Monday, March 27, 2023


John Simpson

I remember John Simpson when he came south to participate in the meetings of the National Industrial Economic Council (NIEC). He was nominated to the Council, as a public interest member, by the Irish government. He was then a lecturer in Queen's to the best of my recollection.

The NIEC was set up in 1963 as part of the Irish planning process then being introduced. It consisted of representatives of employers, trade unions, and public representatives. It was chaired by TK Whitiker, the Secretary was Maurice F Doyle, with Jim McMahon and myself as members of the Secretariat which was located in the Department of Finance.

John Simpson has just died, aged 90. I have read a few pieces about him in the Northern papers today and none mentions his membership of NIEC which I would have thought very significant way back then, with Seán Lemass meeting Terence O'Neill in an attempt to thaw North/South relations.

John had a particular interest in the economies of Northern Ireland and the Republic and the interaction between them. He was virtually alone in this area in the North until Norman Gibson arrived later on the scene.

Norman made his name modelling the Northern economy (I think) and he certainly attracted attention with his calculations of what was known then as the British subsidy to Northern Ireland.

The subsidy was the UK exchequer contribution to bridge the gap between Northern Ireland's public income and expenditure, increasing the former to fund the latter. It was also a highly contested figure, particularly when the the cost of the UK military presence in the North after 1972 was included.

I used to calculate it myself in the Department of Finance over the years and that once got me into trouble with John Kelly TD, then a junior minister.

In the event, with the replacement of the NIEC in 1973 with the National Economic and Social Council (NESC) Norman replaced John as the government's Northern Ireland nominee.

Anyway, John carried on with a distinguished career and appears to have been contributing to the Belfast Telegraph virtually up to his death.

You can catch up on this to a certain extent in the Telegraph's piece on his death.

It's funny, I was just thinking of him out of the blue the other day.

May he rest in peace.

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