Why I'm a Unionist


The arguments for and against the Union are continually being made and given the uncertain future of the Northern Ireland assembly we are more than likely going to see the Union debated further with a range of arguments being made from the economic, historical and cultural perspectives. All these are important but I believe that the Economic case will rule the day and it is vital that Unionists are ready to make the case should an unlikely and unexpected border poll be called. I believe the economic debate is the strongest for the Union and it can be spilit into three main sections: public services, trade and global position.

Northern Ireland has got public services we should be immensely proud to have; indeed they are under immense pressure most of which comes down to the failure of Northern Ireland's two largest parties to come together to provide the leadership needed to tackle the issues facing our public services. Even without that leadership, we have a public service that we should be proud of. We have a health service that we don't have to pay for when we want to see our GP, unlike in the Republic where one must pay an average of €50, or €100 for an out-patients appointment (unless referred by a GP) along with charges to stay overnight in hospital. These charges currently apply to up to 70% of people in Ireland (Source HSE). In a United Ireland, these changes would more than likely apply to us here in Northern Ireland which already contributes to us being worse off in a United Ireland.

If we look at the export destinations of Northern Ireland goods we quickly see that the United Kingdom takes 66.8% of Northern Ireland exports whilst we only trade 11.1% the Republic of Ireland. We export more to the rest of the world (14.9%) than we actually export to Ireland. Do we honestly believe that in a United Ireland the United Kingdom would be still as interested in our products once we leave and do we think that the rest of Ireland would be able to absorb where the United Kingdom leaves? Certainly not, as Ireland's economy isn't large enough to absorb us.

As a whole, the United Kingdom is in a stronger global economic position compared to the Republic of Ireland. The United Kingdom is ranked 9th in the world for GDP while the Republic of Ireland is ranked 52nd. Being part of the worlds 9th largest economy has many benefits. It gives us the economic power to pay for our public services and it makes us more attractive for foreign direct investment which will influence job creation. We hear people argue that most of that investment goes to London but I'd argue that isn't the case. More and more businesses are finding Belfast is the city to invest in due to the increasing skills our young people are gaining through our two main Universities which are both respected right across the United Kingdom. We can't forget that in 2014 the Financial Times' fDi named Belfast the most investor-friendly city for its size and was ranked in the top 10 overall. I'd argue this is the case due to our strong links with the rest of the United Kingdom.

Being part of the United Kingdom makes us part of the Commonwealth of Nations, an organisation which has so much potential to be unleashed which would bring benefits to us in Northern Ireland. It is my vision that the Commonwealth serves as a trading block between members offering us a market of 2,418,964,000 people to trade with, while it is understandable that it may be hard to achieve on the largest scale of the Commonwealth, we have seen developments in delivering CANZUK (Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom) coming together to offer free trade and freedom of movement for citizens in the respective countries. This idea is backed by Boris Johnson, the UK Foreign Secretary, Andrew Shear, Leader of the Conservative Party in Canada, and James Patterson, an influential Australian Liberal Senator. This would be beneficial for Northern Ireland - should such a treaty between the nations be agreed as we currently export 5.8% of our goods to Canada and would also give us new markets to explore in the future. That gives me optimism that remaining in the United Kingdom will give us the best opportunities in years to come.

I don't think now is the time for a border poll as it would unnecessarily cause further divisions in Northern Ireland and it would it would do unspeakable damage to progress we have made; It has the potential to expose a new generation to previous divisions that we should be thankful for are in the past.

I don't believe a United Ireland could offer the same level of economic stability and prosperity we can enjoy as part of the United Kingdom. We are hearing arguments of reunification based on the German post-Cold War model but we don't hear the context behind reunification in Germany. East Germany was held back by the iron fist of the Soviet Union so it was inevitable when the Iron Curtain fell that East Germany would reap the benefits; this isn't the case for Northern Ireland as we have no iron fist holding us back with the exception of our current set of elected "politicians" from the two biggest parties.

Neil Richardson is a member and activist for the Ulster Unionist Party and a student at Ulster University.


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2020