Immigration Honesty Is Best Policy
In doing so, they were not being irrational. In fact they were being perfectly rational, in spite of the patronizing guff coming from the "experts" here.
And it is this reality, that the No vote was not irrational, that makes the politicians here very cautious about having a rerun of the referendum any time soon. As I said in my last column, the enlargement of the EU is causing real pain for many ordinary Irish people, no matter how wonderful the idea of a new unified Europe from Connemara to the Urals may seem in theory.
The fact is that, thanks to the EU, in the past five years Ireland has had to absorb more immigrants in proportion to our population than any other country not only in Europe, but in the 30 countries of the OECD, including the U.S.
In fact proportionally we have taken in several times as many immigrants as the U.S. over the past five years, and you all know about the stresses immigration is causing over there. That may have been okay, particularly for employers, when the Irish economy was booming ... but what happens now?
And the economic picture now is even worse than when I went on holiday three weeks ago. There has been a significant collapse in confidence and a growing pessimism even over that short time span.
Much of this has stemmed from another major report from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), the most respected think tank in Ireland. Unlike the economists employed by the banks or real estate companies here who have a vested interest in talking up the economy, the ESRI economists tell it like it is. And their report confirmed the worst fears we had about the economy.
According to the ESRI, Ireland is now in the grip of an economic recession for the first time since 1983, and the implications include a return to large scale net emigration from Ireland for the first time since the eighties.
Unemployment is set to pass the 7% mark by the end of this year. And tax revenues coming in to the government will fall very sharply, with implications for state borrowing and cutbacks in state services.
Exactly how bad the situation is will be known on Wednesday of this week when the half yearly figures for tax revenues are published. The figures are likely to make grim reading, and proposals for a pay freeze for state workers and for cutbacks in the government's planned capital spending program are already being put forward.
From the noises already being made by the government, it seems that state borrowing will increase but that the EU borrowing limit will not be breached. The new Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan has said that it would be a mistake to break the borrowing limit of 3% to pay for day-to-day spending.
What this means is that there are tough times immediately ahead in Ireland. Already the accusations are flying that the government wasted the economic boom, and there is a specific reference to this in the economic report.
Certainly it now seems clear that the way former Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern's government continued to feed the boom in recent years, largely on the back of the unsustainable property boom, was misguided. With the collapse of the property market, the massive public finance surplus on which the government based its promised national development plan will have vanished by next year.