Executive creates airline omnishambles

The NI Executive was caught out last week and, in time-honoured fashion, tried to blame the European Union for its own failings.

It should be obvious – but, alarmingly, isn’t – that Government cannot just give public money to a business. It certainly cannot do so when the case for the service it is thus acquiring has not even been proven. And it most certainly cannot do so when the business is based abroad and has a turnover of billions.

If it were established that Belfast absolutely must have a direct air link to New York – and the case for that is dubious given the availability of 155 flights from Dublin to North America every week – then it would be quite possible to tender for one. Airlines could compete for a reasonable subsidy in return for a reasonable service of clear economic value.

What is outrageous is for the Executive simply to hand money to an airline, which has not proven that it is uniquely placed to deliver value for money and when, in any case, the economic value of such a service has not been demonstrated.

Worse, the relevant Minister and the Executive as a whole were told all of this by their own civil servants. The Minister issued a “ministerial direction” overruling the advice of his officials in order to subsidise an American company already worth billions with our money. He need not act surprised now that this has proven to less than legal – he had already been told this.

Then the First Minister sought to make a European point out of it, but actually this is about basic corporate governance.

Thank goodness that this outrageous throwing away of our money was blocked. It turns out the European Commission had little directly to do with it. More’s the pity – it would have demonstrated its value if it had!

Why the world is collapsing towards chaos

The end of the Cold War a generation ago was supposed to herald a new, prosperous, free era. For at least a decade, it seemed this was so. 2016 has shown it to be a bitter illusion.

Three things happened as a direct result of the end of the Cold War, none of which was foreseen at the time.

Economically, a new, true globalisation occurred. It became possible to expand East, and get things manufactured more cheaply. This suited the West, by and large, because it lowered the cost of living and meant “stuff” was suddenly accessible to the average family which would not otherwise have been; and it suited the East because it provided jobs, income, skills and potential to join a new global “middle class”. Indeed, so compelling was this arrangement, that the poorer East began lending the richer West money to buy its products. Credit boomed, credit crunched, and a Great Recession began from 2007. People were left bewildered.

Militarily, the direct threat was removed. Russia retained nuclear weapons but it was so weakened there was no serious chance it would use them. Its territory (as it saw it) was scythed up and some of it became part of the West. Meanwhile all kinds of non-State threats, from Al-Qaeda to ISIS, grew up with no Cold War side to align to (and be bought off by). They became terrorising in their own way, first locally and then globally. The West, which had not yet worked out this was a post-State world, got involved in wars it did not understand and could not win. A bitter Russia used this to encourage the terror groups, causing refugee crises, promoting division and arming rebels. People were left scared.

Technologically, a defence system of interlinked computer stations developed by the Pentagon was no longer needed. Instead, it was further interlinked globally and given to the world – as the World Wide Web. This great liberation would lead anyone to be able to access any information from their pocket – but also any misinformation. This mass democratisation of information and knowledge enabled groups to network – for good purposes, and for bad. Increasingly people formed their own networks, ignorant of other networks, and then began to be stunned as elections and campaigns did not work out in their favour because other networks had proved more efficient and the facts, as they saw them, had been ignored. People got angry.

Economically bewildered, militarily scared, techno-communally angered, a generation on from the Cold War the time was ripe for rampant populism – simple, 140-character solutions to complex, multi-webpage problems. As they saw manufactured products and commodities such as steel now being imported in vast quantities from countries with cheap labour and no welfare, England’s post-industrial north felt it had nothing left to lose from the chaos of Brexit and America’s Rust Belt felt it had nothing to lose from the chaos of Trump (and next year the same will happen in France). As they see refugees pouring in and causing rapid change in areas already in administrative decay, Austria will opt for the chaos of Hofer, Italy for the chaos of changing PM by referendum as happened in the UK, and the likes of Bulgaria and Moldova will turn from the over-democratic and stalled EU to the security of dictatorial Russia. Technology will not help – surrounded online only by like-minded souls, we will continue to ignore each other’s concerns, each other’s fears and each other’s anger. That ignorance will itself, as it always does, breed fear, hatred and violence.

