June 12, 2012

Reviving the Border Region Economy in a New Era of Peace and Devolved Government

The final report of this research project – Cross-Border Economic Renewal: Re-thinking Regional Policy in Irelandwas launched on 30 March 2012. The aim of its package of four closely inter-related studies is to find ways of understanding and increasing the accessibility, size, transparency, competitiveness and profitability of Irish border region markets in a context where peace and normality have finally arrived in Northern Ireland and the Irish Border Region, but have been followed by a deep economic recession. This overall project – in which the Centre is partnered by InterTradeIreland – was carried out by Dr John Bradley, formerly a research professor at the Economic and Research Institute in Dublin and Professor Michael Best of the Universities of Massachusetts (Lowell) and Cambridge, an international authority on industrial development strategies and regional innovation systems. They also collaborated – for comparative purposes – with experts from the Polish (Lower Silesia) and German (Saxony and Brandenburg) border regions.

The focus of this project was on the specific economy of the peripheral and disadvantaged region straddling the Irish border. In particular, it examined the productive aspects of that region, i.e. the characteristics and performance of the set of businesses that operate in the border counties – whether they behaved differently to other, non-border counties that otherwise shared many similar characteristics; and to what extent was the presence of the now peaceful border a help or hindrance to their activities.

The project was carried out in three stages:

  1. The researchers first examined the ‘island’ context of the border region economy, since this determines much of what happens in the region. They looked at its peripherality within the British Isles and on the island of Ireland and its uniqueness as a peripheral region with the added burden of a ‘border-related policy fault line.’
  2. They then moved on to identifying and describing the structure and characteristics of the border region economy from an ‘outside’ perspective, using official, published data sources.They examined the nature of its consumer markets, its production activities and its tourism product.
  3. The final and most innovative stage was an attempt to communicate with and learn from local policy makers and actors (including local manufacturers) in the border region and to try to see the border economy from an ‘inside’ perspective. This included a series of detailed investigations of a range of specific enterprises in the region, in manufacturing and services. There was a concluding examination of the positive and/or negative roles played by the border as a policy barrier with the aim of understanding how this region might be reincorporated into the mainstream of island economic and business life (and how its political, administrative and business leaders might implement policies that address its exceptional challenges).

At an ‘emerging findings’ conference in Cavan on 17-18 November 2011, a number of prominent economists and industrialists from Ireland, Scotland and Germany addressed these issues  The closing address was given by Padraic White, Chair of the Louth Economic Forum and formerly Managing Director of IDA Ireland, who proposed the formation of a ‘Strategic Development Plan for the Border Zone’ with support from elected mayors and council chairs and county managers and district council chief executives on both sides of the border.

In May 2012, the Centre submitted a proposal for a follow-up research project into the potential of a Strategic Development Plan for the Border Zone, as outlined by Padraic White, as part of its INICCO Phase 2 application package to the 2013-2015 INTERREG IVA programme.

The Steering Group for this project brings together economists, industrial promotion practitioners and cross-border cooperation specialists from InterTradeIreland, the Department of Enterprise,Trade and Investment (NI), Invest Northern Ireland, Forfás (RoI), the Economic and Social Research Institute (RoI), the Centre for Cross Border Studies and University of Ulster.