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Northern Ireland - Overview:
Northern Ireland covers an area of about 14,000 square kilometres in the north eastern part of the island of Ireland. It is comprised of the six counties of Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry and Tyrone and, according to the 2001 census, has a population of just under 1.7 million people. The capital, Belfast, is the largest city in the region, with other principle urban areas being Bangor and Londonderry.

Since its creation under the Government of Ireland Act in 1920, Northern Ireland has seen a great deal of political and social unrest between the Protestant-Unionist majority, who wish for Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK, and the Roman Catholic-Nationalist minority, who want the region to become part of a united Ireland. These differences have resulted in terrorist acts being carried out by paramilitary groups on both sides during the last few decades. However, in recent years there have been significant developments towards a peaceful solution in the region.

In July 1997, the nationalist paramilitary group, the IRA called a cease-fire in order for their political wing, Sinn Fein, to be allowed to participate in all party talks. In April 1998 the Good Friday Agreement, which made provision for a power sharing executive to be established in the region, was signed by the majority of political parties in Northern Ireland and then ratified in a referendum held in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The new Northern Ireland Assembly was then established following elections held at the end of June 1998. However, in October 2002 the assembly was suspended for the fourth time since its creation and responsibility for governing the region returned to Westminster.

Despite this latest set back, political and social stability in Northern Ireland is greatly improved and this has resulted in considerable benefits for the region's economy. For example, according to the Quarterly Economic Report for March 2001, published by Northern Ireland's Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI), house prices in the region have increased by 82 per cent since 1995. Furthermore, investment in the region's production industries increased by a remarkable 91 per cent between the third quarter of 1995 and the third quarter of 2000, compared to an increase of just 18.5 per cent for the UK. Such investment has also occurred in other sectors, with companies such as Abbey National, Fujitsu, Halifax PLC, Liberty Mutual, National Australia Bank and Nortel Networks setting up and developing operations in the region. Some of the primary advantages of choosing Northern Ireland as a business location, that have been identified by the companies operating there, include the region's excellent transport infrastructure and skilled workforce.

According to the region's development agency, throughout the 1990s Northern Ireland had the fastest-growing regional economy in the UK, with GDP increasing 1 per cent per annum faster than the rest of the country. Unemployment has been falling steadily and in the Northern Ireland Labour Force Survey for 2000, stood at 5.8 per cent of the workforce, which is 5th lowest out of the UK regions and some 2.5 per cent below the unemployment rate for the European Union.

Figures from the DETI show that the regions manufacturing industry is very healthy, with manufacturing output increasing by just under 48 per cent between 1990 and 2000 compared to an increase of just under 9 per cent for the whole of the UK. In recent years, there has been a shift in the manufacturing sector away from the more traditional industries of textiles and engineering to ones focusing on high technology manufacturing.

As with any modern economy, the service sector is vital to Northern Ireland's development and is enjoying excellent growth. In particular, the region has a booming tourist industry with record levels of visitors and tourist revenues and has also established itself as an significant location for call centres. A variety of companies from all over the world have set up call centre operations in the region in recent years including Abbey National, BT, Halifax, NTL, Regus and Stream International. The 2001 report, published by communications centre market research group Mitial, concluded Belfast was the best overall location in which to establish a call centre due to its cost effective and available labour resource, the availability of property, good local communications and its established call centre infrastructure.

The region's Life and Health Sciences industry is also expanding and, according to the regional development agency, has approximately 50 companies employing nearly 4,000 people. Some of the most prominent of the companies present in the region and operating in this sector include ABC Laboratories Inc, Bio Kinetic Europe Ltd, Galen Holdings plc, Meridian Medical Technologies Ltd, MDS Pharma Ltd, Perfecseal Ltd, Randox and Amtec Medical, TFX Medical and Tyco Healthcare.

Local Infrastructure:
Northern Ireland has a good transport infrastructure and the road network ensures all parts of the region are less than an hour away from an airport or seaport.

The region's main airport is Belfast International Airport. It handles approximately 4 million passengers a year and is the 5th largest regional air cargo centre in the UK with extensive warehouse and distribution facilities. The airport is home to 6 airlines offering scheduled services to many destinations and there are numerous onward destinations available through Amsterdam, Birmingham and London. Belfast City Airport caters for over 1.3 million passengers a year and offers flights to several destinations throughout the UK. It recently opened a new £21 million terminal to cope with increasing passenger numbers. The region's third airport, the City of Derry Airport, is situated seven miles Northeast of Londonderry and hosts flights to and from Dublin and cities throughout the UK.

The region has several ports located at Belfast, Coleraine, Carlingford, Londonderry and Warrenpoint that together offer excellent facilities for all kinds of cargo. The Port of Belfast is the largest of these, handling more than 60 per cent of Northern Ireland's sea-borne trade.

Local Workforce:
According to the Northern Ireland Labour Force Survey for July - September 2002, published by the DETI, there are 701,000 people employed in Northern Ireland. Figures from the Office for National Statistics and DETI show that the majority of employment is in the service sector. In March 2001 some 485,000 people were employed in this sector, an increase of just over 30 per cent on the 1990 level. Manufacturing employment has also grown since 1990 and accounted for 103,000 jobs in March 2001.

The region benefits from an excellent academic record ensuring the availability of a well educated and skilled workforce. Statistics for 2000-2001 from the Department of Education for Northern Ireland show that 92 per cent of the region's pupils achieved pass grades in their final year of school compared with 90 per cent for the UK as a whole. Of these 24.6 per cent received A grades compared with 18.6 per cent in the UK. In addition, the University of Ulster and Queen's University of Belfast offer excellent access to graduates. According to the regional development authority approximately 3,500 students graduate with IT degrees each year along with 650 engineers with experience in digital signal processing, microelectronic and telecommunications.

In general the region enjoys good industrial relations. Figures from the Department of Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment show that, between 1996 and 2000, the average number of working days lost per 1000 employees in Northern Ireland was 15, compared to 16 in Great Britain and 73 in the Republic of Ireland.

Business Costs:
Operating costs in Northern Ireland are competitive when compared with the rest of the UK and Europe. According to the regional development agency, Invest Northern Ireland, wages and salaries in the manufacturing sector are approximately 25 per cent lower than the European Union average.

Figures published by the London-based communications, media and pricing consultancy, Tarifica, in July 2001, show that the cost of a 3 minute peak rate phone call from Northern Ireland to several countries, including France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and the USA, is just $0.21. From the Republic of Ireland the cost is $0.40 to the USA and $0.83 to the rest.

Northern Ireland overview

Northern Ireland Executive
Northern Ireland Assembly
Northern Ireland Office

Development Agencies

Invest Northern Ireland

Other Agencies
Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce & Industry

© 2002 Internet Commercial Informations Services Ltd.
This material is prepared and presented by Internet Commercial Information Services Ltd