We were supposed to “remember” this weekend. But actually none of us really does remember. The horror of the trenches has passed into history. And, unhindered by the actual ghastly memories, we have set ourselves on a course to repeat it. The lights are dimming across Europe (and North America) again.

Brexit negotiations will not feature Border – at all

When I ask people their biggest concerns about “Brexit”, the common response in Northern Ireland is “the border”.

An important, brief point here: in the negotiations between the UK Government and European Council, the border will not feature at all.

So, if you hear anyone telling you what they intend for the border, beware! What happens to the border will be determined by the law of unintended consequences.

The key aspects of the negotiations which are relevant will be free movement – of goods and services (primarily covered by the Customs Union), of people (primarily covered by the Common Travel Area) and of labour (primarily covered by the Single Market, or “EEA”).

If the outcome of those negotiations results in anything short of free movement on all of those counts, then the border will need to be manned – quite obviously. Again, beware anyone who suggests otherwise!

If the UK leaves the European Union Customs Union, then there will need to be some sort of customs control at the border (unless the UK maintains exactly the same Customs arrangements as the European Union – something which would surely defeat the object of leaving it). That need not necessarily be immediately at the border itself; it could be well to either side of it (and indeed it could be so far north of the border that it effectively takes place at the ports).

If the UK leaves the Common Travel Area (probably consequent to leaving the Customs Union), then there will be passport checks. This, it has to be said, is very unlikely; furthermore, even if it did happen, it could even be managed in such a way that the checks take place at ports and airports.

If the UK leaves the Single Market, then again there will be tariffs on goods going in either direction which will mean border checks to apply them. It would be no use Northern Ireland remaining within the Single Market, because then it would face tariffs with Great Britain. Again, the scale of these checks will depend on what precisely tariffs are applied to.

The key issue here is that what happens to the Border will be determined by other parts of the negotiation. It is not, itself, part of the negotiation.

US Election – beware false “assumed narratives”

There has been significant condemnation of pollsters after the outcome of the United States Presidential Election, and certainly the exit polls in some states were quite wacky to say the least (misleading me, and many others, to think Hillary Clinton had won fairly comfortably).

However, to me the main flaw lay with the media narrative, which proved to be utterly wrong.

Apparently numerous groups, from women to Latinos, were going to punish Trump and win it for Clinton. That simply did not happen.

What actually happened was a perfectly normal Presidential Election. As usual, after two terms of one party in the Oval Office, there was a swing to the other party (enough to put it in). The swing was pretty even across all ethnic groups – Hispanics were more likely to vote Republican for President in 2016 than 2012 just the same way whites or blacks were. Clinton of course secured a greater comparative share of the female vote, but Democratic candidates almost always do. It was all quite normal.

Furthermore, every single state which had a Senate Election voted the same way for Senate as it did for President. This was in fact the first time this had ever happened. In other words, Republicans voted for the Republican slate, and Democrats for the Democratic slate. It was almost abnormally normal.

In the end, therefore, there was no shock about the winner – or, at least, there would not have been had the pundits, chattering classes and media not come up with an “assumed narrative” of what difference the candidate would make.

Oh, and by the way, if there is one thing more criminal than getting it wrong before the election, it is getting it wrong afterwards! Not all the votes are counted yet. Trump will, in fact, outpoll Romney; and Clinton, in fact, will not fall far short of Obama. Even now, there are “assumed narratives” floating about the Internet based on false totals.

The pollsters themselves can be affected by “assumed narratives”. The blame for missing the essential normality of the outcome does not rest primarily with them (even though those exit polls were seriously crazy…!)

Liberals need to stop moaning and start winning

I watched the reaction of the Liberal (in the American sense) keyboard warriors to Donald Trump’s election with interest. Everyone who had voted for him was wrong-headed; it was (only) because the Democrats had the wrong candidate; and anyway the good guys were cheated by the electoral college.

