It was somewhat baffling to hear southern Finance Minister Brian Lenihan complaining on RTÉ radio that “We’ve enough problems with people going to Northern Ireland for many goods and services… there is a huge loss of revenue to Northern Ireland because of all the purchases that are taking place there,” as featured on last night’s Hearts and Minds. This came along with his comments in the Dáil that his budget was “No less than a call to patriotic action.”
Is the Minister suggesting that money being spent north of the border is less desirable than money being spent in the south? Surely as a party which aspires to Irish unity and has attempted to form Cumainn in the north, it shouldn’t matter to Fianna Fáil where on the island goods and services are being purchased. Yes, the southern government may not derive tax revenue from items bought in the north, but with the British government forking-out more money to sustain the north that it hauls-in in taxes, it’s not as if Whitehall is filling its coffers thanks to southerners stocking up with booze in Sainsbury’s in Newry.
The southern government has pumped a lot of money into the north, for instance through the funding of the Narrow Water bridge project, but this risks being undermined if it appears that their support for the people of the north is highly conditional and secondary to the wellbeing to the people of the south.
Brian Lenihan has to accept that the simple rules of economics apply. Gone are the days when people would blindly follow what the government told them- Mr Lenihan has raised VAT, put a ‘levy’ on people’s income, the euro is strong, and retail prices in the south continue to stay high above those in the north, so it should come as no surprise that people are looking for the cheaper option by coming north.
It isn’t the responsibility of shoppers to stay south of the border and pay above the odds- if the southern government wants people to spend their euros in Dublin instead of Belfast, then they’re going to have to make shopping in the south more appealing by offering tax breaks and tackling the exorbitant prices in the Republic. Otherwise, any complaints from the southern government about people straying north of the border just comes across as, well, unpatriotic.