By Joe Leary
Special to the BIR
Even before the recent elections, there were abundant signs that the people of Ireland are surviving and doing well. Media stories in Europe and the United States portray Ireland as a stricken country. It isn’t!
A recent trip to Dublin found the city streets full of busy people hurrying along, getting on with their normal lives.
The Aer Lingus flight from Boston to Dublin with 322 seats was crowded with, among others, a group of 90 teenagers and their 15 counselors from the Larne Grammar School in Northern Ireland. They were returning from a ski trip to New Hampshire. And we landed in Dublin’s sparkling new airport terminal, as modern a facility as found anywhere in the world.
Hardly the activity of a depressed economy.
The elections held last month installed new energetic leadership and a revitalized Irish Parliament to deal with the problems the country faces. Among those chosen, the voters elected three young men who symbolize the new energy and enthusiasm Parliament will enjoy. From Donegal, Pearse Doherty TD of Sinn Fein; from Mayo, Dara Calleary TD of Fianna Fail; and from Galway, Sean Kyne TD of Fine Gael. Kyne is the nephew of Mike O’Connor, President of the Irish Cultural Centre in Canton. We will be hearing from these men as they develop their careers and become the new leaders of Ireland.
It is true that the Irish were very angry with the Fianna Fail political party and Taoiseach Brian Cowen, but democracy works and they are no longer in power. It is also true that the Dublin skyline has many fewer cranes helping to build new homes and businesses, and unemployment is seriously high at 14.7 percent. But the major corporations of the world still have great faith in investing in Ireland.
According to the American Chamber of Commerce in Dublin, United States investment in Ireland ($156 billion) is greater than US investments in China, Russia, Brazil, and India combined. Ireland is an ideal stepping-off point for doing business in Europe and the Middle East.
But it is in the streets, the retail stores, the restaurants, and the hotels where the visitor sees the resolute and positive attitudes of the average working man and woman. Walk from Parnell Square down O’Connell Street to the post office and Henry Street to experience the pace of life and the happy smiling faces.
Continue across the Liffey to Grafton Street and St. Stephen’s Green. Hundreds, then thousands of people at every hour of the day walking briskly to and from their homes and jobs. This is an active working citizenry moving forward.
The brightly colored flower stands are still on Grafton Street. The “busker” entertainers are still singing and dancing for the crowds. St. Stephen’s Green is as crowded as ever – the benches are mostly filled, and passersby either walked quickly or were out for a leisurely stroll.
The better restaurants fill up early in the evening. One in particular, “La Maison” on Castle Market Street, which specializes in French cuisine, starts to turn away customers as early as 6 p.m. in the middle of the week. Two luxury hotels, The Merrion and The Conrad, are busy with active lunch time restaurants and long black limousines parked outside.
Ireland’s secondary schools and its universities are doing business as usual with tens of thousands of students preparing for their working lives. Walking through Trinity College campus with hustling students carrying heavy knapsacks gives the impression that, for these boys and girls at least, the biggest problem they have is the next exam.
At Dublin City University, on the outskirts of Dublin to the North, the development staff is concentrating on financing their Access program, which offers less privileged students free tuition and fees with a personal counseling service for any problems arising. The program is specifically designed for students with proven secondary school ability from families where no one has ever been to college or has had any thought of going. Currently more than 400 students are involved. Another example of why Ireland’s future is so bright.
There are three reasons why Ireland will return to its past success in the short term:
(1) During the past two decades the infrastructure in Ireland has been transformed. Super-highways were created, new buildings arose, sports stadiums were built. It can be said that Ireland today is a modern country, the investments have been made.
(2) The same is true of Ireland’s university system. The seven major campuses – University College Dublin, University College Cork, University College Galway, Trinity, Dublin City University, Limerick University, and Maynooth – all offer world class educations. Their grounds are superb, their professors are among the best in the world, and their leadership is as professional as the best colleges anywhere.
(3) Finally, it is the spirit, intelligence, and resilience of the Irish themselves that will get Ireland going again. The advance has started already.