Ireland’s recovery is blarney, according to a major op-ed article in The New York Times by Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole.
O’Toole, currently lecturing at Princeton, skewers recent media reports that the Irish economy is forging ahead and says European governments have invented the fiction to cover up for themselves.
O’Toole writes that with “Ireland tentatively emerging from its long slump, it is being cited as the great exemplar of the virtues of austerity."
O’Toole admits that parts of the economy are recovering:
“It is certainly true that, if you were to walk around the rebuilt Dublin docklands, with their shiny European headquarter offices for Google, Twitter, Facebook and Yahoo, and their slick cafes and hotels, you might conclude that if this is what an Irish crisis looks like, an Irish boom must be quite something to behold.”
However, O’Toole, Ireland’s most influential columnist says it is all an illusion.
“But Ireland has two economies: a global one dominated by American high-tech companies, and a domestic one in which most Irish workers have to make their living
“Outside Dublin, property prices are still falling. Wages for most workers have dropped sharply. Unemployment remains very high at 12.8 percent — and that figure would be higher if not for emigration."
He says following the emigration trend is far more revealing than economic pronouncements.
“There’s always been a simple way to measure how well Ireland is doing: Go to the ports and airports after the Christmas vacation and count the young people waving goodbye to their parents as they head off to the United States, Canada, Australia or Britain, where they have gone to find work and opportunity.
“Other people protest in bad times; the Irish leave. And they’ve been doing so in numbers that haven’t been recorded since the 1980s. Nearly 90,000 people emigrated between April 2012 and April 2013 and close to 400,000 have left since the 2008 crisis. For a country with a population about the size of Kentucky’s (about 4.5 million), that’s a lot of people.”
The young Irish, O’Toole says, do not believe in the touted success story.
“There’s no great mystery about why they’re going: They don’t believe in the success story. A major study by University College Cork found that most of the emigrants are graduates and that almost half of them left full-time jobs in Ireland to go abroad. These are not desperate refugees; they’re bright young people who have lost faith in the idea that Ireland can give them the opportunities they want. They just don’t buy into the narrative of a triumphant rebound.”
O’Toole says the fact that Europe’s leaders are no longer overseeing the attempted recovery has led to some premature “Riverdancing on the rooftops.”
He says the $85 billion debt guaranteed after the banks collapsed is stunningly high.
“To put it in perspective, the European Union has just agreed to create a fund of $75 billion to deal with all future banking crises in its member states. Tiny Ireland has spent $85 billion bailing out its own banks.”
O’Toole says “a torrent of debt continues to flow from the catastrophic decision to save bad banks at all costs... The debt has doubled while public spending has been slashed.”
He predicts a tough future.”We’re still standing, but we’ve taken so many punches that it’s hard to see straight.”