The early (early) morning drive North of Dublin tells the tale. Starting at five o’clock on any weekday morning, cars and trucks are very nearly bumper-to-bumper on the Motorway, their headlights pointing to Dublin. From far-off towns like Drogheda and Dunleer, the Irish are getting up early to participate an extraordinary economic turnaround – one that visiting Canadians can scarcely believe.
“They’re commuting from all over for jobs in Dublin,” our driver says in a near-indecipherable Irish accent. “Unless there are factory jobs in their towns, and there’s lots of those, too.”
“Things are pretty good.”
Indeed they are. Economic statistics – as misleading as they can be when deployed in elections like the one just passed in Canada – tell us much about Ireland’s surging economy. It is a tale that Canadians should ponder, as we continue to grimly debate whether we are in recession – or just hovering near the precipice of one.
- Irish GDP grew by nearly seven percent last year, and will grow by just as much in 2016, economic forecasts suggest. Overall, the Irish economy has moved upward, by about two percent, for seven consecutive quarters.
- Employment is surging, with full-time jobs leading the way. Private sector earnings were up by about four percent by the end of 2015.
- Exports – a cornerstone of the Irish recovery since the dark days of the global recession – have grown by double digits, as much as 12 percent, in 2014 and 2015.
- The Irish Exchequer’s deficit is plummeting, assisted by tax revenues that ballooned by 10 percent in 2014-15 alone.
- The Irish economy is “in rude good health,” declared the Independent News. It’s “taking off like a rocket,” said a headline in The Journal. No kidding.
The Irish economy, in fact, is the fastest-growing in the EU – just seven years after a total collapse occasioned by a global recession. Back then, young Irish were voting with their feet, heading to Canada to work in construction or the oil patch or service jobs. Not so much anymore – they’re coming home or staying put.
In seven years, the economic roles have reversed. Back then, Canada could rely on oil and real estate to maintain stability and growth. Not now. Economists don’t believe we will even come close to the two percent growth forecast by the Bank of Canada. Canadians are too much in debt, they say, and an oil patch recovery is way, way off.
The new Trudeau government doesn’t chirp about “sunny ways” so much, anymore, and understandably so. As the Liberals prepare their first budget in a decade, no one reasonably expects it to dramatically improve our immediate prospects. We can only wistfully look across the pond, instead, wondering what the Irish have done that we could have done, too.
One key element in Irish economic growth, all agree, has been globalization. The Emerald Isle has built a highly-globalized economy, one that maintains a huge export sector. It has embraced free trade with a vengeance, and kept labour costs stable.
Demographics have assisted it in doing so. Ireland has the youngest population in Europe – and one of the lowest old-age dependency ratios, at just 18 percent. Elsewhere in Europe that figure is nearly 30 percent. That youthful demographic has benefitted from an educational system that is ranked in the top 10 globally.
Infrastructure, built up in the early days of Ireland’s involvement in the EU, has been a key factor in the country’s recent success. Ireland has one of the best telecommunications networks in Europe, and massively invested in transport systems when it could.
Trade, infrastructure, a skilled and youthful workforce: all have combined to propel Ireland past Canada, and past other nations, as well. We would foolish not to consider their hard-earned success, and try and replicate some of it.
Will we? Only the Prime Minister and his rookie cabinet, for now, know what is planned.
In the meantime, our driver gestures towards the early-morning commuters, heading towards Dublin. “Those are some of our young people, come back home.” he says.
“Ireland is back.”
Warren Kinsella is a Canadian journalist, political adviser and commentator.