It’s been a tough five years for Ireland. Austerity has been the persistent keyword for half a decade. Old and young have suffered most, with the squeezed middle using the last of their disposable income to soak up the many cuts implemented by the coalition. There’s been talk of breaking ties with Europe in favour of greater cooperation with the UK. Last month, the government waved farewell to the troika as we exited the bailout without so much as a credit line.
Positive economic data
Finally, there is some good news emanating from the Emerald Isle. Employment figures have risen, genuinely. It isn’t all down to emigration and part-time employment, as explained by economist David McWilliams. Manufacturing growth slowed in November but the Purchasing Managers’ Index has been steadily rising for seven consecutive months. After 12 years, Japan has reopened its market to Irish beef. Taoiseach Enda Kenny was in Tokyo recently to strengthen trading ties with the Asian powerhouse.
This makes for uplifting reading ahead of Christmas. The cynic in me might also say it’s a ploy to get people spending in the run up to December 25th but I don’t really believe so. It’s been a troubling period for Ireland and the hard times are not over but at least we’re on a steady road to recovery. People talk of the dangers of ‘kicking the can’, that is, carrying debt forward for decades to come. But the only other solution is to completely default. However, the way the Irish people, not the politicians, have dealt with austerity has started to reignite investors’ confidence in this great nation. Accepting responsibility has been core to re-positioning the economy as trustworthy.
Acceptance paving the way for recovery
It is only two months since I called for Ireland to protest against the government and demand fairer treatment for all. A severe budget and the seemingly poor-performance of our politicians in Europe led me to fall into the trap of believing in the gombeen Irish. Still, the move to exit the bailout without a credit line (which would have added €50m to our debt) appears to be genius. The EU has to back us up if we fail because if it does not, the whole Eurozone will suffer. It’s in the European Central Bank’s (ECB) best interests to make sure we stay afloat. We don’t need to fork out another £50m ‘just in case’. For once, Irish politicians used our vulnerable position as leverage against the EU heavyweights. The provisions are in place to pay off our debt; we just need to stick to the plan.
Foul is fair
No, Ireland is not perfect. Our politicians are far from heroic. But credit where credit is due. We are in a much stronger position than we were two years ago and everyone who has and continues to suffer under austerity can at least take heart in the knowledge they are contributing to the restoration of the nation. We carry the biggest debt burden in the world right now, closely followed by Japan and the UK. The latter countries have implemented a number of measures to keep their debt manageable, such as low interest rates. There are always victims in times of austerity. But make no mistake in thinking Ireland is the only country to call on its people to accept that burden.
A country with any hope of rising from the grip of debt has to come together and paddle its way out of dark waters. No one has done this with more grace and honesty than the Irish. We should take pride in doing what was needed to keep the country going; whether that was taking a pay cut, a benefit slash or emigrating. We are wonderful at berating ourselves but we are no worse than any other nation. Greed is not an exclusively Irish characteristic; let’s stop pretending it is. If anything, we’re more clued in to what is happening on home soil than far larger countries with greatly disengaged populations. Austerity is not over but it’s more bearable. We have shown Europe we’re team players, willing and motivated to take it on the chin. That’s more than most can say.
Let’s make it a merry Christmas.