Statistics show Derry falling further behind: Eamonn McCann

Eamonn McCann.
Eamonn McCann.

In the 20 years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) much has been made of how the “peace dividend” would transform Northern Ireland's economic prospects.

But this hasn’t happened - or at least it hasn’t happened in Derry, especially when compared to Belfast.

This is not special pleading on behalf of Derry, or an attempt to do down Belfast. It is a matter of statistics, of objective fact.

The Belfast economy has grown by 14 percent in real terms since the GFA. Derry’s economy has contracted by seven percent.

Belfast’s income per capita has grown by 14 percent since the GFA. Derry’s income per capita has fallen by 12 percent.

Per capita income in Belfast stood at more than £31,000 in 2015. Per capita income in Derry was £15,000.

Belfast is among the top 20 percent of UK government districts for economic performance since 1997. Derry is among the bottom five percent for the same period.

The same truth emerges when Derry is compared to a city of comparable size across the water.

The economy of Lincoln in the east Midlands has grown by 25 percent in real terms since 2000. The most significant fact for Derry is that this was the year Lincoln’s university was created.

2007 was the beginning of the credit crunch and the associated recession.

The economy all across these islands took a severe hit. But neither Belfast nor Lincoln has struggled to the same extent as Derry. And both have since shown signs of recovery which Derry has not.

There was no overriding reason that the Derry economy should be more damaged by the credit crunch than other comparable areas.

Derry's economy consistently performs poorly compared to Belfast. Its rises are smaller, its falls are larger.

A cynic might ask whether it’s any wonder that the alternative name for the Good Friday Agreement is “The Belfast Agreement.”

None of this is to suggest that Belfast - or, indeed, Lincoln - is on the proverbial pig’s back when it comes to the economy. In each city, there are sharp divisions and inequalities.

The fruits of the recovery have not been evenly spread. As ever, the rich have done better than the poor.

The point is that, even taking full account of these considerations, Derry is doing relatively badly, the other cities relatively well.

If Derry’s university issue had been resolved, we might have had the same boost as Lincoln – up to 30 percent.

This would still have left Derry behind Belfast, but Derry’s economic performance would have been positive instead of negative and the gap between the two cities would not have widened, but narrowed.

Without a resolution at last of the university issue, together with serious decentralisation and a fundamental reform of the strategy of Invest NI, there is no reason to believe that Derry's downward economic trend, and the widening of the gap with Belfast, will change.