I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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Must Do Better

Michael Casey
Countries adopt different ways of growing their economies. Some are blessed with natural resources, while others have a flair for manufacturing, design, research and development, financial services and so on. All economies must decide on how much to invest, work, save or consume, and how much government intervention there should be. One of the most important choices can be work-life balance. In America, for example, workers have about two weeks’ holiday a year; in Ireland four to five weeks would be more the norm. As a society we tend to put more emphasis on leisure, sport, the arts and socialising. Until recently we had the best of both worlds. We had a very high growth rate and managed to combine this with a relatively relaxed quality of life. There were few tough choices, for in a sense our economic growth was rather easily won. The most successful political parties after the recent general election do not question in any way the fundamental weakness of our particular version of the growth process. The prospect of radical change being driven by government is, therefore, slim. Over many years we benefited from agricultural subsidies, which grew in the last decade to a staggering 70 per cent of all income arising in the agricultural sector. The frequency of cheques from Brussels was such that, as the joke went, the most serious risk to agriculture was a postal strike. Britain adopted a quite different model, trying to protect its consumers with a cheap food policy. As we shall see later, consumers never had much clout in Ireland, political or otherwise, while farmers did. Consequently, in Ireland we followed a dear food policy. In addition Irish farmers were scarcely taxed and there were, and are, subsidies for not working the land. In general, we have been net beneficiaries of the EU budget for most of the period since 1973. As well as agricultural subsidies there were structural and cohesion funds. The latter were designed to help countries prepare for the single currency and were very substantial in Ireland’s case, helping us complete some major infrastructural projects. In the nineties, whenever we spoke proudly at European forums about the growth of the economy we were usually deflated by being told that Ireland was “just a cohesion country”. Most EU officials regarded Ireland as an easygoing place not all that serious about economic growth, though interested in subsidies…

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