Economy of Northern Ireland

Economy of Northern Ireland
Belfast City Centre
CurrencyPound sterling (GBP£)
Trade organisations
GDP€53 billion (nominal) / €47 billion (PPP)[1]
GDP growth
Decrease-0.3% (Q2 2018)[2]
GDP per capita
€28,700 (nominal) / €26,800 (PPP)[1]
Decrease -0.1% (Nov 2015)
14,000 (£) [3]
Labour force
897,000 (Jan 2016)[4]
Unemployment5.7% (Jan 2016)
Average gross salary
£2,295 / €2,665 / $3,132 (monthly)
Main industries
Services, construction, agriculture, public sector
Decrease7th (UK)(2017)[5]
Exports£6.327 billion (2015) [6]
Export goods
  • Machinery & transport equipment
    Food & live animals
    Chemicals & related products
    Manufactured articles
    Manufactured goods
Main export partners
 EU total (54.7%)
 Ireland (33.4%)
 United States (17.6%)
 Canada (5.8%)
 Germany (5.3%)
 France (4.8%)
Imports£6.078 billion (2015) [6]
Import goods
  • Manufactured articles
    Food & live animals
    Chemicals & related products
    Machinery & transport equipment
    Manufactured goods
Main import partners
 EU total (55.1%)
 Ireland (27.2%)
 China (16.5%)
 United States (8.2%)
 Germany (6.1%)
 Netherlands (5.7%)
Main data source: CIA World Fact Book
All values, unless otherwise stated, are in US dollars.
2013 economic profile for Northern Ireland

The economy of Northern Ireland is the smallest of the four constituents of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland previously had a traditionally industrial economy, most notably in shipbuilding, rope manufacture and textiles, but most heavy industry has since been replaced by services.

To this day, Northern Ireland still suffers from the results of the Troubles, which occurred between the late 1960s until the late 1990s.


Output and economic growth

Northern Ireland has the smallest economy of any of the twelve NUTS 1 regions of the United Kingdom, at £27.4bn (€37.8bn)[when?], or about two-thirds of the size of the next smallest, North East England. However, this is partly because Northern Ireland has the smallest population; at £15,200 (€21,000) Northern Ireland has a greater GDP per capita than both North East England and Wales.

Rural areas including the North West are particularly deprived. It suffers from the highest unemployment and highest poverty rates in Northern Ireland. Infrastructure is substandard and has hampered economic development. The University of Ulster in Derry has seen many courses moved to its Jordanstown campus in the north of Belfast and other campuses.

Throughout the 1990s, the Northern Irish economy grew faster than did the economy of the rest of the UK, due in part to the Celtic Tiger rapid growth of the economy of the Republic of Ireland and the so-called "peace dividend". Growth slowed to the pace of the rest of the UK during the down-turn of the early years of the new millennium, but growth has since rebounded; in 2005, the Northern Irish economy is estimated to have grown by 3.2%, almost twice as fast as the UK as a whole, and future growth is expected to be stronger than that of the rest of the United Kingdom. In April 2007 a Halifax survey found Northern Ireland's average house price to one of the highest in the UK, behind London, the South East and the South West. It also found Northern Ireland to have all of the top ten property "hot spots", with the Craigavon and Newtownards areas increasing by 55%.[7] However, as of 2018 Northern Ireland house prices are the lowest on average in the UK approx 40% lower than before the bubble burst in 2008


Unemployment in Northern Ireland has decreased substantially in recent years, and is now roughly at 6.1%, down from a peak of 17.2% in 1986.[8][9] Youth unemployment and long-term unemployment have fallen most quickly. Working-age economic inactivity is 28%, which is the highest of any UK region.[10]

Northern Ireland's macroeconomy is also characterised by considerably longer actual working hours and lower gender income disparity than in the United Kingdom as a whole.[10]


During The Troubles, Northern Ireland received little foreign investment.

