Celtic tiger down but not done


'Celtic Tiger' by Chris JohnstonEurope is in a mess and anyone trying to describe the mess needs to be clear about where they stand in it. The mess in Greece will have a different feel from the mess in Ireland, and different again from the mess in France or Germany ... or Malta or Lithuania. Part of the problem is that no one has an overview. No one can say This is how things are in Europe without someone else saying No, it's not!

Recently I was listening to a chat show being broadcast from a coffee shop in one of Ireland's midland counties. The participants had gathered to talk about their town and what could be done to make it a more vibrant centre. They had lots of ideas and spoke with great enthusiasm.

When the compere referred to the problems facing the town they were genuinely reluctant to speak in those terms, though it was clear the problems were real. Their concern was with how to overcome them. There was talk of business closures, of the impact of big out-of-town retail outlets on the town centre. There was much praise for local teenagers and a suggestion that they might help make empty shop fronts more presentable.

There was something admirable about this talk — a determination not to be beaten by adversity.

Ireland's economy seems to be turning a corner, but only after many have paid the cost and only after the return of something we thought we had been left behind — involuntary emigration on a scale not seen for over half a century. Yet the Ireland which people are leaving is a very different country to the one which so many left in the 1950s. The new-found confidence of the Celtic Tiger years has not completely disappeared.

If we have come on tough times we are not the only ones. Of those who came to live in Ireland in recent years from the former communist European countries, some have returned home but many prefer to remain in Ireland, especially if their children are growing up with Irish accents and attitudes. This change is profound.

The prevailing mood in Ireland could be described as one of hope, which is not to be confused with optimism. There is a sense of disillusionment. There was a lot of money around during the Celtic Tiger years but also a lot of slick cynicism. Our recently elected president, in his inauguration speech, spoke about the rise of 'an egotism based on purely material considerations, that tended to value the worth of a person in terms of the accumulation of wealth rather then their fundamental dignity'.

People are weary and angry, but they also know they have to look to the future and to make something of it.

This is admirable, but it also points to an underlying fragility, which is all the more disturbing in that it is not confined to this country. Two short years ago we Irish were the bad boys of Europe and the most in need of help, but our problems have long since been dwarfed and are now of little significance to the rest of Europe. The same is not true in reverse; Europe's problems are like a river in flood and we are caught up in the current.

We can only wait and watch as events lurch forward but it is clear that all of us — not just the Irish but the Greeks and everyone in between — are being swept along in the same current with the same growing sense of dread. Europe's most powerful politician Angela Merkel has captured the prevailing mood in her recent comment that the unravelling of the euro could endanger peace.

In expressing this sentiment, Merkel may have had the following quotation in mind: 'World peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it.'

These are the opening words of Europe's founding document, the Schuman Declaration. The vast majority of European citizens know little or nothing about the Schuman Declaration and are getting increasingly disenchanted with 'Europe.' 


Edmond GraceEdmond Grace SJ has written extensively on political and social issues and is the author of Democracy and Public Happiness. Recently he wrote a series of articles for the Irish Times on Ireland’s three crises: banking, political and religious. He chairs the organising committee for the Venice Workshop on Faith and Politics, a joint collaboration of European Jesuits.

Topic tags: Edmond Grace, European Union, eurozone, Ireland



submit a comment

Existing comments

Father Grace refers to a broadcast he heard recently on Irish radio re- some country folk who were discussing how to revitalise their town. He found something admirable about their talk. A sign of hope. In October 2003 I was holidaying in Dublin. It was a glorious Indian Summer day. The streets, the shops, the restaurants/pubs/cafes were crowded. The Celtic Tiger was gorging on foreign consumers - me included. I went into the GPO to send some postcards back to Australia. There were four queues lined up for each of four cubicles. However the four servers were altogether in one cubicle regaling one another about the wild weekend they'd had. Who got drunk. Who raced off with whom. Everyone in the four queues waited patiently - thinking maybe they were watching an impromptu Brendan Behan play. It wasn't until a big Aussie bloke (not timid me) cried out: "What about a bit of service, ya bludgers?" that the postal officers returned to their respective booths. As a result of that incident I told anyone who'd listen that the Celtic Tiger could not last. Its cubs have no idea of public service. Left to their own devices many Irish youth are feckless.
Uncle Pat | 21 November 2011

Uncle Pat, I've never been to Ireland, but I have a vaguely analogous, but very real, story.

I was at a music conference in Uni Cambridge (UK) early in 2003. Lunching, I struck up conversation with a woman fellow conferencer, who had been holidaying with her husband in southern Ireland just a few years previous. Seems the village they were holidaying in had agreed on the advantage of traffic roundabouts.

But this was a big step, so ... the village authorities decided to put in HALF roundabouts (?!?), as an intermediary step!!

Result? total chaos!!!
HH | 24 November 2011

Similar Articles

Conscience matters in gay marriage vote

  • John Warhurst
  • 02 December 2011

Any parliamentary debate on same-sex marriage will highlight the human experiences of MPs, who will reflect, often painfully, on questions of sexuality within their family and among friends. Should same-sex marriage ultimately win out, such stories will play a crucial role.


Jobs lost to the office evolution

  • Paul O'Callaghan
  • 30 November 2011

If you walked into a public service office in the early 1980s, you'd see typing pools, mailrooms and whole floors full of people doing routine clerical work. People with disabilities were disproportionately employed in low level positions. Today, most of those positions have gone.



Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up