From Dr Brendan Kelly.
Sir, Your thoughtful coverage of Ireland (“Back on the market”, Analysis, October 14) makes several statements that manage to be both true and not-so-true at the same time.
Your front-page skyline announced that Ireland is “on the mend”. This is true in the sense that our economy is recovering, but also not-so-true because Ireland itself was never broken. Between 2007 and 2009, gross domestic product fell from €189bn to €159bn, but the mean happiness of Irish residents (rated out of 10) just inched down slightly, from 7.7 to 7.6. This resilience is no surprise: in 1998, self-rated happiness in Ireland was the highest of 28 countries surveyed, with 44 per cent of Irish residents rating ourselves “very happy”, more than double the figure for west Germany (18 per cent) and nine-times that for Hungary (5 per cent).
You note that Ireland’s “social cohesion” and return to growth are lauded as examples of “how implementing austerity and structural reforms can return a crisis-stricken economy to health”. Yes and no. Yes, because austerity and reform have helped stabilise our economy. No, because you do not adequately recognise the importance of democratic freedom for social cohesion: in 2008, the Freedom House Index, which rates democratic freedom on a score of 1 (most free) to 7 (least free), gave Greece a score of 1.5, and Ireland 1; by 2012, Greece’s score had slipped to 2 and Ireland’s remained at 1. Consistent with this, Greece was convulsed by social and political fragmentation, while Ireland’s protests were dignified and orderly, with disquiet channelled chiefly through the political process, resulting in a businesslike change of government.
Finally, you discuss hopes that Ireland will prove a “success story” for “tough economic medicine”. This is true to the extent that recent economic measures have assisted the Irish recovery. But it is also not-so-true because other factors are relevant too, including the resilience of the Irish and our commitment to parliamentary democracy. Ireland recently held a referendum on whether or not to abolish the upper house of our parliament (the Senate). Ireland may now be unique among all the countries of the world because those who campaigned with the slogan “Fewer politicians” lost the vote: we opted to keep the Senate.
As a result of these social, political and economic factors, Ireland’s recovery doesn’t simply make Ireland a poster boy for austerity but, possibly, a poster boy for “austerity with Irish characteristics”, an altogether more interesting, exciting and progressive concept.
Brendan Kelly, Senior Lecturer in Psychiatry, University College Dublin, Ireland
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