Since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, investment in Northern Ireland has increased significantly. Most investment has been focused in Greater Belfast and to a lesser extent Greater Derry. Major projects include the £400 million Victoria Square retail development in Belfast City Centre. The city will host the largest waterfront development in Europe with the Titanic Quarter[11] scheme, costing over £1 billion and taking seven years to complete. The Laganside Corporation has been at the forefront of the redevelopment of the riverfront along the banks of the River Lagan, to date the corporation has overseen the investment of over £800 million in the riverside area. The Cathedral Quarter has also seen substantial investment. In Derry, the ILEX Urban Regeneration Company no longer exists. The area is 12th in terms of funding despite it being the second city. The Culture Company no longer exists.

In addition, the Department for the Economy has commissioned MATRIX, the Northern Ireland Science Industry Panel, to advise government on the commercial exploitation of R&D and science and technology in Northern Ireland.[12]

The Matrix Panel aims to grow NIs wealth by encouraging the exploitation of its science and R&D base. The work has shown that there is still a need for greater exploitation of science and technology and a step-change in innovation in the economy and workplaces.[13]

The Panel's recommendations are the result of a collaborative effort of technology industry leaders and experts in Northern Ireland.[14]


Agriculture in Northern Ireland is heavily mechanised, thanks to high labour costs and heavy capital investment, both from private investors and the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy. In 2000, agriculture accounted for 2.4% of economic output in Northern Ireland, compared to 1% in the United Kingdom as a whole.[15] As in the rest of the United Kingdom, livestock and dairy account for the majority of agricultural output. The main crops are (in descending order of value) potatoes, barley, and wheat.


Heavy industry is concentrated in and around Belfast, although other major towns and cities also have heavy manufacturing areas. Machinery and equipment manufacturing, food processing, textile and electronics manufacturing are the leading industries. Other industries such as papermaking, furniture manufacturing, aerospace and shipbuilding are also important, concentrated mostly in the eastern parts of Northern Ireland. Of these different industries, one of the most notable is that of Northern Ireland's fine linens, which is considered as one of the most well known around Europe.

Although its share of economic output has declined, manufacturing output in Northern Ireland has remained almost unchanged over the past five years, after a period of steep manufacturing growth between 1998 and 2001.[16] However, this overall picture of health hides a dramatic shift in manufacturing priorities, with the decline of traditional industries, such as textiles and shipbuilding, at the expense of high tech and capital-intensive industries. In 2005, chemicals and engineering (both of which belong firmly to the latter group) were the only two manufacturing sub-sectors to record growth, whilst output of textiles fell by 18%.[17]

Engineering is the largest manufacturing sub-sector in Northern Ireland, particularly in the fields of aerospace and heavy machinery. Bombardier Aerospace is the province's largest industrial employer, with 5,400 workers at five sites in the Greater Belfast area.[18] Other major engineering employers in Northern Ireland include Caterpillar, DuPont, Emerson Electric, Fujitsu, Allstate NI, Seagate and NACCO. Many of these manufacturers receive British government financial backing, and enjoy close academic and business links with Queen's University Belfast and the University of Ulster. The former ranks as one of the best British universities for all engineering courses.[19]

Belfast's famous shipyard, Harland and Wolff, which in the early 20th century was the world's biggest shipbuilder, suffered from intense international competition during the 1970s and 1980s and declined rapidly. During the 1990s the company diversified into civil engineering and industrial fabrication, manufacturing bridges and oil platforms. The company made an unsuccessful bid to build the Queen Mary 2, which it was hoped would re-stimulate the yard's shipbuilding business. The vast works on Queen's Island were downsized, with much of the land (including the slipway where RMS Titanic was built) sold off for redevelopment in the 2000s as the 'Titanic Quarter'- a new residential, commercial and high-tech industrial district. The modern, smaller yard employs only 800 people. H&W have not built a ship since 2003, but has seen workload increase through being involved in shipbreaking, ship repair and maintenance and conversion work. The company has also been active in the design and construction of offshore power generation equipment- both wind turbines and wave-action turbines.


