‘A better economy means that Northern Ireland is also a healthier, wealthier and happier place to live’
OCO Global, a trade and investment advisory firm set up in Belfast shortly after the Good Friday Agreement was signed, has published an economic analysis of how Northern Ireland’s economy has been transformed in the past 25 years.
Overall, the economy has performed well with Gross Domestic Product (GDP) more than doubling from £19.8bn in 1998 to £43.7bn in 2020. The average GDP per capita has also increased from £13,391 to £25,575, one of the largest improvements of any UK region.
The analysis argues that the economy has been transformed by outside investment, trade, tourism and investment in infrastructure. This has increased prosperity, life expectancy, and attracted new residents to Northern Ireland.
Mark O’Connell, Chair of OCO Global, said: “When I set up OCO in Belfast in 2001 there was a palpable sense of business confidence that as a region Northern Ireland was about to take off economically.
“In the intervening years there has been a global financial crash, a pandemic, and more recently uncertainty caused by new post-Brexit trading arrangements.
“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.
“With the opportunities of dual access to both the UK and EU Single Market and Northern Ireland’s unique north-south and east-west relationships in the UK and Ireland, now, however, is the 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.”
OCO’s historical analysis is based on four indicators – Tourism, Investment, Liveability, and the Economy. With the signing of the Good Friday Agreement and an end to the Troubles, tourism has been one of the sectors to benefit most.
Overseas visitors have more than doubled from 1.3m to 3m, scheduled air routes to Northern Ireland have more than tripled to 73 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 other most notable changes has been the growth of Northern Ireland’s private sector and a reduction in the region’s traditional reliance on public sector jobs. Investment in sectors such as cyber security, fintech, and analytics have helped position Northern Ireland as a genuinely world-leading tech hub.
Mr O’Connell added: “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.
“Clearly, not everyone has felt these benefits to the same degree and we have far too many communities still living in deprivation, but the best way to address these problems is to keep building prosperity whilst ensuring that we give people the means to access the opportunities growth brings.
“The Good Friday Agreement’s anniversary will focus the world’s attention on Northern Ireland; it is a one-off opportunity to demonstrate that we are investor friendly and, vitally, have political stability. There’s a lot of goodwill internationally for Northern Ireland, let’s ensure we make the most of it.”