That’s all very comforting, but it shows that peculiar Liberal disdain and unwillingness to learn that means they lose an awful lot of elections to supposedly less educated people. How about just considering that it was nothing to do with any of that?

Could it actually be that Liberals just don’t know how to win? Could it actually be that they are inferior campaigners, out-thought and our-strategised at every turn by their Conservative opponents? Could it be that their naive and frankly lazy view that elections can be won and influence can be gained only through the power of rational argument is completely flawed? Could it be that Liberals lack a fundamental understanding of what motivates people? Could it even simply be that Liberals lack passion, do not work hard or smart enough, and are not actually “fired up” after all?

Could it even be that Liberals aren’t half as clever or rational as they think they are?


There is also, perhaps, a fundamental intellectual flaw in modern Liberalism, as outlined here by David Goodhart.

On my recent trip to the States there was only one person I met who was convinced the election was rigged. He told me the Russians would hack the computers to show Trump had won Ohio and he would thus be fraudulently elected. He was a college-educated Clinton voter.

Let that sink in, Liberals.

It means you can be just as tribal (and just as pre-disposed to shaping the evidence to your own views rather than the other way around) as anyone else.


Liberal commentators told me, quite vehemently, that my tweet above was nonsense on the basis it was “not backed by any reputable pollsters”, even though it was basic common sense. Even after the last 18 months, Liberals (and by extension much of the media) would rather put their faith in pollsters than actually get out and speak to people.

Could it be that it is time for a fundamental rethink? Maybe our campaign techniques aren’t as clever or modern as we think they are; maybe our communications are over-complex or even just shambolic; maybe we are simply not motivated enough to put the work in? If we are as clever as we think we are, we would at least consider each of these points before just condemning our opponents as unthinking bigots.

By the way, it is absolutely right for Liberals to be completely furious about what happened on 23 June and 8 November – and at the setbacks to international cooperation, women’s rights and basic human compassion which have accompanied these defeats. That fury should never be forgotten and should drive us

All of which means it’s time to stop moaning and start winning.

That means need to learn from where it has gone wrong, put it right, and maybe even get out and meet a few Conservatives to see if we can persuade them to join our side for the greater good rather than demeaning them from behind a keyboard.

And remember, as a wise Liberal once said, “We do these things not because they are easy…”

Oh dear…

As I write, it looks certain that Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States.

While I talked a brave game openly on social media, those who know me privately will know that I returned from the United States last week expecting this outcome. While I always find much to admire there, I found a horrendously divided country in every sense; real grinding poverty (and not just in the cities), garbage in the streets, and no sense of a cohesive social model whatsoever. And lots of Trump yard signs, where they simply should not have been.

So for the second time this year we saw exit polls befuddled by the quiet, marginalised voter who suddenly found a voice.

What are we going to do about it? This is raw, but let me try a few thoughts right at the start.

First of all, it appears to me that both England and the United States need a proper community relations programme. Their people simply do not know each other. In each case, there is a broadly open and well educated elite which, in the perception of the rest of the country, is sneering and aloof. That perception is harsh, but also not entirely without justification – already Trump voters (and indeed an entire country) are unthinkingly being branded “idiots”. On the other hand, it is not unreasonable to suggest that those voters opting in both countries for “change” and to “throw out the political class” have done so without seriously contemplating the consequences. Rather than yelling at each other, they actually need to get to know each other.

Secondly, the Open/Liberal/Progressive side need fundamentally to revise their who way of doing things. They are losing everywhere, always. There are a number of reasons for this. They are disunited (they spend a lot of time niggling with each other over minor technicalities rather than uniting behind a common, compelling vision); they do not communicate (as noted above, they cannot communicate with the rest of society so themselves form closed groups); remarkably, they often ignore evidence (studies consistently show that “Liberals” are worse than “Conservatives” at making evidence fit their own pre-existing views).

