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Why Enda Kenny needs to do more than positive thinking

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Prime Minister Enda Kenny at the launch of the new PayPal jobs for Ireland announcement last week 

Positive thinking is good.  A positive attitude to life can help a person, a business -- or even a country -- accomplish a great deal.

Our leader, Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny, certainly believes this.  He is Mr. Positivity.  He radiates it.  He's like a walking advert for the power of positive thinking.

In spite of this country's economy being in the blackest hole it's ever been in, the taoiseach has been rushing around for weeks now spreading positive vibes about Ireland.

A few weeks back he was over in London doing his power handshake with British Prime Minister David

Cameron on the steps of No. 10, exuding positivity.   Two weeks ago Enda was rolling out the green carpet here for the Chinese vice president, and he's off to China himself in a few weeks.  

Over their three-day visit here, he filled the Chinese with positivity about Ireland and how we're recovering from our little blip and are going to become a great country again in a year or two.

In the past three weeks, Enda's also been over in Berlin sharing his positivity with Angela Merkel, and in Rome sprinkling his positive gold dust around Prime Minister Mario Draghi, like Tinkerbell.

Draghi was so energized that he returned Enda's good vibes by asserting that Ireland was an example to the rest of the struggling countries in Europe -- like his own country, Italy -- that austerity can work.  

This week Enda's in Brussels at a meeting of the leaders from the 27 EU countries and he will be Mr. Positivity again, emphasizing that we are sticking with the program and that things are starting to look up even though we have more years of austerity to get through.

No doubt there will be lots of patronizing talk from other leaders about how mature and wise the Irish people are to have swallowed so much austerity without losing their heads like those crazy Greeks.  
We'll be held up like a beacon for the rest of Europe.  Let's just hope the little love bunny Sarkozy refrains from patting Enda on the head this time!

As you guys over there know, the taoiseach has also been sprinkling the positive fairy dust in the U.S. as well.  He was at the Bill Clinton event to woo the heavy hitters in American business to invest here.  A week or so before that he was over in the U.S. on another trip and, of course, he will be back over with you for St. Patrick's Day.

There's no escape!  That stern smile and the power speech will insist again and again that Ireland has turned the corner, that we're back on track, that the austerity program is working and that we're open for business.

To add to the glow, in the past week or two there have been major job announcements here by foreign companies, with PayPal leading the bunch by announcing an extra thousand jobs for Ireland.  It's all positive!

Well, not really.  We all know why Enda is doing it.  But it's a teeny bit irritating for all of us back who have to live the reality in Ireland while he's chasing round the world at a dizzying rate being super-positive.

We all know about the power of positive thinking.  But it's possible to have too much positive thinking.  So here's a reality check.

The fact is that the economy here is still on the floor.  Growth here this year will be almost non-existent.  Maybe a bit over half of 1% if we're lucky.  Not the 1.3% that the government has been talking about.

That's going to impact on our tax revenue and therefore our ability to stick with the deficit target for this year.

Cue more cutbacks and even lower spending in a domestic economy that is already down in the dumps.
Instead of dropping significantly, unemployment here will stay above 14% this year.  To add to our troubles, our export markets in Europe will be sluggish this year as growth there slows to a near stop.

So all in all, there's not a lot to be positive about there.  And, while new jobs here are always welcome and needed badly, as far as those new jobs in PayPal are concerned it's not quite as wonderful as the “1,000 New Jobs” headlines suggested. How many of those jobs will go to the unemployed young Irish remains to be seen. The PayPal jobs need language skills, you see, because they will be supporting customers in 14

European languages from the new facility here. As you may know, the language skills of most Irish school and college graduates are very poor. In comparison with most EU countries where young people speak their own language, English, and often at least one other European language, the vast majority of Irish kids just have second rate French.

Even in the U.K., including Northern Ireland, they are better at foreign languages than we are here.  

You may have wondered why the new PayPal plant will be in Dundalk.   It's in the south of Ireland and therefore qualifies for our very low corporation tax.  And it's close to the border with the North so it can draw workers with better language skills from up in the North as well.

There will also be young workers from other European countries who will come in here to fill some of the PayPal jobs.  One estimate I saw reckoned that maybe a third of the workers will end up being from the south of Ireland.  It will be interesting to see if that turns out to be accurate.

Staying with the language problem, during the Chinese visit someone here mentioned on TV that our kids should be learning Mandarin in school.  Of course English is the world’s business language and lots of the young Chinese learn it (like a lot of Irish graduates, a nephew of mine is currently in Shanghai teaching English).

But being able to speak Chinese would open so many doors for us.  Again and again during the Chinese visit the importance of personal contact and being able to speak some Chinese was emphasized.

But Chinese is way beyond us.  The vast majority of young people here can't even manage a single European language.

It all comes back to our schools and the amount of time wasted -- yes, wasted -- learning the dead language Irish.  In primary schools across Europe, most kids are taught another European language other than their own.

From an early age the French kids are learning English and/or German, the Dutch kids are learning French and/or English and so on.  Most of the college students you meet backpacking here in summer speak English and probably two European languages, including their own. The secret is they start young, as soon as they enter primary school.

Meanwhile, no classes in European languages are provided in Irish schools.  Instead the kids in Ireland aged from four to 11 are forced to learn Irish, with at least one class in our "first official language" every school day.  

Enda can rush around and be as positive as he likes.  But he needs to start doing practical things to cut through the legacy nonsense that is holding us back, on things like languages.  And languages are far from the only legacy disadvantage we have.

As well as that, he needs to do something practical about our debt, like renegotiating it, because just like those not-so crazy Greeks, realistically we're never going to be able to pay it back.

Against that truth, all this Road Runner positivity the taoiseach is zooming around other countries doing is just plain silly.

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