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Light at the end of the tunnel?

by Frank Schnittger Fri Jul 22nd, 2011 at 07:36:04 PM EST

As the news from Somalia worsens and the shock from the Norway attacks sinks in, its easy to become a bit of a bad news junky. However in recent times there have been a few signs that there may be light at the end of the tunnel in Ireland's quest for salvation and (if I may mix my metaphors) that some green shoots may be appearing.  Given that I have contributed some apocalyptic diaries on Ireland's economic and political prospects, it seems only right that I should also report on what could be interpreted as hopeful developments.

A short list of such positive developments in recent months could include the following:

  1. A new Government has been elected in a sharply contested election without violence
  2. The Queen's visit helped to put to bed historic enmities between Ireland and Britain
  3. Barack Obama's visit was a success for other reasons
  4. Irish tourism has shown signs of recovery
  5. The success of four Irish Golfers in winning Major Golf Championships in the USA and Britain will help revitalise the Golf tourism business
  6. The Irish Government has forcefully declared an end to Rome rule.
  7. Exports remain vibrant and are still double imports
  8. Economic growth may reach 2.5% next year and the interest burden of Ireland sovereign debt may peak at 20% of Government revenue - below the peak during the 1980's recession.
  9. The terms of the ECB/IMF/EU "bail-out" have been improved by up to 1 Billion per annum (0.7% of GDP).
  10. Foreign direct investment rose 20% in the first half of this year
  11. Ireland is on track to produce 40% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020 and perhaps to become the lead electricity exporting country in Europe.

OK, it's much easier to be cynical and dismiss much of the above, some of which will only have the most tenuous of links with economic recovery.  Taken together, though I think we may have "bottomed out" both politically and economically. Follow me below the fold to see if the case for a positive outlook stacks up:

1. General Election

Many will argue that the new Fine Gael/Labour Government is ideologically no different from its Fianna Fail/Green predecessor. Both are committed to implementing the austerity plan agreed with the ECB/IMF and an export market orientated approach towards achieving economic recovery. However the electorate did have a choice - Sinn Fein and the United Left Alliance did offer ideological alternatives which received only limited electoral support. The TINA (There Is No Alternative) ideology that default was not an option won in the end - with considerable media support - bit that is not to say that TARA (There Are Real Alternatives) voices were completely drowned out.

For all its faults, the Irish electoral system did what electoral systems are supposed to do: channelled  a lot of popular anger into a change process, punished those who were seen to have performed badly, and gave a new generation of leaders their chance to  show if they can do better. Nearly half the Parliament was replaced with new faces.  Many have wondered why the Irish didn't explode with anger like the Greeks, and some theorised that Ireland lacked an infrastructure of dissent.  But lets sing the praise of a political process that can achieve at least some measure of change without violence.

2. The Queen's Visit

It is easy to scoff at the significance of an eighty year old women with little direct political power visiting the country, but only those who have grown up on an island convulsed with anger and an urban guerilla war can appreciate the symbolic significance of the titular head of an opposing nation and religious tradition visiting the country to warm applause wherever she went.  Sure, for security reasons her direct contact with the hoi polloi was limited but there was a genuine fear that a very unfortunate and perhaps even tragic security breach could have occurred. I got into a spat with Facebook bloggers who wanted to throw eggs or worse and there is still a strong under-current of anti-British feeling that is completely at odds with the reality that a significant majority in Northern Ireland remain committed to staying in the United Kingdom. Millions of Irish were forced to make their homes in Britain (and the USA) when the Irish economy and polity couldn't provide a viable home for them even after independence and so the links between us are simply too close for us to hate the Brits without hating ourselves. It is probably not coincidental that the UK offered Ireland Bilateral loans in the wake of the ECB/IMF debacle and has now offered to reduce the interest rate on those loans before we could even ask.

3. Barack Obama

By contrast, Barack Obama's visit was much more of a public relations stunt for his political benefit. But his visit too, had an important economic and political subtext: At a time when many in Ireland were feeling very let down by the EU (as well as by our own political elite) Barack's visit underlined that of all the European countries, Ireland has retained strong emotional and personal connection with the USA. Most foreign direct investment in Ireland still comes from US companies and the USA remains Ireland's single most important trading partner after the UK. After all the bad news surrounding the Irish economy, Barack's visit, and the positive images it invoked, will do the prospects for increased trade and investment no harm at all.

4. Tourism

Tourism is Ireland's largest indigenous industry, contributing in excess of 4% of GNP and providing employment for over 200,000 people in every community throughout the island. Tourist numbers have incresed by 9% so far this year.

5. Sport

Sport is replacing religion as the opium of the masses but is also becoming of increasing economic importance both directly and indirectly. The roots of the Celtic Tiger economic revival are sometimes traced to Ireland's defeat of England in the 1988 European cup finals in Germany. The performance of Irish rugby teams in winning the Grand Slam (2009), the Heineken cup (Munster 2006 and 2008, and Leinster 2009 and 2011) and the Celtic League (6 times in last 10 years) has all helped to build a culture of confidence and success.

The economic value of sport has been estimated at 1.26% of GNP, but this will doubtless increase with the inexorable rise of golfing tourism partly due to the victories of Irish golfers in 6 of the last 16 Major golf tournaments in the world: Padraig Harrington (British Open 2007 and 2008, US PGA Championship 2008); Graeme McDowell US Open 2010; Rory McIlroy US Open 2011; and Darren Clarke, British Open 2011. The economic significance of this resurgence is hard to estimate, but With Rory McIlroy rated by many as the next Tiger Woods, it could be significant. Interestingly, both Rugby and Golf are organised on an all Ireland basis and there has never been a significant sectarian divide in either.