Thirdly, we need to restore a bit of humanity. Society seems now to be all about technology, finance and mathematics. What about human beings? Everything is presented in a short-hand and/or purely rational manner, taking no account of emotions, feelings and so on. Neither “Liberals” (open progressives) nor “Conservatives” seem to care very much about each other in any meaningful way.

It is worth noting that the media can be complicit in this too. They too usually determine a narrative in advance which, when elections or referendums actually take place, turns out to be utterly wrong. Would it be too much to ask for the media to focus on reporting and analysing objectively, rather than creating pre-determined narratives which turn out to be meaningless?

Finally, tied to this, we need to recognise we are living through a mammoth technological and economic disruption. The invention and spread of the Internet, and everything that comes with it, came at the same time as the rise of cheap goods from the Far East and an entire financial system predicated on it (which broke down horribly in 2007, leaving many people rootless and hopeless). Pre-existing structures – financial and democratic – are not fit to deal with this, in the same way they weren’t at the time of the Industrial Revolution. We – again, both “Liberals” and “Conservatives” – need to come to terms with this and the fundamental social shifts it will mean. And then we need to work out how to manage them jointly, rather than just yelling at (actually, across) each other.

I may think differently in a few days, but I’ll finish by offering some advice I know will stand.

Hug your spouse/partner. Tell a friend you love them. Smile at strangers. Let’s start from those basics and see where they get us.

Guide to US Election

Americans go to the polls on Tuesday to elect their House of Representatives (lower legislative house, from 435 districts electing one each), a third of their Senate (one from two thirds of states), various State legislators… and of course their President (and Vice President).

The President (and Vice) is elected by an Electoral College of 538 delegates; 435 from each State in proportion to population, another 100 two from each State regardless of size, and 3 from the District of Columbia (the federal capital of Washington). Of the 50 States, 48 have their delegates elected “winner takes all”; thus, whichever candidate wins California gets all 55 available delegates from California voting for them. The remaining two, Maine and Nebraska, appoint two delegates based on the State-wide result and the remainder (two in Maine and three in Nebraska) individually based on the winner in each Congressional District.

A candidate requires only a plurality of votes to win the state (i.e. more votes than anyone else, regardless of whether this constitutes an absolute majority), but needs an absolute majority of the Electoral College (270 delegates) to win the election. Should no candidate attain this, regardless of who wins the overall popular vote or who has most delegates, the President is elected by the House of Representatives and the Vice by the Senate.

The two main candidates are Hillary Clinton (D-Democrat) and Donald Trump (R-Republican). The only other candidate running in all 50 states is Gary Johnson (L-Libertarian).

The United States is of course spread across numerous time zones and, in any case, each State manages the election. Thus electoral law varies across the country, including what the arrangements are for balloting, the circumstances under which a candidate may appear on the ballot paper, and the time at which polls close.

Additionally, there are variations in when networks feel content to “call” States for one candidate or another, bearing in mind the embarrassment caused by the erroneous early call of Florida for Al Gore in 2000. Nevertheless “calling”, based on early vote counts and exit polls, remains a feature of the night.


This diagram from the Washington Post, showing how the States voted last time (blue Democrat; red Republican) demonstrates that it is State population, not area, which counts – beware the standard maps!

So, what are we looking out for (with thanks to the Washington Post and APCO Worldwide), all times GMT (EST+5, PST +8, CET -1)?

Closing times refer to the whole state, given with the relevant number of Electoral Votes and the winning party in 2012 in brackets. Clinton can afford to lose 62 Electoral Votes versus 2012 and still win.


Rumours usually fly about exit polls at this stage, but no States have all polls actually closed before midnight.

Be very careful with such rumours. They usually have no basis in fact whatsoever! Wait for actual counts before making any assumptions as to the winner.

Now closed: Georgia (16-R), Indiana (11-R), Kentucky (8-R), South Carolina (9-R), Vermont (3-D), Virginia (13-D).


Kentucky (8) and West Virginia (5) will by now be called for Trump.

Vermont (3) will by now be called for Clinton.

Virginia (13) may be formally deemed too close to call at this hour – if it is called for either candidate (probably Clinton), that is a very good early sign.

