in Ireland

Ten reasons not to be optimistic about Ireland

1. The government has no plan. It is taking all the government’s energy and ingenuity to plan as far as the middle of next month. (On the bright side, no one is expecting them to be in government for much beyond March or April.)

2. The opposition has no plan. They should have plenty of time to come up with a strategy for governing Ireland for the next ten years but they haven’t. A good strategy, a bad strategy, a left wing strategy, a right wing strategy, even a right-on strategy. Nothing. (On the bright side, there are people who can help them come up with a plan, if they just look around themselves and listen. There is a great plan to be hatched, but it will take time and consideration.)

3. The ‘permanent governmment’ of civil servants has no plan. The younger generation of civil servants are just not coming up with the goods at present. They are not seeing the future, and from appearances, it looks like they have no idea what we should do next as a country. I do not know if this is because they are incapable, or whether it is because they are still under the thumb of the shortsighted idiots who got us into this mess. (On the bright side, we now benefit from people in Ireland who have been involved in public administration in every country in the world, something we never had before. We can bring their expertise to bear.)

4. Good people are talking about leaving and some of these people are starting to leave. In fact, the government is hoping some 100,000 will leave. Some of this is inevitable as we cut spending in areas like university R+D. But there doesn’t seem to be any planning or consideration or strategy. (On the bright side, we can still get the most critical people to stay,if we figure out what we are doing.)

5. We need reform, but there is no reform going on. We are fooling ourselves that the likes of the Croke Park Agreement will bring reform, but we all know the truth, that these changes are just play-acting, part of a concerted ongoing attempt by government, unions and business to avoid reform as much and as long as possible.

For instance, our national transport system is a travesty, despite billions of euros of investment. Fewer people use public transport now than in 2002, even though the capacity of the service has been increased by 20 percent in the meantime. The people in charge refuse to acknowledge that anything is seriously wrong. (On the bright side, if we just reconsider how we operate and market transport, like they did in Los Angeles, we could have one of the best, most effective systems in the world.)

Ordinary working people know reform is needed and are ready for personal sacrifice. The core front-line staff of the public service are just waiting for leadership, waiting for someone to show them the way, and resolve what needs to be done.

And anyway, the scale of the fiscal crisis will mean that reform is going to be forced upon us all, whether the people who control the levers like it or not.

6. We are fooling ourselves fiscally. Enormous fiscal adjustment is needed, and the situation is far more than the government is admitting. Whether you do less cuttingin the short term, or more cutting in the long term, it doesn’t really matter. We need to radically change the way public services are structured in this country. (On the bright side, there is plenty of capacity in place to provide good services, because of the availability of skilled people and a surfeit of buildings that can be adapted.)

7. We lack certain core capabilities. We do not have enough science and engineering graduates. We do not have enough marketing and business capability to turn good ideas into revenue. Some of this is actual ability, most of it is planning, and a lot has to do with confidence and putting the best foot forward. (On the bright side, we can address these problems, through immigration and improved education/training.)

8. We are laggards. We are not forward-looking enough as a nation. While the UK and the US are thinking about reform of government through transparency and open data, we are still staring at our navels, wondering where it all went wrong. We should be like the Icelandic people, demanding transparency for the future so that it doesn’t all go wrong again. These types of initiatives should be easy in a small country like Ireland, where the scale of everything is manageable, and everybody knows one another. (On the bright side, we have a young population, as sophisticated and knowledgeable as young people anywhere.)

9. We have gotten ourselves a bad rap. We are being ridiculed abroad. We have screwed things up for the whole European Union and the Euro. Our leaders have left us looking like fools. On the other hand, there is goodwill towards Ireland and we can turn it around if we start doing the right things.

10. The whole thing seems hopeless at times. And it is hopeless, if we carry on as a nation doing the same stupid things, acting in the same stupid manner. But things can change. We can change them.

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  1. Surely it’s better that people emigrate and work abroad than stay on welfare in Ireland. The emigration is part of the solution, by reducing the welfare burden. In the past former emigrants returned when the economy picked up, as they may in the future.

    Some aspects of the recession have made Ireland improve competitiveness by pushing down incomes and prices. Cheap property and cheap labour attracts foreign investment. Imports have declined relative to exports and now Ireland has a massive trade surplus.

  2. Very good article, i think that there are two things that need mentioning, bad management in the country, at all levels perhaps, but from my own personal experience it is pervasive in the software industry. We need to have effective management who know how to manage and how to motivate.

    Secondly the unions are a huge problem i feel,i think a lot has been said before on this subject. We need to look past unions and towards a merit based rewards systems.