We’re not East Germany we’re Northern Ireland…

Given the months of rain, we can all agree with the sentiment of the football chant: we are definitely not Brazil. However, regarding the economy, it is reasonable to point out that we are not East Germany either.

There is a narrative around reunification that portrays Northern Ireland as some basket case economy of layabout wastrel spongers who will require massive handouts from the hard-working taxpayers of Ireland. This is offensive beyond words.

Some people even use the German Reunification analogy as if Belfast were Leipzig in 1986. Do these people imagine we are driving our Trabuants to our day of toil in the coal mine? Do they think we are queuing up outside the state shop to buy a loaf of bread and hope for a delivery of some god-awful-tasting toothpaste from our comrades in Czechoslovakia? Have the people who write this nonsense ever set foot in Northern Ireland?

I have worked in business my whole life, and I just do not recognise these criticisms. I have lots of clients who are running successful businesses and are exporting all over the world. Take a walk around Belfast and see all the tech companies and startups. Take a walk around the Titanic Quarter and see all the latest cutting-edge research in the Science Park. Go to mid-Ulster and marvel at the countless light engineering companies successfully exporting all over the world. Talk to any business person and they will tell you their biggest challenge is not keeping up with the latest edicts from Erich Honecker but getting good staff.

Someone once told me that NI had the highest BMW sales in Europe. Looking around the roads, I would believe it. Take a whirl around Lisburn Road, Ormeau Road, Ballyhackamore, and North Down; there is no shortage of people with cash.

Northern Ireland is basically at full employment, and we have people shortages in practically every sector. Yes we have challenges around economic inactivity but economic inactivity is an All-island problem.

I honestly can’t reconcile what economists tell us about how terrible the NI economy is with the reality on the street. It’s like that old Groucho Marx line, ‘Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?’

When reunification comes, there will not be a scramble of people from Newry hitting the shops of Dundalk to buy Levis and CocaCola. There will be no hoards from Derry invading Letterkenny to snap up the decadent Western goods.

Maybe some people will clamber onto a peace wall or two. David Hasselhoff could fly in for a concert. Let’s sing it together—’I’ve been looking for Freedom!’

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