Otherwise, realistically we are still stuck with entirely unreliable rumours for another hour or so!

Now closed: North Carolina (15-R), Ohio (18-D), West Virginia (5-R); Alabama (9-R), Connecticut (7-D), Delaware (3-D), DC (3-D), Florida (29-D), Illinois (20-D), Maine (4-D), Maryland (10-D), Massachusetts (11-D), Mississippi (6-R), Missouri (10-R), New Hampshire (4-D), New Jersey (14-D), Oklahoma (7-R), Pennsylvania (20-D), Rhode Island (4-D), Tennessee (11-R).


Texas (38), Indiana (11), Tennessee (11), Alabama (9), South Carolina (9) and Oklahoma (7) will by now be called for Trump.

Massachusetts (11), Maryland (10), Rhode Island (4) and the District of Columbia (3) will by now be called for Clinton.

Illinois (20), Connecticut (7) and Delaware (3) should by now be called for Clinton; any significant delay is a real problem for her.

New Jersey (14) may initially be deemed too close to call but should soon be called for Clinton.

Georgia (14) should initially be deemed too close to call but may soon be called for Trump.

Maine‘s state votes and one of its districts should be called for Clinton, but its other district may be too close to call.

North Carolina (15) and New Hampshire (4) should at this stage be too close to call – an early call for either candidate in either state, particularly for Clinton in North Carolina, would be big; do not expect either to be called soon, however.

Trump should be on at least 98 and Clinton 64 at this stage if all is as expected.

Now closed: Arkansas (6-R); Arizona (11-R), Colorado (9-D), Kansas (6-R), Louisiana (8-R), Michigan (16-D), Minnesota (10-D), Nebraska (5-R), New Mexico (5-D), New York (29-D), South Dakota (3-R), Texas (38-R), Wisconsin (10-D), Wyoming (3-R).


Arkansas (6), Kansas (6), Mississippi (6) and Wyoming (3) will by now be called for Trump, as will Nebraska‘s state votes and of its districts (but not the third).

New York (29) will by now be called for Clinton.

Michigan (16) and Wisconsin (10) should at this stage be deemed too close to call; they will probably not be called for some time.

Virginia (13) may still be deemed too close to call; because of the vagaries of counting there, nothing is to be read into that.

Trump should be leading at this stage on at least 123, but Clinton closing on at least 93.

If, however, this is not the case and a landslide is apparent, the winner may be formally called over the next hour or so.

Now closed: Iowa (6-D), Montana (3-R), Nevada (6-D), Utah (6-R).


Louisiana (8), Montana (3), North Dakota (3) and South Dakota (3) will by now be called for Trump.

Pennsylvania (20) will be deemed too close to call; if it is close, this state may well be decisive, but the winner may not be known for some time.

Ohio (18), Minnesota (10) and New Mexico (5) should also at this stage be deemed too close to call.

New Jersey (14) should by now be called for Clinton and Georgia (14) for Trump; ongoing delays in either signify real problems for the supposed winner.

North Carolina (15) and New Hampshire (4) may finally be called around now; they are both significant, particularly if they change hands (on the basis of the last election, the former should go for Trump and the latter for Clinton).

Trump must be extending his lead on at least 151 and probably 166 at this stage to win; Clinton must be on 107 and probably 111.

Now closed: California (55-D), Hawaii (4-D), Idaho (4-R), North Dakota (3-R), Oregon (7-D), Washington (12-D).


California (55) and Hawaii (4) will by now be called for Clinton.

Missouri (10) and Idaho (4) will by now be called for Trump.

Florida (29) and Iowa (6) will at this stage be deemed too close to call.

Washington (12) and Oregon (7) should initially be deemed too close to call, but should over the next period be called for Clinton.

Arizona (11) should initially be deemed too close to call, but should over the next period be called for Trump.

Virginia (13) should by now be called for Clinton, if she is to win.

If it is to be a close election, the scores should now show it – with Trump on at least 180 rising towards 191 and Clinton 170 rising towards perhaps 202.

