Explore the different facets of Ireland’s transformation from a poor nation of devout Catholics to an urbanized, secularized society.
- High-tech Mecca
Konstatina Stoyanova and Alex Torres in Google's European headquarters, in Dublin's Docklands, April 10, 2006. The Docklands, where scores of cranes feed the demand for new hotels and offices, offer a vibrant microcosm of Ireland's transformation from Europe's emigration blackspot to its "brain gain" capital.
The Republic of Ireland's exploding economy (its gross national product grew 400 percent from 1986 to 2004) has been nicknamed the Celtic Tiger, after the similar phenomenon seen in East Asian countries. Much of the revitalization has been due to foreign investment by U.S. and international companies, including Google, Intel, Wyeth, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, and Apple, which have established large divisions in the Emerald Isle. Over the last 15 years Ireland has been able to attract these large amounts of international technological investment due to its young, English-speaking, educated population, and low corporate taxation. In turn, the high-tech industry has attracted educated Irish who had emigrated, particularly those in the U.S., to move to Ireland.
Credit: AP/John Cogill
- Brain Power
Old and new Ireland meet in Limerick's White House pub.
While low labor costs initially were part of the allure for large corporations, as salaries have risen, there has been a shift from manufacturing computers, for example, to software. Today Ireland is one of the world's leading exporters of software. Ireland has been able to keep up with the changes due to heavy government investment in secondary education, including making all secondary education free. The overall admission rate for higher education in Ireland has increased by 11 percent since 1998 and is now 55 percent of 17- to 19-year-olds.
The outlay on education is paying off. One third of foreign investment in the pharmaceuticals and health care industries in Europe is made in Ireland. Over 20 percent of new U.S. investment in Europe is committed to Ireland, more than twice the U.S. investment in China. Increasingly, Ireland's economy has become tied to America rather than Britain.
Credit: Kieran Clancy/PicSure
- Emigratn Nation to Immigrant Distination
Kitty Leyden, left, celebrates her 70th birthday in Tulla. All of Kitty's eight children left Ireland in the 1980s, seeking jobs abroad. Today, three of her children have returned, including Kevin, right, who has started his own contracting business.
One of the most striking consequences of the turnabout in the Irish economy is the reversal of a centuries-long emigration trend. For decades, more people were leaving Ireland than were arriving. But starting in the mid-1990s, the number of foreign-born in Ireland began to grow, doubling between April 1996 and April 2005 to 6.3 percent of the total population. Not only are Ireland's children returning home from all over the globe, but other immigrants are taking their chances on finding their pot of gold at the end of an Irish rainbow.
Poland has sent more immigrants to Ireland than any other country. Most of the Polish immigrants take low-skilled work, and there are some tensions between Irish low-income workers and the immigrants who may compete for their jobs. Additionally, there is concern that the exploding economy will include exploitation of poor immigrants. In contrast, there is a steady influx of educated Irish and Irish Americans, many with science or technological skills. High-tech workers from as far away as India are campaigning for easier access to immigration to Ireland. In the past, the Republic's geographic isolation and low-performing economy insulated it from migration trends experienced in other European countries that led to ethnic and religious divisions and tensions. As in many other areas, Ireland is catching up fast.
Credit: Ronan Fox
- Tara Meets Traffic
Druids on the Hill of Tara during a summer solistice festival. Also known as the Hill of Kings, this site outside of Dublin was considered a symbolic center of Ireland.
A large part of Ireland's economic boom is concentrated in Dublin, compelling an increasing number of rural Irish to move closer to the city. With more and more Dubliners commuting from distant suburbs, traffic is so congested that the trip can take hours. Public transportation has not kept pace, and Dubliners are taking to their cars in record numbers. The resulting traffic problems have generated catastrophic predictions that one day Dublin will resemble Mexico City, with its gridlock and horrendous smog.
The surge in construction has generated tensions between traditionalists and expansionists. Nowhere was this more apparent than when the Irish government proposed building a highway close to the Hill of Tara. The highway was critical to easing Dublin traffic congestion, said the government. Critics complained that alternative routes were not researched, and that the highway would not only compromise the view from the Hill of Tara but also possibly destroy history yet undiscovered. Another controversial proposal by the Irish prime minister is to move many of Dublin's national government departments out of the capital into outlaying counties, in order to "spread the wealth" (and the traffic), and to move government workers to areas with more affordable housing. This program has met with resistance as well; change has been welcome in Ireland, but is also viewed somewhat suspiciously.
Credit: AP/John Cogill
- Working Women
A female publican, left, chats to customers as they enjoy their last cigarettes in Mick Murphy's pub in Ballymore Eustace in County Kildare, March 28, 2004. Smokers in their local pubs enjoyed final bittersweet puffs as Ireland imposed the world's most comprehensive ban on tobacco in the workplace.
