They say that Ireland is back from the brink. The data shows it, the traffic on the M50 around Dublin shows it and the budget displays a touch of the old hubris we knew from the noughties.
GDP might be above 5% but we’re not feeling it so much on the ground. The growth is driven by trade, which dominates because Ireland attracts foreign companies that want a low tax jurisdiction. Pharmaceutical companies and IT companies have big operations serving Europe. And there’s a whole ecosystem around them from lawyers and accountants to property agents feeding of the nexus of activity.
There’s some trickle down. That’s good. But mostly it’s people at the top that are benefiting. Certainly here in Carlow, only 70km from Dublin city centre, businesses which are three generations old are still scraping to get get by, keep their staff and pay down the bank debt. We still feel the pinch.
That pressure is not just financial. It’s regulatory too. The raft of licenses, fees and new certifications required to do what has been done for years puts a crimp in the cash flow as well as the opportunity to innovate. For a country that prides itself on its “educated” work force that is a shame.
And while we’re on the subject, education budgets have been cut and the whole culture of pedagogy remains stuck in Catholic dogma and mantra. We are not taught to think but rather to perform. That does not set Ireland up for a great future. It is the same approach of the erstwhile feudal systems – train the monkeys to do what they’re told, not to think. There are moves to change the system, to open it up and modernise curriculum and pedagogy, but resistance is strong – after all everyone’s been trained to accept what we have.
Which raises the question of Irish culture and how that is faring as the economy “resuscitates”. On the ground, Ireland has always been about people. When it was poor there was still a pride in presentation. Yes there are prejudices born of incestuous communities and ignorance, but there has always been heart, and big heart at that. Ireland has a social culture which is about people and fun as much as porter. In fact it’s more about tea than porter. It seems that as we kow-tow to the international drug company and software company we are losing some of that joy. Too many of us have learnt how to be greedy while the rest of us have not yet learned to say “no”.
The future could be bright, but that is uncertain. We could have money, without happiness and maybe that’s OK. But if the markets turn and the vibrancy of those international companies pauses, we could be poor and sad. It’s important that we all take a moment to keep our communities alive, to help a neighbour and to ask for effective management of public services, like school (whose budgets are cut), health (ditto) and infrastructure (ditto again). We must put politics and predjucies aside and think for ourselves. Let’s not imagine we’re America without the guns, after all Americans likes Ireland because it’s Irish.