Ireland: Big questions, no easy answers

Travelling to Ireland this week I find myself speculating on the likelihood that it could see an outbreak of people power of the scale, intensity and persistence that has been witnessed in the Arab world and, more recently, in Spain.

Caught in a tightening vice of public spending cuts and stalled economic recovery it will, I think, take more than a social call and pleasantries from Barack Obama or Queen Elizabeth II to lift Irish spirits right now.

As the heady effervescence of the Celtic Tiger period makes way for the pervasive gloom of IMF recovery packages, there are many who are pushing for Ireland to prioritise domestic needs above international commitments on development assistance, for instance.

It is a debate that will test the character of Ireland and its people.  Despite sizeable cuts in aid budgets, Ireland still exceeds the OECD average of 0.32% of GNI, investing about 0.53% of its GNI on ODA in 2010.  That, and the fact that the issue is the subject of such intense debate, is a tribute to Irish character and spirit, meriting justified praise by the US President on his recent visit.

If the voices advocating that Ireland continue to strive to meet its pledges on aid prevail, the Irish will provide a challenging standard by which to judge other OECD countries, especially those in far less troubled economic situations; and demonstrate to Ireland’s Southern partners the depth of Irish commitment.

It could also provide a starting point for a redefinition of Ireland’s economic paradigm, social contract and national identity for the future – one that replaces the ephemeral bubble of the Celtic Tiger model that has been so roundly discredited with one in which all Ireland can justifiably take pride.


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