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Shared Island: Projects, Progress & Policy The Island Economy—new paper from NESC Secretariat



1 June, 2021

Evidence of An Island Economy

To view the paper click here


In 1992 Sir George Quigley introduced the concept of an ‘island economy’ for Ireland. A new report from the NESC Secretariat argues that to some extent this vision is evident.

The report, The Island Economy, outlines the expansion of cross-border trade and the multiple economic connections on the island.  It recognises that the two economies, North and South, have evolved in different ways.  Points of difference include: output per head; wages; productivity, driven by high levels of FDI  in the south; the scale, degree, composition (goods versus services) and geographical diversity of exports; the size of the public sector; and educational attainment.  The report also sets out the similarities that exist between the two economies. These include: the scope in both parts of the island to enhance living standards by increasing the share of the working-age population in employment; lower productivity in areas adjacent to the border; growth in services and the export of services; and, an emphasis on an ambitious scale-up of renewable energy to meet 2030 targets.

Against this backdrop of differences and shared interests, Noel Cahill, author of the report argues that economic connections between South and North are significant.  He notes that trade represents the most substantial economic connection on the island, valued by Intertrade Ireland at €7.4bn in 2018.  After Britain, Ireland represents the most important external market for Northern Ireland.  For both economies, cross-border trade is of particular significance for smaller companies.  Mr. Cahill points to earlier research which found that for almost three-quarters of businesses across the island, cross-border sales represented their first export market. For SMEs, North and South, cross-border trade is a stepping stone to larger markets. The report recognises that Brexit poses unique challenges for the island but also presents opportunities.

The report highlights the scope to continue to develop the island economy for mutual benefit.  It draws attention, for example, to pharmaceuticals, medical devices and software where enhanced co-ordination in relation to research, innovation, education and training would be beneficial.  In addition, the agricultural sector has similar characteristics North and South so could benefit in co-operating to address common challenges.

Dr. Helen Johnston, project lead on NESC’s Shared Island work, noted that The Island Economy report will help support the Shared Island Unit’s social dialogue on the economy this coming Wednesday June 2nd.  It will also shape NESC’s ongoing work and dialogue with business groups and communities, north and south, over the coming months.  ENDS.

Note to Editors

For further information please contact Paula Hennelly to arrange to speak with Noel Cahill or Helen Johnston. or 01 8146332.  

NESC Work on Shared Island

This paper is published as part NESC’s ongoing Programme of Research on the Shared Island Initiative. NESC is undertaking this work at the request of the Department of the Taoiseach to produce a comprehensive report on the Shared Island in 2021.

The NESC research will contribute to building a shared knowledge base and understanding about possible ways in which greater co-operation can emerge across a number of economic, social and environmental areas in Ireland, North and South, and also between these islands East and West.   The research will not address the constitutional question, but will focus on sustainable economic, social and environmental development issues in line with NESC’s strategic remit.

About the National Economic and Social Council (NESC)

The National Economic & Social Council (NESC) was established in 1973.  NESC is an expert advisory and consultative body, focusing on strategic economic, social and environmental policies.  It analyses and reports to the Taoiseach on challenging policy issues and addresses the public system and the institutional challenges related to implementation, monitoring and learning.  It is chaired by the Secretary General of the Department of the Taoiseach.  The members of the Council are appointed by the Taoiseach, for a three-year term.  They are representatives of business and employers’ organisations, trade unions, agricultural and farming organisations, community and voluntary organisations, and environmental organisations; as well as heads of Government departments and independent experts.  The Council has published 154 agreed reports on a wide range of policy issues, as well as research papers by its professional Secretariat and other experts.


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