On the other hand, if either candidate has won clearly, this will be apparent by now and networks may begin to call it at this time.

All polls are now closed. Last closing is Alaska (3-R).


Colorado (9) and Nevada (6) will at this stage be too close to call.

Utah (6) may at this stage be too close to call because of a local Independent candidate McMullan, but should soon be called for Trump.

Alaska (3) may initially be deemed too close to call, but should soon be called for Trump.

Meanwhile, Michigan (16) and Wisconsin (10) should by now have been called for Clinton; if either has not been, particularly if there is a real chance she has lost either, it is a potential problem for her.

Iowa (5) should by now be called for Trump if he is to win.

Florida (29) counts quickly, so watch for it being called any time now.

Trump could still win from 202, Clinton probably needs to be ahead now around 215228. That said, the overall scores could be affected by a range of things – the issue really is whether close States are being called, and for whom.


Ohio (18) should by now have been called for Trump; if it has not, it is a real problem for him.

Minnesota (10) and New Mexico (5) should by now have been called for Clinton (the latter may be delayed somewhat because of a strong showing from Libertarian Johnson).

Unless it is very close, we should by now have a clear idea of the winner. If it is very close, all eyes should be on Pennsylvania (20) and perhaps Colorado (9).


Virginia (13) should be now have been called for Clinton, if she is still in with a chance.

Florida (29) may by now have been called for Trump, if he is still in with a chance.

If it is very, very close, we may even be looking at one of Maine‘s and one of Nebraska‘s districts.


We should now have calls everywhere, including in Pennsylvania (20), Colorado (9) and Nevada (6), any of which could be decisive if it is very close.

If it is close, we may also have to wait in some cases for mailed votes. Some States allow these up to two weeks after polling day, provided they are postmarked no later than today. Regardless, if the outcome is still unclear at this stage, we are probably heading for recounts and the courts.

House of Representatives

The Republicans are likely to lose seats but keep control of the House; the way the districts are proportioned is hugely in their favour (they have, in effect, an in-built 40-50 seat advantage because of the way the boundaries are drawn).


Democrats needs to pick up 4-5 seats in the Senate to take a majority; this is probable, as most seats being defended (from 2010) are Republican.


It is a tricky call because this election is like no other, but the likeliest of many conceivable outcomes according to the pundits is a Clinton win declared around 6am GMT (ending on just over 300 Electoral Votes). But many other outcomes, including a landslide either way (Trump could conceivably go as high as 332Clinton as high as 370), are possible – so it may be worth being up from about 3am on!

My own instinct is Clinton will do poorly in the Mid West (perhaps even losing Michigan) but well in the South West (doing well in places like Arizona) to move over the 270 target as western states’ polls close – but that only has to be ever so slightly out for her not to win at all, an outcome I am more concerned about than many of the aforementioned pundits.

We shall see!

Language has identity aspect

This is not an advertising blog, but this book brought to my attention by a regular correspondent is surely an important contribution to our understanding of what language is.

I should declare a further interest that my company offers a course on the subject.

There are a lot of issues here which are worth bringing together in summary:

  • language is not solely about communication of immediate information – everything, from choice of register even to choice of language, communicates things about identity and attitude well beyond the mere information conveyed;
  • what is a language cannot be defined linguistically – what are apparently individual languages or not is often a political choice, and changes with politics (30 years ago Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian and Montenegrin were all the same language);
  • all languages are to some extent human constructs (the choice of what constitutes good or bad usage, formal or informal register and so on is determined by social leaders, even sometimes influential individuals – dropping ‘h’ in English used to be deemed formal/high register, for example) and thus entire languages can be reconstructed and put back into full use having once been assumed ‘dead’ (e.g. Hebrew);
  • all languages come with certain innate assumptions based on the culture of those who speak them (this even includes the likes of Esperanto – far from ‘neutral’, it attracts a particular group who tend to be internationalist and left-leaning);
  • close to home, it is utterly naive to assume development of Irish or Ulster Scots (or indeed Scots in Scotland) will be a-political by default – indeed, the promotion of (and opposition to) minority and regional languages is fundamentally political.

