There was another media storm last week over a series of outrageously xenophobic posters which appeared in parts of Belfast concerning “local jobs”.
These posters are not remotely reflective of the people resident in the areas where they appeared – a point the media and politicians did not make sufficiently clear perhaps, but we’ll come to that tomorrow!
There were many reasons for concern with the posters, but one prominent one which was not at all covered was that they were simply economically illiterate.
For example, it is true that many (two thirds, probably) of the people working on the repair of the Brazilian oil rig at Harland and Wolff are from outside Northern Ireland (although mainly from inside the UK, for what that may be worth). This is because it is a job which requires highly specific skills. Perhaps there is a skills issue there, but then it would be foolish to invest in skilling up the number of people required to do very specialised jobs within Northern Ireland alone, because such projects come along so rarely that people with those skills (but no others) would spend most of their time out of work.
What has happened, however, is that people have come into Northern Ireland, and they have:
- used up residential accommodation which was unused previously or brought income into local B&Bs which otherwise wouldn’t have had any at this time of year;
- propped up local shops for their vital groceries;
- propped up the local hospitality sector during their leisure time; and
- perhaps even brought friends and family over to visit (and spend money) who otherwise would never have thought to come here.
It doesn’t actually matter where in the world they have come from, the net effect of bringing the project to Belfast and bringing specifically skilled people in to complete it (alongside a fair number of local workers) is hugely positive in an array of local sectors from tourism to leisure.
That is, of course, to leave aside the fact that people from Northern Ireland benefit from exactly the same exchange. Many friends of mine in the construction trade have spent a significant period of the last two years building homes in Scotland. They have now returned having maintained some income, continued to practise their skills, and able to contribute to any upturn which may occur here. Do the UKIP fruitcakes think that was a bad thing?!
Only an idiot would put up a poster denying us such a welcome economic boost, both in terms of people bringing skills into our economy and our own people being able to maintain an income elsewhere during economic downturns. But it’s also worth remembering it only takes one (unskilled) idiot to glue up a poster.