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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Thinking Deep

John Bradley
The Rise and Fall of Ireland’s Celtic Tiger – Liberalism, Boom and Bust, by Seán Ó Riain, Cambridge University Press, 312 pp, £19.99, ISBN: 978-52127905 Professor Ó Riain, I suspect, may not have chosen the title for his latest book. The term Celtic Tiger is overused, much abused and so vague and imprecise as to be almost meaningless. But for a UK-based publisher it retains an exotic flavour that perhaps makes the doings of a small and relatively insignificant European economy internationally saleable. And for many locals, it’s a handy shorthand with the great advantage that it can mean anything that you want it to mean. But in Professor Ó Riain’s hands it takes on a sharp, searching, analytical edge that uncovers the full extent of the flawed processes that produced alternating boom and bust as Ireland strove to become more like the stable, successful small economies of northern Europe than the externally dependent post-colonial economy of its early years of independence. Towards the beginning of his book, Ó Riain captures very precisely the underlying problem of policy-making and governance in Ireland: At the end of the Celtic Tiger boom of the late 1990s, Irish society had resources available to it that were hitherto unimaginable, including economic, institutional and cultural resources. Yet, it also faced major challenges and contradictions in its model of development. A significant debate seemed certain to ensue, possibly shaping the future direction of Irish development … As it turned out, this discussion barely occurred. For a nation whose citizens are so addicted to talking about their own affairs, this is something of a paradox. The rise, yet further rise, fall and post-fall experience of the Irish economy have generated a vast literature. But it is only when you read Ó Riain’s deep and penetrating analysis that you begin to understand why previous studies appear to have produced so little by way of self-knowledge, understanding and purposeful societal action on the part of the policymakers charged with designing and implementing development strategy and the people who voted these policy-makers into office. Previous discussions of Ireland’s rollercoaster economy tend to fall into three distinct categories. First, we have mainstream economic interpretations. Here, the economy is treated as a kind of machine that has its own internal, market-based logic and rules and which is separable from many other aspects of society. A rather extreme, and perhaps unintentional, illustration of…

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