In 1919 Michael Collins was elected as Minister for Finance in the first Dáil Éireann. The first Dáil was convened following the 1918 election at which an overwhelming

Members of the First Dáil, 10 April 1919 First row, left to right: Laurence Ginnell, Michael Collins, Cathal Brugha, Arthur Griffith, Éamon de Valera, Count Plunkett, Eoin MacNeill, W. T. Cosgrave and Ernest Blythe. Kevin O’Higgins is in the third row (right)

majority of the entire Irish people had voted for pro-independence candidates. At the time, Ireland was a backwater of empire, a country without international recognition, sovereign independence or even a line of credit.

The general (sic) consensus is, that with few cards to play, Collins was an outstanding success in this role: “In overall terms, Collins’ performance in Finance was outstanding by any criteria. … Collins’ personal organization skills were exceptional, allowing him to hold four major positions simultaneously, prompting him to impose order and clarity on a world of disorder and confusion. If his unexpected death robbed the state of its most capable administrator, it also denies the historian the opportunity to compare him with his successors in Finance.” Andrew McCarthy

His master stroke was the raising of a National Loan which, with a target of £250,000 actually generated some £400,000 for the fledgling state. This loan was raised from ordinary Irish people, not bankers, not governments, not the IMF nor the European Central Bank.

National-Loan 1919

For a country with only the resources of its people, primarily agricultural in nature and with only its potential to sell, this was a true triumph of confidence on the part of Collins. Indeed at this time Belfast was the industrial centre of Ireland. It had been for some time with the shipyards among the best in the World. There were other industries, of course, such as the Linen mills but these were already in steep decline by 1919.

As for the Czar, (well, the Russian Republic, I plead artistic licence) ordered Ludwig Martens the head of the Soviet Bureau in New York City to acquire a “national loan” from the Irish Republic, offering some of the Russian Crown Jewels as collateral. The jewels remained in a Dublin safe, forgotten by all sides, until the 1930s, when they were found by chance! Perhaps FJH can offer some further information? 😉

We are all, I am sure, aware of what happened next, partition, independence for most of Ireland and a divergence of economic as well as political fortunes, so where are we now?

Today most of the Island is a dynamic outward looking, open economy with a highly educated, well paid and generally happy population. Yes, I know the past few years have been difficult but, coming from a very high plateau, the fall has been checked and the re-bounce is well underway. As the Irish Times says “Irish people enjoy among the highest quality of life and standard of living in Europe, according to the European Union.” – Well, some of the Irish People at least.

In the north eastern six counties there is a different story to be told. Whatever the rights and wrongs of partition it is, nevertheless, an established historical fact. Both juristictions withdrew into a self regarding political and economic cul de sac from which the south only truly emerged thirty years ago. In the north, that is yet to happen. With the decline of the heavy industries upon which Belfast in particular prided itself the search is still continuing for its place in the economic world.

Is the north east best served as a destination for low wage service companies (eg: call centres) or, like the rest of the country, should it be marketed as a destination for successful, ambitious companies requiring a young, smart, highly educated workforce, a business friendly environment and unfettered access to the wider European economy or should it be constrained by a Daily Mail reading, mostly elderly, backward looking collective of pin striped, bowler hatted, myopic neo-victorians?

One of the most awkward questions of recent years is the level of subvention or subsidy by the colonial paymasters in Westminster. The most interesting point is that there is no solid answer to the actual figure here is the source material. As may be seen from this link the figures are, at best, arbitrary, at worst a best guess. Meanwhile an ongoing argument is engaged regarding Sinn Fein and the DUP regarding welfare reform and the price of implementing a Tory government policy, a Tory govt that was not elected or voted for in any way in this part of the world.

My question is simple, how do we approach, define and challenge this economic question?