After years of economic bad news, Ireland shows signs of taking its first tentative steps on the road to recovery. Tigger’s not got his bounce back – not by any means. But we can hope he may soon come off life-support.
Exports were stronger than expected in the first half of 2011. The OECD has upgraded its 2011 growth forecast to 1.2% from the 0% it forecast in May, and confirmed that Ireland’s plans to balance the books by 2015 are on track. The Central Bank of Ireland also feels a little more optimistic, forecasting growth of around 1% of GDP this year (up from 0.8%).
There’s been good news on inward investment. Last month, Twitter announced that it would follow in the footsteps of online super brands like Facebook, Google, Yahoo and E-bay by setting up its international HQ in Dublin. Even property, the epicentre of Ireland’s crash, is seeing cash-rich investors beginning to spend again, according to The Times (12 October, behind the firewall).
Events in the wider world could still stamp on these early green shoots. Even the most sanguine forecasts see unemployment sticking around 14% through 2012. But, overall, the outlook for Ireland seems brighter than it has been for months. And certainly better than the picture painted by Johann Hari (the Adrian Mole of economic analysis) who gleefully pronounced that Ireland’s economy had collapsed.
Ireland’s resilience – even in the teeth of the debt crisis, and despite the constraints imposed by Euro membership – shows that Ireland’s Wirtschaftswunder is solid and built on strong fundamentals. The country’s workforce is well-educated, flexible and creative. The government has shown it is serious about the painful task of reducing the deficit. Corporation tax – to the chagrin of Ireland’s European partners – is attractively low: 12.5% in the Republic versus 28% in the UK. And last, but no means least, Ireland is a fun place to work and play.
In other words, almost everything about modern Ireland, and Ireland’s national brand, says it’s a great place to do business. As a Northern Irish unionist I’ve watched our neighbour transform its fortunes with a mixture of admiration and envy. While we stood still – for understandable reasons – Ireland rushed ahead and became a byword for economic progress. I believe Northern Ireland can learn a lot from the Republic, and that prosperity and success in the south will support growth and development in the north.
That’s why – when Ireland holds its presidential election next week – I’m keeping my fingers crossed our neighbour elects a candidate who can nurture Ireland’s open and outward-looking national brand. Someone who is focused on the challenges facing the modern Republic, and not fixated on the divisive bloody struggles of the past. Someone, in short, who can help Tigger get his bounce back.