Thursday, January 07, 2010

Ireland Sounds Grim These Days

It's rough in Ireland these days:
Last year, the Society of St Vincent de Paul spent €6.1 million ($8.8 million) giving people in Ireland food. This year, it says that requests for food are up 50 per cent, that calls in general are up 35 per cent and in Dublin 50 per cent, and that 25 per cent of callers are new clients, many of whom were contributors to the charity at the church gates last year. These new clients are people who, ‘like the rest of us’, as one of their volunteers, John Monaghan, says, ‘were living on 110 per cent of their salaries’.
This above is from novelist Anne Enright's observations in the London Review of Books.

During the recent good times, I was dimly aware that economies were being driven by a housing and construction boom.

Nowhere was the property speculation more feverish than Ireland. I spent maybe half an hour one day in 2006 0r 2007 talking to a friend in Ireland, during which I said: "I just heard that there are Irish guys buying and selling coastal properties along the Black Sea coast, in Bulgaria and Romania. Enough Irish guys are doing this that the phenomenan has been mentioned in the Wall Street Journal... Is this true?"

I was told yes, it was true. How weird the new century seemed, after the one into which I was born had seemed so frozen into its fixed-pattern Cold War shape that 'Bulgaria' was less a real place than an exotic location in a story, a Narnia, even.

So Ireland, about the size of Indiana, but with a much-less mixed economy, relied heavily on American corporations and money for its Celtic Tiger years; in Northern Ireland, it was U.S. diplomacy and investment which helped bring the Troubles to an end. But when the cold wind of recession blew across the world,
fear – the shouty, panicky kind – set in, with people on the radio fighting about public sector pay, and media personalities crying for Ireland on national TV.
For a while, it got quite personal. ‘Fuck them,’ says a friend about the public sector. ‘They’re not losing their jobs, they’re not losing their pensions. Fuck them.’ My entire family works in the public sector. During the boom, the worst you could say was that they were a bit boring. I don’t think they have done anything wrong. I find myself shouting back at her.