30th October 2012

Here’s a blog that I wrote for The Independent on the current economic situation in Ireland:


It’s appropriate that country music has always been popular in Ireland because more and more, the place feels like a tragic Tammy Wynnette song.

My man gone done and left me and he took with him, the economy, our young people , the hopes and dreams of an entire generation and now we’ve been downgraded as a place to do business. Now, don’t that make my brown eyes blue?

The latest twist in the never ending episode of Eastenders that is the Irish economy was the news that Ireland has finally slipped out of the top ten places to do business. This annual list compares and contrasts the easiest places in the world to set up new businesses and, like the most boring Eurovision Song Contest ever, ranks them in order. So it’s good news if you are Singapore but its nil points for poor old Venezuela. Yes, you may have a welfare state that is the envy of the world but if you’re hoping for Intel to set up factories near you any time soon, then lo siento amigos.

The sad thing is that Ireland was doing everything it could to keep the international money men interested. Ever since the crash there has not been a rule Ireland hasn’t followed, a line it hasn’t diligently toed, an “I” it hasn’t diligently dotted and added in a smiley face just to be on the safe side.

When the banks collapsed, we pledged to pay back all the investors, the country went bust; we went to IMF for help. Unlike crazy Greece with its petulant demands we obediently went along with the humiliations, the cuts and slashes, like an insecure submissive at a Fifty Shades of Grey Convention, yet it still wasn’t enough. We still got dumped. If life was really like a romantic comedy this would be the scene where Ireland sits sobbing in the bath.
It’s not like we aren’t as a people used to bad news. Our history books read like a long form misery memoir.

I remember Ireland in the 1980s. It was a gloomy, corduroy trousers, brown paper covering your school books place to be. The only chinks of light were the occasional Eurovision win or when somebody won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Then things began to change. We had the youngest population in Europe, the lowest corporation tax and there was finally money in the bank. There was this animal called the Celtic Tiger, a little spotted creature that was the envy of the world.

No one was really sure what it was exactly, or what it did, but it meant that house prices tripled in value, personal debt sky rocketed and everyone felt the need to buy a second house in Bulgaria. First Communions went from being family days out involving maybe a trip to the zoo, to glamorous affairs requiring fake tans and bouncing castles in the back garden. Things sure did get classy.

I remember my Nanny mournfully saying “But what happens when it all ends?” and I looked at her with pity, like she was asking what would happen when the electricity ran away. This was the future. Ireland had just caught up with the world that was all. It was never going to end. Everything was going to be big and shiny and orange and new forever.

Then like most lies, it was found out. We realised too late that an economy based around selling and buying houses to and from each other could never last and we were more broke than ever.

Now in Ireland, you don’t ask if someone is working. It’s too rude. You talk about anything else instead. Empty half finished flats and boarded up shops fringe towns and villages like debris from another planet. No one will ever live in them. Local football teams quietly disband, there are no young people left to play in them any more. The countries brightest, best and most beloved all vanish on planes to Australia. It’s not just young people who have to leave, it’s entire families boarding planes, being waved off by ashen faced grandparents who never thought this day would come.

Luckily, as a nation we’ve listened to enough country and western music to know that it’s at the darkest moment that the quiet fight back begins. Our economy mightn’t be flashy enough to entice the fools gold of international business, but we’ve come through worse than this.

Miracles can happen, who knows international philanthropist Bono might even pay his taxes one day? Until then, we just have to hope that we win a Nobel Prize for something or the Eurovision really soon.

We still, after all, have Jedward and any country relying on them to keep their national pride intact can’t be doing that badly, can it?

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