Prospects for the Future

In 2013 there were some grounds for optimism as Ireland was set to be the first European country to successfully exit a bailout. It would be trite and dishonest to in any way minimize what was and would continue to be suffered by many as a result of the economic crash, the mistakes that were made and the consequences of failure. However it is also worth suggesting the need for perspective, for a consciousness of the cycles of history and the opportunities that have emerged in the past from the sense of reaching the lowest point, including the experience of the 1950s when economic and social stagnation was finally challenged by a new and ultimately successful reorientation of economic planning and policy that involved an intellectual capacity to respond to new ideas.

Contemporary Ireland also has certain advantages it did not have in the past, particularly in terms of health, the welfare state, a peaceful island and the youngest workforce in Europe, with 36% of the population under the age of 25.  The three big drivers of employment growth in the Celtic Tiger period – public services, construction and retail – have experienced major contraction, but after three successive years of falling GDP, Ireland recorded a positive GDP growth rate in 2011 of 1.4%. The most troubling issue remained indebtedness; the public balance deficit was the highest of any EU member state at just over 13% of GDP in 2011, while government debt increased to just over 108% of GDP, having been at only 25% of GDP in 2007. But in 2013 positive economic narratives began in relation to tourism, agriculture and export-led growth, with annual exports to the value of €7.5 billion from mid 2012 to mid 2013.


There has also been a renewed recognition of the importance of the role of community bonds and volunteering in generating what some economists call ‘social product’ and the combination of social networks and solidarity combined with generosity and public service, arts and creativity, bodes well for the future. Undoubtedly, more independent thinking is needed to explore how these traits can contribute to a changed republic. Such a challenge chimes with the ideas articulated by President Michael D Higgins who was elected in 2011. When, earlier that year, he retired from party politics in order to stand for election to the presidency, he said, “I believe no real republic has been created in Ireland”. Instead of politics, society and the economy being seen as inextricably linked, he argued that they were seen as separate spheres. Others have also highlighted the need for counterpoints to the mass consumer model and the danger of preoccupation with materialism pushing quality of life to the margins. In 2013 Luke Drudy, the president of the Royal Irish Academy, suggested that what was needed in Ireland was not just a smart economy, but also a smart society. Such development will have to involve the embracing of new definitions of what constitutes progress and prosperity as well as a sustainable solution to Ireland’s debt problem; the response to these challenges of contemporary Ireland dictates prospects for the future.