Economy of Northern Ireland facts for kids

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Economy of Northern Ireland
Belfast City Centre
Currency Pound Sterling (GBP£)
Trade organisations
GDP €43.432 billion (nominal) / €39.873 billion (PPP)
GDP growth
1.4% (2015)
GDP per capita
€23,700 (nominal) / €21,800 (PPP)
Inflation (CPI)
Decrease -0.1% (Nov 2015)
14,000 (£)
Labour force
887,000 (Jan 2016)
Unemployment 5.7% (Jan 2016)
Average gross salary
£1,819 / €2,473 / $2,797 (monthly)
Main industries
Services, construction, agriculture, public sector
Ease-of-doing-business rank
Decrease7th (UK)(2017)
Exports £6.327 billion (2015)
Export 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)
Import 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.
Profile of Northern Ireland
2013 economic profile for Northern Ireland

The economy of Northern Ireland is the smallest of the four countries 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industrial economy, most notably in shipbuilding, rope manufacture and textiles, but most heavy industry has since been replaced by services.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 mid-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), 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.

Other comparisons

Republic of Ireland: Border Midlands & West (1.1m) Republic of Ireland: Southern & Eastern (3.2m) United Kingdom: Northern Ireland (1.8m)
£21.8bn (€30bn) £103bn (€142bn) £27.4bn (€37.8bn)
£17,200 (€23,700) per person £28,950 (€39,900) per person £15,200 (€21,000) per person

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, though lower than that of the Republic. 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%.


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. Youth unemployment and long-term unemployment have fallen most quickly. Working-age economic inactivity is 28%, which is the highest of any UK region.

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.


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. 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.


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.


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. 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. 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.

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.

In total, the British government subvention totals £5,000m, or 20% of Northern Ireland's economic output.


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.


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 of Enterprise, Trade and Investment.

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. 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 center's 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.


Investors recently have announced plans to begin fraccing of gas in Northern Ireland. 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 under-developed 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). 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 Belfast Central to Antrim, Ballymena, Coleraine, Portrush, Londonderry 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" at Poyntzpass - - 1719543
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 Londonderry 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, 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.

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. 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).

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.

Comparison with France and the Republic of Ireland

When compared to France, GDP per capita ranges from £13,700 (€18,900) in French Overseas Territories to £67,000 (€92,300) in Hauts-de-Seine and France has only 4 regions where GDP per capita is under £14,500 (€20,000). This suggests the level of social equality is much greater in France than in the UK.

Comparing it to the Republic of Ireland, GDP per capita ranges from £14,600 (€20,100) in Irish Midlands to £41,500 (€57,200) in Dublin There are no regions in the Republic of Ireland where GDP per person is under £14,500 (€20,000).

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