6.The end of Rome rule

Much of the divisions on the Island have been fuelled by the protestant/Unionist conviction that Irish independence from the UK was Rome rule in disguise.  There was much to justify the assertion: John Costelloe Taoiseach in the 1948-51 and 1954-57 famously declared that he was a Roman Catholic first, and an Irishman second.  His Government's first act was to send a telegram to the Vatican promising fealty to its views. Fianna Fail Taoiseach Eamonn DeValera drafted the 1937 constitution with explicit Roman Catholic Hierarchy and Vatican input and promising to respect the "Special Position" of the Roman Catholic Church.

The economic significance of this is that it also embedded a conservative Catholic bourgeoisie in power - dominating the economy through the professional classes and family businesses which throttled all entrepreneurial activity by outsiders.  A culture of "it's not what you know, but who you know" dominated all activity and ambition was limited to obtaining a comfortable middle class lifestyle and the status this conferred. A broadening of access to education and an influx of foreign direct investment from the 1960's onward weakened the strangle hold of the national bourgeoisie but a culture of privileged entitlement to sinecured employment in the state sector prevailed.

The complete rejection of Vatican influence in the wake of the child abuse scandals puts a formal end to that hegemony. Ireland will not be the same again.  

7-11. Economic indicators

I will not labour the point of the economic indicators which point to an end to the precipitous decline in GNP and the beginnings of growth.  Time will tell whether a significant recovery is achieved, and it will in any case be a long time before unemployment declines sustainably. But at least the gloom of the last 3-4 years is beginning to lift, and some signs of political and economic recovery are beginning to emerge.

Thanks for an interesting, informative and enjoyable read, Frank!

To hear that good things are coming to Ireland warms the cockles of me heart.

by sgr2 on Sat Jul 23rd, 2011 at 11:43:59 AM EST
Thanks.  There is a long way to go, but I started picking up anecdotal evidence of an improvement in the situation on the ground in some areas some time ago, and now it looks as if the statistics are starting to bear this out. One can get so used to being negative about everything that you filter out the good signs.  There are still two very austere budgets to go under the ECB/IMF plan which will create a considerable headwind, but maybe, just maybe, we can ride this one out.

The problem is that the young, unemployed, the sick and the old are and will continue to bear the brunt of the cutbacks in health, social welfare and education spending, and for some the upturn may come too late.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Jul 23rd, 2011 at 03:49:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
'Brazen' disregard shown - Kenny   Irish Times

Addressing the House, Mr Kenny said: "The rape and torture of children were downplayed or `managed' to uphold instead, the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and `reputation'.

"Far from listening to evidence of humiliation and betrayal with St Benedict's "ear of the heart" . . . the Vatican's reaction was to parse and analyse it with the gimlet eye of a canon lawyer. . . . This calculated, withering position being the polar opposite of the radicalism, humility and compassion upon which the Roman Church was founded."

"The revelations of the Cloyne report have brought the Government, Irish Catholics and the Vatican to an unprecedented juncture," the Taoiseach said. "It's fair to say that after the Ryan and Murphy reports Ireland is, perhaps, unshockable when it comes to the abuse of children. But Cloyne has proved to be of a different order.

"Because for the first time in Ireland, a report into child sexual-abuse exposes an attempt by the Holy See, to frustrate an inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic . . . as little as three years ago, not three decades ago. And in doing so, the Cloyne Report excavates the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism . . . the narcissism . . . that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day."

Mr Kenny said the Cloyne report told "a tale of a frankly brazen disregard for protecting children". He said although the report had shown the need for the Vatican "to get its house in order", it also revealed how the State had failed victims too.

The Irish Government is close to a century past its struggle to free Ireland from the U.K. It is well past time that they began to deal with the RCC from the perspective of a mature adult. Kenny could look at what Mexico did to the Church after the Revolution: existing churches became state property which the Mexican Church had to rent from the state; priests were forbidden to wear clerical garb outside church boundaries; etc. Perhaps appoint a secular co-administrator who has to sign off on all major decisions, especially for all elements of the Irish Church dealing with children. Priests and members of orders should be held to a higher civil, legal standard and be explicitly vulnerable to prison time for future infractions. Indeed, the very ability of the RCC to deal with children could be made contingent on a thorough clean up and lack of relapses.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Jul 23rd, 2011 at 04:38:51 PM EST
The Mexican example is perhaps unfortunate because a lot of priests were also killed during that conflict.  In the case of Ireland they are dying off from natural causes - their numbers much diminished by priests leaving the priesthood and older priests retiring with no new recruits coming through.

The RC Church simply doesn't have the numbers to keep running all the schools and hospitals it used to, but is fighting a desperate rearguard action to hold onto what it can - with the honourable exception of the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, who has antagonised his episcopal colleagues and some priests by actually welcoming a state takeover of many schools.

The Bishops themselves have now signed off on guidelines incorporating mandatory reporting to the civil authorities - the problem was that elements in the Vatican encouraged some Bishops like Magee in Cloyne to pretend to be implementing the guidelines when in fact he didn't.

For detailed discussion see here

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Jul 23rd, 2011 at 05:25:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Many, many more lay people than priests were killed in the Mexican Revolution. I have seen pictures from Jalisco with miles and miles of railroad with telegraph poles and two corpses hanging from each pole, but no priests. Of course Guadalajara was a conservative stronghold.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Jul 23rd, 2011 at 10:49:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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