Ulster peace to end jobs dividend

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THE hoped-for ending of the Troubles in Northern Ireland could prove a mixed blessing for many workers there, since it seems inevitable that the onset of peace will mean heavy losses in the large security sector, writes David McKittrick.

Many police officers, for example, are already bracing themselves for the possible loss of well-paid jobs if the republican and loyalist ceasefires lead to a permanent peace.

In the longer term, however, the jobs situation is regarded as being in the lap of the gods - or rather the lap of the Treasury, for the central economic question is whether the British subvention, currently running at more than pounds 3.5bn annually, is to be maintained or reduced.

Northern Ireland has a large public sector which provides almost 40 per cent of all employment. The flow of cash from Whitehall to Belfast has traditionally been rationalised in terms of providing essential help for a regional economy suffering from a terrorist campaign.

The key political issue is whether in future years British governments will continue to feel that a continuing high level of spending is justified by the goals of rebuilding a ravaged economy, and of seeking to tackle areas of deprivation which could provide seedbeds for a resurgence of terrorism. One of Northern Ireland's most senior financial figures said privately: 'They'll have to keep the money coming. They'd have to be crassly stupid not to.'

In the meantime, the most immediate question concerns thousands of security jobs which, within a year or so, may become unnecessary. A number of large shops in Belfast are reported to have paid off security guards whose principal task was to watch for incendiary devices, and hundreds more of these types of jobs may go.

The real impact is, however, expected to be felt in police and security work. The Royal Ulster Constabulary currently has 8,500 officers, 3,200 full-time reservists and 1,400 part-time reservists. Before the Troubles began the entire force was less than 3,000-strong and a peaceful Northern Ireland would require far fewer officers. Police jobs are well-paid, the average constable earning annual take- home pay of pounds 31,000, so the loss of such work would remove a great deal of money from the economy. A further 3,000 civilians are employed in support work.

In addition, the locally recruited section of the Army, the Royal Irish Regiment, employs 2,300 full-timers and 3,100 part- timers. The regiment is currently recruiting, but there is speculation that within a year or two all or most of it could disappear.

The prison service employs around 3,000 while perhaps 3,000 more people work in various ancillary security roles.

In a much more minor key, peace would mean adjustments in professions such as the law and journalism, though in these fields comparatively few jobs depend wholly on the Troubles.

(Photograph omitted)