25 June 2008

Serious, but not hopeless

If I were a cynic, I could sit back now, look at the news that Ireland is in recession and say: Well, I told you so - two years ago, and several times since. Obviously my words did not have any impact, although I know that quite a few of my readers agreed with me and could see as well that the way the Irish economy was going during the so-called 'Celtic Tiger' period was dangerous and aimed at the fast buck rather than long-term growth and stability.

But I am not a cynic. I still believe in the goodness of mankind, the potential of Ireland and in particular the abilities of the Irish people. We have a young, bright and well-educated workforce on the Emerald Isle, our universities and institutes of technology are turning out thousands of new IT experts each year, and in the creative field Ireland is still among the leading countries in the world.

So, in my opinion the economic conditions are serious, but not yet hopeless. It all depends now on us, the people of Ireland, and to a certain extend on our political leadership. If we all work together for the common good of the country and its future, the recession will not be more than a short downward blip on the economical radar. The crisis can be overcome and the Irish industry - this time no longer focussed predominantly on construction work - return to regular growth and lasting strength.

But should we continue to be selfish and greedy (as many have become during the 'Celtic Tiger'), Ireland will see a rapid decline in income, productivity, jobs, competitiveness, social stability and public morale. The number of emigrants would - as the ESRI predicted yesterday - rise again to the level we had before 1980 and all dreams of Ireland as a country that can make it, look after itself and after its people would disappear into thin air. We would once again be sitting in the EU Council with the begging bowl.

The only problem is that this time we would attract very little help and sympathy, if we get any at all. Over the past 35 years Ireland has profited greatly from the EU and received more money from European Union funds than any other country. It was received with thanks by our government, and then blown and squandered in the most careless way. Portugal, a country that received only about half of the amount given to Ireland, used the money wisely. It improved its infrastructure, especially the public road and railway network, and made the poor north of the country accessible and prosperous. Almost every citizen of Portugal benefits from the EU subsidies, in one way or another.

Here we have seen a short and fast economic boom which lasted not more than 12 years. It did create a few new millionaires, but it really made the existing ones a lot richer. Statisticians in Dublin estimate that the true beneficiaries of the 'Celtic Tiger' number not more than 10,000. At the same time we have more than two million people - including many children - who struggle every day for basic survival. Rising food and fuel prices make their lives even harder, while the super-rich spend a few more weeks in Monaco or the Bahamas.

This is no time to be ignorant, but also no time to be too pessimistic. It is a time to be pro-active, sensible and creative, to think of Ireland first and of our own pockets later. If we do that, we will all have a decent future. Should we fail and keep fighting and bickering over petty cash, Ireland will within twenty years sink to the standard of a developing (third world) country. (The whole nation would then be on the same level as our health service.) There would be no more money from the EU, and everyone would look down on us with contempt. And rightly so. This time we are the masters of our own destiny, and we better make sure we know where we are going.

The Emerald Islander

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