As with all developed economies, services account for the majority of employment and output. Services account for almost 70% of economic output, and 78% of employees.[20]


Despite the negative image of Northern Ireland held in many foreign countries, on account of the Troubles, tourism is an important part of the Northern Irish economy. In 2004, tourism revenue rose 7% to £325m, or over 1% of the local economy, on the back of a rise of 4% in total visits to 2.1 m in the year.[21] Tourism is considered likely to become one of the main growth areas of the economy in the near future, with the continuation of the peace process and the normalisation of the image of Northern Ireland internationally. The most popular tourist attractions include the historic cities of Derry, Belfast and Armagh, the Giant's Causeway, and Northern Ireland's many castles. The NI 2012 Our Time, Our Place tourism campaign created by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board generated a profit of £31 million in 2012 (subtracting November and December) the first six months of 2013, according to a study by an independent researcher commissioned by the organization.[22] High-profile events initiated by the program include the opening of the £77 million Titanic Belfast and the construction of a Giant's Causeway visitor's centre.[23]

Public sector

As of December 2008 the public sector in Northern Ireland accounted for 30.8% of the total workforce. This is significantly higher than the overall UK figure of 19.5%, and also higher than Scotland, the next nearest region at 24%. Overall, the figure for Northern Ireland has fallen. In 1992 the public sector accounted for 37% of the workforce. When measured relative to population, the gap between the Northern Ireland and UK figures reduces to three percentage points.[24]

In total in 2006, the British government subvention totalled £5,000m, or 20% of Northern Ireland's economic output.[25] This had risen to £11,547m in 2009–10 during the "Great Recession", and then fell back to £9,160m in 2013–14.[26] A 2017 article by a research professor at the Economic and Social Research Institute quantified the transfers at 10.8 billion Euro annually.[27] In late 2018 The Irish Times estimated that the subvention had risen to £10.8 billion, about a quarter of Northern Ireland's GDP.[28]


The official currency in use in Northern Ireland is the British pound sterling. Although the euro, in use in the Republic of Ireland, is accepted by retailing chains closer to the border with the Republic of Ireland.

In addition, four Northern Irish banks retain the right to print their own sterling-denominated banknotes: Bank of Ireland, First Trust Bank, Northern Bank, and Ulster Bank. The central bank of the UK as a whole is the Bank of England.


Northern Ireland's total primary energy consumption is approximately 4.90 million tonnes of oil equivalent. The vast majority of this energy comes from fossil fuels.

Energy policy in the province is maintained by the Department for the Economy.

Primary energy consumption
Source ktoe %

Coal 1,440 29.4
Oil & LPG 1,290 26.3
Natural Gas 1,100 22.4
Vehicle fuel 926 18.9
Renewables 10 0.2
Electricity imports 140 2.8

Total 4,900 100


Northern Ireland's electrical grid is operated by System Operator for Northern Ireland (SONI) and the distribution is managed by Northern Ireland Electricity (NIE) which owns and manages the infrastructure which connects over 850,000 customers. Electricity consumption in Northern Ireland was 7,867 GW·h in 2002/3.[29] At 4.6 MW·h per person, this is 18% less than that of the rest of the United Kingdom (5.6 MW·h per person). The main power station is located at Ballylumford, and is operated by Premier Power. There is also Coolkeeragh power station in Greater Derry. The electricity grid throughout all of Ireland is operated as a single system, with separate control centers in Dublin and Belfast.

Northern Ireland's electrical grid is connected to that of the Republic of Ireland by three cross-border interconnectors. The main interconnector, between Tandragee and Louth has a capacity of 1,200 MW. Two back-up interconnectors have a combined capacity of 240 MW. This combined all-island grid is connected to the National Grid on the island of Great Britain by the 500 MW Moyle interconnector, under the North Channel.[30]


Investors recently have announced plans to begin fraccing of gas in Northern Ireland.[citation needed] Gas for the Greater Belfast area is supplied via the Scotland-Northern Ireland pipeline (SNIP), a 24-inch-diameter (610 mm) interconnector pipeline. SSE Airtricity and firmus energy supply gas to the Greater Belfast area via Phoenix Natural Gas' network.

