Friday, 18 April 2008

Cowen comes bearing gifts

When Brian Cowen, the newly elected Fianna Fáil Leader and Tiaoseach-elect arrived to meet Peter Robinson, the newly elected DUP Leader and First Minister-elect there was much bonhomie. The mood was undoubtedly helped by Mr Cowen’s announcement that companies based in the Irish Financial Services Centre can establish what are essentially ‘back-offices’ in Belfast without losing their advantageous tax breaks in the Republic. This was hailed as great news by the media in the North but, understandably, the coverage in the South was a bit more muted.

Apparently the IFSC is having great difficulty attracting staff and so the move to open offices in Belfast is more of a necessity than a charitable gesture. Its hard to believe that if there is a huge pool of potential recruits in NI that those individuals would be unwilling to move down to Dublin? Perhaps the ability to find office rental rates that are a fraction of those in Dublin and the ability to pay significantly lower wages is also a factor.

Some nationalist commentators have hailed it as part of the development of an all island/Ireland economy and some as a step to a United Ireland. It might mark a step in the former but anyone who thinks it heralds a United Ireland should ask the customers walking out of Tescos stores in the Republic whether they feel that Tesco’s presence represents a step on the road to the Republic rejoining the UK. Tesco is due to open to 101st store in the Republic as the UK presence in the Republic’s retail market continues to expand. British imperialism or economics? One suspects the later. Likewise American and other banks who are based for tax reasons in Dublin servicing clients from Belfast shouldn’t be viewed through green-tinted glasses either.

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