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What is Ireland really like in 2012.What they don't say in the papers.
What is Ireland really like now that we are in a deep recession and the boom days are over?
With St Patricks Day looming I have been reflecting about Ireland and our journey of the last 20 years or so.
We read and hear nothing except debt and more debt.
We have a generation of young people who have only known prosperity and wealth. Our pampered young had probably heard about dole queues, bankruptcy and shrinking earnings from their parents, who endured a deep recession in the mid-1980s.But they paid little attention and never imagined that their lifestyles could change.
They all attended private schools even though we have a great state run education system. They spent lavishly on foreign holidays, and designer clothes. They worried about the lack of taxis on the streets of Dublin at night--imagine they had to wait their turn as taxis struggled to get the hoards of young people home safe, after a night in expensive clubs drinking expensive cocktails.
They developed a way of talking-an accent that would not be out of place in Beverley Hills!!
And they talked endlessly about the price of property, for which they happily borrowed to own.
There’s a street in Dublin- a very nice, relatively ordinary street- lovely redbrick houses-but far from palatial, but it was where everybody wanted to live.In 2005, a home here sold for €58m.
Its zip code became a new word in Ireland. It was Dublin 4- referred to as”D4” The D4 accent, the D4 designer labels and D4 schools.
“D4” became a way of life for many and an aspiration for most others.
Elsewhere youngsters left school at 16 to work “on the buildings” where they could earn a fortune.
The spirit of volunteering was completely lost-we could not get parents to attend our scouting activities as everybody was too busy making and spending money.
Hard times are back
But now hard times are back, and many believe they are here to stay.
People are worried, many young people are immigrating. The media only ever talks about the negatives.
I am not denying that many ordinary people are hurting through no fault of their own and that people’s expectations were dashed overnight.And there is a lot of anger about that.
But we need to accept that there was foolishness, a stupidity and a selfishness that was not pretty.The country was going crazy. The German ambassador caused a diplomatic incident when he complained that Irish life had become coarse. Where was the land of saints and scholars gone?
The church, who once would have spoken out and tried to bring some perspective and a sense of morality back was silent.
They had lost all authority and respect muzzled by a succession of scandals involving paedophilia and the abuse of children in care.
Then of course we had the collapse of the property bubble. We have seen unemployment rise past 12% per cent, banks nationalised, the economy shrinking, great swathes of the population in negative equity, and the dreaded EU bailout.
Did we waste everything?
No the Celtic Tiger years weren’t totally wasted: Despite all the doom and gloom we are in a very different place from where we were in the 1980’s. We just have a different mindset and I believe a very different media. We need to start looking at the positives and there are plenty.
There are jobs!
There are almost one third peole working now than at the start of 1997 and we have 400000 jobs.
While unemployment is high, and the numbers claiming unemployment benefit have risen dramatically, we have seen unprecedented jobs growth over the past two decades This growth that has not all faded away since 2007.
Women at work.
This is really important.
There are 50% more women at work now than in 1997. Woman correctly take the right to work if they want to for granted
While incomes have taken a hit in the last 2 years , they are still well above where they were pre Celtic Tiger – and that is taking account of changes in prices. Inflation over the past 10 years has been about 40%
Incomes are up by approx. 70%in the same period.
Again, by internatiional comparison, we have improved our relative position immensely since the early 1990s.
The Services and Internet Economy
During the boom years we transformed our economy into one of the world’s leading exporters of services. Thanks to modern communication technologies, global trade in services is driving growth, particularly for wealthier economies
In the final quarter of 2009, for the first time ever, revenue from exporting services exceeded revenue from manufacturing exports. Ireland is one of only a very few economies in the world – Hong Kong is another one– to achieve this.
EU figures show that firms in ireland generate one third of their turnover from e-commerce, far more than any other EU country.
This ability to innovate and use new tools will stand Irish business in good stead in the future.
Education and the Workforce
Between 1995 and 2005, Ireland massively increased its investment in education by 84%. This will continue to stand us in good stead through the halt in spending.We are still the young Europeans.Only one in six of Ireland’s 55-64 year-olds has third level education, a figure that rises to one in three of Ireland’s 35-44 year-olds.
However, Ireland’s 25-34 year-olds are thefifth best qualified in the EU, with 44% having some form of tertiary education.
A place to grow old?
Ireland is now one of the best places in the world to grow old. Irish women who reach 65 can typically expect to live another 20 years now, three years more than in 1995.
Irish men will typically live 17 years from 65, an improvement of over three years and the largest increase in the EU over the same period.
Our Health System takes a major battering in the media every day.They complain about the lack of Doctors and Nurses and admonish the system for having too many managers and administrators. Yet E.U figures show that Ireland, even with a younger (and therefore healthier) population than our EU neighbours, has over 50% more nurses per capita than our closest rival EU the UK!
France and Austria have half as many nurses as us.
Ireland has built a major motorway network in the last 10 years. In 1996, there were just 21km of motorway for every million citizens. That has now risen to 210 km making our motorway network the largest in the world (relative to population)
We have a great bus and rail network and an airport in every province.
Other things are changing for the better.We are becoming more resourceful, more caring, more interested in the environment and each other again.
We are enjoying our natural resources again-our beautiful scenery and are happier to vacation at home.
Theres an old Irish Gaelic word "meitheal," which means “linked to the other” I remember when a farmer had a particularly big job of work on hand –the whole community would form a “meitheal”-that meant that they would all get together and help out for the day.
Theres a house near where I live that was built in a day by a “meitheal” as it had been burnt down by the British.
People in small towns and villages actually looked after those who were in need.We had lost this human element and now it’s coming back.
I want to finish with a few old Irish proverbs that I think sum up where we were, where we are and hopefully where we are going to.
La Le padraig Shona dhuit (Happy st. Patricks Day)
Small selection of Irish proverbs
"Ní bhíonn airgead amadáin i bhfad ina phóca."
Translation: "A fool and his money are soon parted”
Meaning -A fool spends his money unwisely.
"Ní dhíolann dearmad fiacha"
Translation: "A debt is still unpaid, even if forgotten"
“Cailín ag Mór agus Mór ag iarraidh déirce"
Translation: "Big has a maid and yet Big has to beg."
Meaning: Some people will do anything to keep up appearances.
“Ní mar a shíltear a bhítear"
Translation:"Things aren't always as they seem"
“Trína chéile a thógtar na caisleáin"
Translation: "In our togetherness, castles are built"
Meaning: Teamwork and co-operation are required to complete great projects.
"Is maith an t-anlann an t-ocras"
Translation:"Hunger is the best sauce."
Meaning: If you're hungry, everything tastes good.
“Is fearr an tsláinte ná na táinte."
Translation: "Health is better than wealth."