In the other areas of Northern Ireland, specifically towards Derry City, gas comes from two interconnector pipelines, one being supplied by the Republic's gas supplier, Bord Gáis. The North-West pipeline from Carrickfergus in County Antrim to Derry opened in November 2004, and the South-North pipeline from Gormanston (in the Republic) to Antrim was opened in October 2006. The complete South-North pipeline to Dublin opened in November 2007, passing Armagh, Banbridge, Craigavon and Newry. Since December 2005, Bord Gáis has supplied gas to residential customers in this area under the name firmus energy.


Northern Ireland has a currently expanding transport infrastructure with most infrastructure concentrated on Greater Belfast, Greater Derry and Craigavon. Northern Ireland has a total of 24,820 km (15,420 mi) of roads, or 1 km for each 68 people (1 mi for each 109 people), which is considerably more than in the United Kingdom as a whole (1 km per 162 people).[31] There are seven motorways in Northern Ireland, extending radially from Belfast, and connecting that city to Antrim, Dungannon, Lisburn, Newtownabbey, and Portadown.

Northern Ireland Railways (NIR) runs passenger trains and presently carries no freight though it is possible to carry freight. NIR is owned by the people of Northern Ireland and has embarked upon significant investment on the Belfast-Derry railway line to upgrade the infrastructure between Belfast and Derry the largest cities in Northern Ireland. NIR connects Belfast Great Victoria Street and Lanyon Place to Antrim, Ballymena, Coleraine, Portrush, Derry along the Northern Corridor and the Belfast Suburban Rail network serves places near Belfast, along with the Enterprise (train service) connecting Lisburn, Portadown, Newry and across the border along the Dublin-Belfast railway line to Dublin Connolly.

Northern Ireland Railways could be extended by re-opening railway lines such as from Portadown to Armagh railway station in Armagh.

The Enterprise passing Poyntzpass.

Northern Ireland is home to three civilian airports: Belfast City, Belfast International, and City of Derry. In terms of Airport rail link connections only Belfast City Airport is served by train from Sydenham station on the Bangor Line.

Major seaports in Northern Ireland include the Port of Belfast, the Derry Port and the Port of Larne. The Port of Belfast is one of the chief ports of the United Kingdom, handling 17 million tonnes (16.7 million long tons) of goods in 2005,[32] equivalent to two-thirds of Northern Ireland's seaborne trade.

In addition to these existing links, several organisations have proposed a tunnel under the North Channel, with one possible site connecting the eastern part of Northern Ireland to Wigtownshire. The idea has been given technical consideration since the 19th century, but, as of 2012, no major political party has advocated such a link, due to financial constraints.


The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) is the principal source of official statistics on Northern Ireland. These statistics and research inform public policy and associated debate in the wider society. NISRA is an Agency of the Department of Finance and Personnel.[33]

Alongside official national statistics a number of respected private sector surveys are used to understand how the economy is performing. These include the British Chambers of Commerce Quarterly Economic Survey.[34] This survey has information on the performance of Northern Irish businesses since 1989.

Regional Disparity / North-South Divide


According to Eurostat figures there are huge regional disparities in the UK with GDP per capita ranging from £11,000 (€15,000) in West Wales to £130,450 (€179,800) in Inner-London West. There are 26 areas in the UK where the GDP per person is under £14,500 (€20,000).[35]

These areas are the following:

4.5 million (8.5% of English) live in these deprived English districts. 11 of these deprived regions in England: Durham, Northumberland, Greater Manchester North, Blackpool, Sefton, Wirral, Barnsley Doncaster Rotherham, South Nottinghamshire, Dudley, Outer London - East North East, Torbay

1.4 million (45% of Welsh) live in these deprived Welsh districts. 6 of these deprived regions in Wales: Isle of Anglesey, Conwy & Denbighshire, South West Wales, Central Valleys, Gwent Valley, Powys

1.1 million (20% of Scottish) live in these deprived Scottish districts. 5 of these deprived regions in Scotland: Clackmannshire & Fife, East & Mid Lothian, East & West Dumbartonshire, East & North Ayrshire, Caithness Sutherland & Ross,

1.1 million (60% of Northern Irish) live in these deprived Northern Irish districts. 3 of these in Northern Ireland: Outer Belfast, North of Northern Ireland, West & South of Northern Ireland.

