The Economist has, as its final leader, Now for the hard part, a pertinent peroration on the Northern Irish settlement (here, but subscription required):
The next step to a normal Northern Ireland
Over the 40 years of the troubles, the place has become a subsidy junkie that receives from Westminster £5 billion ($10 billion) more than is raised locally by taxation. More than a third of the 770,000 people in jobs are directly employed by the public sector (which accounts for nearly two-thirds of economic output), while half a million are officially classed as inactive. Part of the problem is the scarcity of private-sector investment, which is crowded out both by the omnipresent state and the large black economy that “peaceful’ paramilitaries on both sides of the religious divide hold sway over.
Gordon Brown, as chancellor now and prime minister when Mr Blair goes, will be under pressure to keep the subsidy taps gushing. But what Northern Ireland needs now is a home-grown economic miracle of the kind achieved in the south. Easier said than done, but then getting Mr Paisley and Mr Adams to work together wasn’t easy either.
Malcolm has been niggling around this topic for a long while; and he confidently predicts it will continue to occupy his thoughts and those of the great and the good. Once upon a time, Harold Wilson voiced a complaint similar to that of the Economist. Here’s a nicely-done bit by Eoghan Mac Cormaic in An Phoblacht, rootling in his treasure-chest of political souvenirs:
The first spontaneous symbol in my box was invented by Ian Paisley. Back in 1974, at the time of the UWC strike, Harold Wilson had gone on TV to accuse Unionists and Loyalists of being spongers on the British Taxpayer. The Supreme Sponge was, naturally enough, irate and duly appeared on TV the next day with a piece of sponge in his buttonhole. Many unionists followed his example and for weeks we had the unsightly spectacle of unionism parading about with its brains pinned to the lapels of its coat. It wasn’t a great campaign: the design features didn’t lend themselves well to the grey skies of the Six Counties. One good shower and the sponge-soaked lapel of Unionism was sagging to its waist. Another heroic failure in the badge department, and another addition to my biscuit tin.
That resonates with Malcolm because he defended Wilson to a Unionist. It took thirty-odd years for Malcolm to learn that, as a result, this had caused a rift, and Malcolm and his inamorata were “not being spoken to”.
It’s a good idea to play the ball not the man. However, in Hain’s case, his actions are so closely related to personality, it’s hard not to break the rule. For what it’s worth, Heffer sums Hain up very well.
“Closure”? I don’t think so. This particular game has a long time to run yet.
To which Malcolm replies, yes “closure”.
Malcolm, though, wants to stick with the Economist, particularly the punch-line:
what Northern Ireland needs now is a home-grown economic miracle of the kind achieved in the south.
Set that up alongside how Diarmaid Ferriter defines the “Celtic Tiger”:
It is still jolting to read the opening line of one of the books that sought to explain what became known as the ‘Celtic Tiger’: ‘Ireland has had the fastest growing economy in the world in the last years of the twentieth century’ . After decades of under-development and stagnation, ‘Ireland’ had become rich …
External observers were capable of marvelling at and praising the wealth creation, but were also stinging in their end-of-century rebuke of misplaced priorities. A human-development report of the United Nations Development Programme, based on data collected in 1997, and published in 2002, observed that Ireland had the highest level of poverty in the Western world outside the United States and was one one of the most unequal among Western countries, with the richest 10 per cent of the population 11 times wealthier than the poorest 10 per cent … It was estimated that 15.3 per cent of Irish people were living in poverty, largely caused by the fact that 23 per cent of the population was functionally illiterate. 
Those footnotes in the original are:
 Paul Sweeney, The Celtic Tiger: Ireland’s Economic Miracle Explained (Dublin, 1998), p.1
 Irish Times, 24 July 2002.
Eyes on the ball, chaps
What the Economist is saying, and what we shall hear with increasing volume for the future, is that the mainlanders have paid the course-fees for all, picked up the ball, packed their kit, and are off to R&R. The irredentists may feel, in Slugger’s metaphor, their game has “a long time to run yet”, but it’s going to be solitaire.
Read the runes. The BBC for London and the South-East ran a series of features on the cost of living in London. This was underlined by another of those pointless-but-for-the-PR “business” conventioners whinging about the differential Government expenditure on the Capital versus that on Scotland. And, of course, Northern Ireland is (to English eyes) even more costly than Scotland.
Plan B or C for Northern Ireland would now have to be harsher than water charges. While the Six Counties was gorged on subsidies, Westminster was prepared to devastate the coal-fields of the north of England; tens of thousands lost jobs in the privatised industries; the iron works went; ancillaries in health, social care and local government were sold into low-pay and minimal benefits in the private service sector. How many cars come out of Coventry and Longbridge? What happened to ship-building? What remained for too many skilled men and women were MacJobs, Tesco shelf-stuffing, call-centre broiler-houses.
This is the formula to create a “tiger” economy: wealth is concentrated: the city-slickers get their annual mega-bonuses; the rich get their multimillion-pound houses in the suburbs. Once they’ve got them, they’re going to keep them. It’s the rich what gets the gravy; it’s the poor what gets screwed.
Times are gettin’ hard, boy
Let’s assume that the Tory-ultras (like Heffer) really get up a head of steam. Their issue, above all, is tax-cuts: witness a fringe debate on 2nd October 2006, with Heffer and Norman Tebbit going against official Tory policy and winning a vote 60-40 that “The Conservative Party should make tax cuts a priority at the next general election.”
Reckon they’ll find money in the kitty for bailing out the North again? Particularly if (when) the SNP make it easy for them by unpicking the Union.
Let’s change the metaphor.
The Brits have posted back the ring. The North is getting Gordon’s billion, plus a sub from Dublin. That’s the divorce settlement, like it or not. Now newly-single, Ms Northern Ireland needs to stop waving, avoid drowning, and build a new life.
That’s why the really interesting nominations in the N.I. Assembly “cabinet” will not be who gets education and social welfare. Those will probably be the SF prime picks because the soft spending buys cred with their electorate. (Expect Malcolm to come back to the grammar schools issue in due course.)
Instead, Malcolm will be watching who gets the economic briefs. That’s going to be where the hard choices will have to be made; and Malcolm expects these to be retained by the upholders of the “Protestant work ethic”.
So there is instant scope for conflict: spenders versus savers; consumers versus creators. The up-side of this is the faint possibility of a cross-community two-party system evolving.
But that, perhaps, is too much to hope for.