13 March 2023

NI economy ‘transformed’ since Belfast Agreement – analysis reveals

13 March 2023

Northern Ireland’s economy has been transformed since the Belfast/Good Friday peace agreement, analysis has concluded.

Since the accord was signed in 1998, outside investment, trade, tourism and investment in infrastructure have increased prosperity, life expectancy and attracted new residents to Northern Ireland

Tourism is the sector to have benefited most, with the number of overseas visitors having more than doubled from 1.3m to 3m, scheduled air routes to the region more than tripled, handling 8.8m passengers (up from 4.4m in 1998), while the number of annual cruise visitors has leapt from just over 1,000 to 280,000 in 2019.

One of the most notable changes identified has been the growth of Northern Ireland’s private sector and a reduction in the region’s traditional reliance on public sector jobs.

This has included investment in sectors such as cyber security, fintech and analytics which have helped position the region as a world-leading tech hub

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has more than doubled from £19.8billion in 1998 to £43.7bn in 2020, according to the economic analysis by trade and investment advisory firm OCO Global.

Overall it found the economy has performed well with average GDP per capital having increased from £13,391 to £25,575, one of the largest improvements of any UK region.

Mark O’Connell, chairman of OCO Global, said when he set up the firm in Belfast in 2001 there was a “palpable sense of business confidence” that the region was about to take off economically.

A better economy means that Northern Ireland is also a healthier, wealthier and happier place to live

He also urged, that as the eyes of the world turn to the region for the 25th anniversary of the agreement next month, that international good will be made the most of.

“In the intervening years there has been a global financial crash, a pandemic and more recently uncertainty caused by new post-Brexit trading arrangements,” he said.

“While these events may have coloured people’s view, the truth is that the economy has been transformed for the better in the past quarter century.”

Mr O’Connell said with the opportunity of dual across to both UK and EU markets in the Windsor Framework, it is time to “double down on the achievements of the Good Friday Agreement”.

“With the Windsor Framework offering substantial improvements to the operation of the NI Protocol, OCO forecasts that the local economy has the potential to grow by 50% to £66bn (GDP) in the next decade,” he said.

“A better economy means that Northern Ireland is also a healthier, wealthier and happier place to live.

“The percentage of people claiming good health has increased from 70% to 79%, we have a more diverse community with almost 5% of residents now born from outside Northern Ireland (just 1.8% in 1998) and numbers in full time education have increased by 50% to 66,000.

“Van Morrison sang ‘wouldn’t it be great if it was like this all the time’ and looking at the indicators on the economy and health an impartial observer could only conclude that the Good Friday Agreement has delivered for the people of Northern Ireland.”

OCO’s most positive economic forecast suggests that inward investment could create another 33,000 jobs by 2033, overseas visitor numbers will increase from 3m to 5.7m and air route capacity will grow to handle 12m passengers annually

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