There are many things that will make 2016 an interesting year

With all the trauma caused by the recent erratic turns of the world’s stock markets, investment executives and those responsible for Ireland’s economic well being have become very nervous about 2016.

While Wall Street experts keep saying don’t panic, stay the course, even the smallest of investors have lost $5,000 and $10,000 and more.

Ireland is still suffering from the impact of the 2007-2008 economic collapse; the fear of a repeat is quite real. The country’s major cities have come back strongly but its smaller towns and villages in the West continue to lose population and job-creating businesses.

In looking to the years ahead, the Irish government is vitally interested in developing a permanent thriving economy. For an island so small, much of the investment in hat economy must come from outside the country.

Last month, Ireland Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the Irish Development Authority’s chief executive, Martin Shanahan, led a mission of government executives to the famous World Economic Forum Annual Conference in Davos, Switzerland. Shanahan was quoted in the Irish Independent newspaper as saying his agency can hold as many meetings in three days during the conference that would otherwise need three months to accomplish.

Meanwhile consumer confidence in Ireland last year was is at a ten-year high. The KBC Bank/ESRI consumer sentiment index rose again in December. A stronger jobs market and higher household spending power were behind the optimism.

But economies don’t simply keep moving up, so caution must always taken, especially after the recent severe problems.

This will be a busy year in Ireland with several major events on the calendar. Kenny has announced he will call for new elections to the Dail in early spring. Candidates are being chosen throughout the country, television commercials are being produced, and the major political parties are making announcements every day promising the voters whatever they want. The time between the election announcement and the election is only a matter of weeks, but the campaign has been going on for some time now.
The results will change the Dail almost completely. Labor will probably not be a major party and there may be unheard of coalitions necessary to form a working government. Fine Gael will most likely be the lead party, but they will have to agree with former rivals to accomplish anything.

In the North a new leader has been appointed to head the Unionist DUP. Ms. Arlene Foster has taken over from the retired Paisley successor, Peter Robinson, as First Minister and head of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness makes it his business to get along with the First Minister and has been very successful at it. But the old scars remain, so difficulties will come up. This will be an interesting transition.

McGuinness is taking on a new challenge himself by changing districts and running for election in his home district in order to add to Sinn Fein seats in the assembly.

The most impactful election to take place this year will be in Northern Ireland, England, Scotland, and Wales - probably in early summer. The British conservative party now in control of Parliament has decided to have its people vote on whether or not to leave the European Union. It is called the “Brexit vote” for Britain’s exit from Europe.

In classic British empire fashion – “Nobody tells us what to do” – many leaders of the Conservative Party want to leave Europe and fend for themselves. One of those leaders is the current Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the not so popular Theresa Villiers.

An exit would greatly impact Ireland and affect its dealings with Northern Ireland, and it would also greatly complicate Ireland/Britain business relationships. We can imagine a return to border controls and security stations and passport controls on ferries and planes that travel between the counties many times each day. All of which will further impede economic activity.

So it will be an interesting year for all of us.