The Irish Are Enjoying A Boom After A Thousand Years, It's About Time Their Luck Has Turned Around. Peace In The North Isn't Hurting.

Posted: June 29, 1995

Without almost anyone noticing, Ireland is becoming a prosperous country.

In fact, domestic demand, which is part of the rapid growth rate (highest in Europe), is becoming so strong that inflation (lowest in Europe) might loom on the horizon.

"Domestic demand" means that many people here have enough money to buy more than they did in the past. Not everyone has such money, of course, and the Irish unemployment rate is still between 13 and 14 percent. But the standard of living is improving rapdily.

As the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says, Ireland seems to be "firmly ensconced on a high-growth, low-inflation path that might well continue until the end of the decade." Ireland could turn out to be at the top of European economic growth for the 1990s.

The unemployment rate is not terribly out of line by current European standards. At present, it is 11 percent in the whole European Union, 12 percent in Italy and France, 18 percent in Finland and 22 percent in Spain.

Ireland's rapid economic progress is a significant achievement for such a small country that started with so little and which has always been captive to the economies of the rest of Europe.

Moreover, many experts think that if peace in the North continues, unemployment will decline further and the country will be set up for a tremendous economic boom.

No one in Ireland is over-optimistic. Every time a plant closes somewhere and jobs are lost, it's a headline in all the papers. So, too, is the opening of every new plant, with the promise of more jobs.

The Irish are uneasy in their newfound prosperity and inclined to deny the good news. There has been, after all, so much bad news in Irish history. (One must understand that in Ireland it is the norm not to talk about good news. If you talk about it, you might lose it. God might take it away from you to punish your pride. There is no rule, however, against talking about bad news.)

You hear a number of different explanations in Ireland for the economic growth, at least among those who are willing to acknowledge that it happened.

Some say it's the pure luck to which the Irish are entitled after all the years of bad luck. Others will tell you that the angels responsible for the Irish economy have at last awakened after a short nap of a thousand years or so.

The truth, however, is that the Irish have prospered off the European Union. In fact, they have made out like bandits. There may be no greater success story in the union's attempt to achieve rough parity in European standards of living - as vast and as noble a political and economic goal as humankind has ever known.

The political and economic acumen of Irish leaders and the generosity of the Irish people in helping other countries have won them a favorable image elsewhere in the world.

Despite the British stereotype of them as a shiftless and lazy crowd of semi-literate and superstitious peasants, the Irish are among the best educated in Europe because of their superb university system.

And they actually work longer hours than anyone else in Europe. Plus, they're more likely to say they would work even if they didn't have to. It all adds up to economic success.

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