See also


  1. ^ a b "Eurostat Regional GDP". Eurostat. Retrieved 12 April 2016.
  2. ^ "NI economy shrinks in first quarter of 2018". BBC News. Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  3. ^ "Northern Ireland prosperity map". Barclays. Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  4. ^ a b c "NI Composite Economic Index Statistics" (PDF). Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment. Retrieved 12 April 2016.
  5. ^ "Ease of Doing Business in United Kingdom". Doingbusiness.org. Retrieved 24 January 2017.
  6. ^ a b "UK Regional Trade Statistics" (PDF). GOV UK.
  7. ^ NI dominates housing hotspot list BBC News 24 April 2007
  8. ^ "Statistical Press Release - Latest Labour Market Figures".
  9. ^ "Northern Ireland's economic fears". Ryan, Orla; BBC, 22 June 2001. Retrieved on 17 June 2006.
  10. ^ a b Economic Overview. Northern Ireland DETI. 2006. Retrieved on 17 June 2006.
  11. ^ "Titanic Quarter". www.titanic-quarter.com.
  12. ^ "Operations Automation Default Page". www.matrix-ni.org.
  13. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 27 March 2012. Retrieved 3 March 2009.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  14. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 February 2012. Retrieved 3 March 2009.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  15. ^ Portrait of the Regions: Northern Ireland. Eurostat. 2005. Retrieved on 17 June 2006.
  16. ^ Quarterly Economic Review. Northern Ireland DETI. October 2005. Retrieved on 17 June 2006.
  17. ^ Index of Production. Northern Ireland DETI. 12 April 2006. Retrieved on 17 June 2006.
  18. ^ "High Flight" Archived 28 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine. Cowan, Stephen; The Manufacturer, April 2006. Retrieved on 17 June 2006.
  19. ^ Good University Guide: Full subject tables. The Times. 27 May 2005. Retrieved on 17 June 2006.
  20. ^ Why Northern Ireland - Economy. InvestNI. 2004. Retrieved on 17 June 2006.
  21. ^ Economic Performance Briefing. Northern Ireland Executive. 25, January 2006. Retrieved on 17, June 2006.
  22. ^ "High-profile tourism campaign attracts million visitors to Northern Ireland". eTurboNews. 27 June 2013.
  23. ^ "The ni2012: Our Time, Our Place story". Northern Ireland Tourist Board. Retrieved 5 June 2014.
  24. ^ Department of Finance & Personnel (2009). 2009-10 Northern Ireland Public Sector Pay and Workforce Technical Annex (PDF) (Report). Retrieved 8 December 2009.
  25. ^ "Addicted to state subvention, north will suffer when it's gone". Alan Ruddock, The Times. 8 January 2006. Retrieved on 17 June 2006.
  26. ^ "How dependent is Stormont on Westminster subvention?". FactCheckNI. 24 May 2016.
  27. ^ E. Morgenroth, The Irish Times, 15 March 2017; retrieved on 23 November 2018.
  28. ^ Gillespie, Paul. "Post-Brexit Britain may not want to pay for Northern Ireland". The Irish Times.
  29. ^ Energy. Northern Ireland DETI. 23 October 2003. Retrieved on 17 June 2006.
  30. ^ Disposal of Moyle Interconnector. Viridian Group. 11 April 2003. Retrieved on 17 June 2006.
  31. ^ Why Northern Ireland - Infrastructure Archived 15 March 2006 at the Wayback Machine. InvestNI. 2004. Retrieved on 17 June 2006.
  32. ^ "2005 Trade Figures Released" Archived 3 May 2006 at the Wayback Machine. Port of Belfast. 13 February 2006. Retrieved on 17 June 2006.
  33. ^ The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency. NISRA. 2014. Retrieved on 16 June 2014.
  34. ^ British Chambers of Commerce Quarterly Economic Survey Archived 7 June 2014 at the Wayback Machine. BCC. 2014. Retrieved on 16 June 2014.
  35. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 6 October 2014. Retrieved 2011-10-19.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)

External links

Northern Ireland Executive departments responsible for economic policy:

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