Study unveils development potential of Irish border region

17 Mar 2011

The economy in the border region of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland has untapped development potential, a new study suggests.

Writing in the 2011 edition of the Journal of Cross Border Studies in Ireland, Dr John Bradley and Prof Michael Best have called for a fresh focus on the needs of the cross-border region. They said the concept of an all-island marketplace is now well-established but must be better used to revive border economies.

“These initiatives now need to be refocused on the specific needs of the border region, which have tended to be hidden in the shadow of the greater potential of the rapidly integrating island economy,” said the authors.

The authors believe the border economy will remain isolated from “mainstream island life and its development potential will remain unrealised”, if historical legacy of distortion and disadvantage are not sufficiently addressed.

Bradley, formerly of the Economic and Social Research Institute in Dublin, previously worked on the barriers facing the post-communist economies of Central and Eastern Europe. Best, of the universities of Massachusetts and Cambridge, has written on regional business strategies around the world.

Their article comes in advance of the completion of a research project commissioned by the Centre for Cross Border Studies and funded by the Special EU Programmes Body under the INTERREG IVA programme.

The study includes a regional manufacturing overview – a look at apparent “clusters” of firms involved in related activities, and an in-depth study of specific small towns in the region.

The clusters are made up of technology-based firms in the more advanced eastern border region, clothing and seafood processing in the northwest and furniture and food in the mid-border region.

As part of the project, Bradley and Best interviewed regional industrial promotion officials, local chambers of commerce, individual factory owners and managers. The authors discovered that the border was a less of an issue than they had expected.

“Once a firm had identified the island as its target market, and made determined and sustained efforts to build that market, then the benefits of serving a potential of 6m consumers became available,” they wrote.

Bradley and Best conclude that, “When run by exceptional people, firms in the border region can excel. But there are too few of them. How can their numbers be increased?”