It is worth noting, also, that although standard languages are defined by nations (and national identity), linguistic borders can also shape national borders.

I am not remotely suggesting the linked book focuses on all of these points, but they were triggered by it!



Executive burning £1 million each year

Last week the Northern Ireland Executive decided to burn £1 million of your and my rates money each year.

Bizarrely, on the very day it was talking up the need to reconfigure Health Services and rationalise the Health Estate, the Executive inexplicably decided to keep open six underused courthouses, at a cost of over £1 million each year.

Where the obvious thing would be to merge them with those in neighbouring market towns, thus creating fully used courthouses and saving £6 million over the Assembly term, the Executive has opted instead to spend money it simply does not need to. Throw this on top of the £11 million it has already decided to waste in the same period training too many teachers in a segregated environment, as well as the amount of money it refuses to raise through mutualisation of assets, and the millions begin to stack up.

It is incoherent and incomprehensible. Yet, bizarrely, the “Official Opposition” backs this waste!

Oh dear oh dear…

Does NI face particular horror from “Brexit”?

Article in Belfast News Letter last Friday.

Various recent reports and comments, in sources as wide ranging as the UK broadsheets to leading consultancy reports, have resulted in the suggestion that Northern Ireland will be the “hardest hit” region of the UK after Brexit.

I continue to take the view that Brexit will indeed be a bad thing for Northern Ireland, the UK and the EU. However, I would add only that Northern Ireland will be the “most affected” region – whether it is the “hardest hit” is another matter. If Northern Ireland were to play its hand well, “most affected” could come to mean “most advantaged”.

The assumption is that Northern Ireland will suffer because of its reliance on EU funds – notably for agriculture, voluntary programmes and infrastructure. This will be the case only if we assume a reliance on endless subsidies is a good thing. It is not!

As long ago as 1999, one year after the Agreement, the then Department of Enterprise published a strategy named “Strategy 2010”, aimed among other things at moving GDP per head in Northern Ireland from 80% of the UK average to 90%. Six years after the target date and 17 after the report, the figure has in fact declined to 75%.

Incredibly, Northern Ireland was in fact more economically productive at the very end of the Troubles compared to the rest of the UK than it is nearly a generation on from the ceasefires! In other words, our reliance on subsidies (essentially, on money earned and wealth created elsewhere) has become even more pronounced, not less so.

Advocates of “Brexit” in Northern Ireland continue to argue that “we” give the EU £7 billion more per annum than “we” receive. Yet Great Britain’s subsidy to Northern Ireland alone is even more than that! Northern Ireland’s “economic” debate has thus declined into an argument about where we can get the greatest subsidy! Have we no self-respect?

If the current instability should be used for any purpose, it should be for a fundamental recognition that reliance on endless subsidies, regardless of their amounts or their sources, is not sustainable and cannot continue into the next decade.

Instead, the NI Executive should be formulating a serious plan to create and generate its own wealth – using new-found tax powers if needs be.

This would include proposals such as a Manufacturing Strategy, creating opportunities for significantly greater investment in infrastructure, and investing in targeted skills, as well as potentially maintaining free movement of labour.

However, there are also other ways of making a contribution. Northern Ireland could, for example, set up a Peace Studies Centre for use by the EU, a proposal which already has broad all-party support. It could ensure its world-class medical research is shared with the EU in return for access to EU research and data. It could adopt a “Gateway” status to attract investors by ensuring European employment regulations and trading standards are maintained but offering unique and tailored tax incentives.

Therefore, a fundamental change in culture and strategy is needed. We must be more ambitious. We need to ask not where Northern Ireland can manage to find funding to tread water, but rather where it can contribute to make significant gains in return for everyone – in terms of jobs, health and skills.

“Brexit” deals Northern Ireland a bad hand.However, play it well to deliver the changes we should long ago have been making anyway, and not all is lost.