants (by 10,465). Currently there is a difference of 8.2% between the two blocks, a decrease of 1% point from 2009. If this trend continues we can expect further 'greening' of the workforce in the years ahead and parity reached in 2018. As two thirds of students in NI universities and 53.1% of students in NI schools are from a Catholic/Nationalist background the trend could even accelerate.