One of the most significant contributing factors to the Irish economic boom was its ability to increase the number of people in the workplace, most notably women. The number of employed Irish is up 70 percent; the labor force has increased from 1.3 million in 1986 to over 2 million in 2005. Until recently, Irish women were underrepresented in the workforce; now they are there in above average numbers. In school, girls outperform boys, including in math and sciences, and more of them graduate with marketable degrees.
Not surprisingly the influx of women into the workplace has been followed by a decrease in the birth rate and family size. Once famous for its large families, Ireland, now has a fertility rate of 1.86. At the same time, the abortion rate is estimated to have risen from around 4.5 percent of pregnancies in 1980 to over 10 percent in 2002 (most in Britain); over the same period, births out of wedlock have soared from 5 percent to 31 percent of the total. Divorce, legalized only in 1995 after a bitter fight by the Catholic Church to prevent legalization, is becoming more and more popular. There has also been an increase in Irish women living below the poverty line, most notably single parents. Almost one in five Irish children live in poverty for five years or more as well.
Credit: AP/John Cogill
- Paying the Piper
Evening comes as golfers play the 17th hole at the Galway Bay Golf and Country Club, Oranmore Galway. A helicopter sometimes ferries golfers to the first tee at the club, illustrating how fortuAfter decades of a lackluster economy, the Irish have taken to consumerism with the gusto of the newly rich. Consumer spending, particularly on luxury items, boomed during the heyday of the Celtic Tiger. In 1998, for example, average national prices grew by a massive 30 percent, fueled by hedonistic spending. While the national debt in Ireland has fallen from 122 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) in 1986 to 30 percent in 2006, personal consumer debt has skyrocketed from 48 percent of disposable income in 1995 to 130 percent in 2006. In a move to encourage saving and prevent inflation, the Irish government has set up state-backed savings accounts that would pay 25 percent in tax credits.
The worldwide economic slump in 2001 helped slow runaway inflation in Ireland, and was the beginning of the end for the first Celtic Tiger period. The increase in buying power for many Irish, and the accompanying desire for an increase in standard of living, continue to be seen, however, primarily in the housing market. Prices for housing in Ireland have grown tremendously, as has the demand for new construction. In 1995 Ireland built 30,000 new dwellings; in 2005 it was 80,000. Nonetheless, while in 1994 an average house cost five times the average salary, in 2005 it cost 11 times the average salary, leading some commentators to suggest that the housing bubble could burst.
Credit: AP/Andrew Downes nes have changed at the once forbiddingly bleak headland.
- Not So Fast
Protestors march through the streets of Dublin, December 9, 2005, in support of the Irish Ferry workers. More than 10,000 labor union members protested in Ireland's capital and other cities over Irish Ferries' plan to replace its workers with low-paid Eastern European immigrants.
Not all Irish are pleased by the changes. Between the increase in the cost of goods, the meteoric rise in housing prices, and competition for jobs from new immigrants willing to work for cheap, many in the working class think the Tiger has benefited the rich only. Statistics bear this out, in part: a United Nations survey ranks Ireland among the top 10 nations in the world to live in, but with Western Europe's highest percentage of people living below the poverty line. Ten years ago, the average cost difference between a house in Dublin and one outside of Dublin was just € 10,000 ($12,600). Today that figure has grown to some € 130,000 ($164,300).
A large part of Ireland's economic revitalization resulted from making the conditions more favorable to corporations, a dynamic which has ramifications for workers accustomed to the protection of powerful trade unions. There is an increasing disparity between the market-friendly private sector, with its eye on attracting foreign investment, and the large public sector, focused on stability and a tradition of workers' rights. Tensions have increased between trade workers and immigrants, whose willingness to work for a cheap wage is seen increasingly as a threat to a whole way of life.
Credit: AP/Charlie Collins
- The Future
Three Sumatran tiger cubs were born at Dublin Zoo, June 2, 2004. One of the most endangered species in world, the three female cubs are named Satu, Dua and Tiga, or 'One,' 'Two,' and 'Three' in Bahasa Indonesian.
The world economic slowdown of 2001 hit Ireland as well, particularly in its high-tech sector, but there has been a second boom, commonly called Celtic Tiger II. The increase in worker wages has diminished Ireland's attractiveness as a source of cheap labor, especially compared to Eastern Europe, but a continued emphasis on education, training, and recruiting highly skilled immigrants/returnees has netted a shift in investment, rather than a significant loss.
Irish politicians must now navigate through a new set of circumstances, brought on by the speed of the change, native reaction to immigration, the demand for public services, along with EU pressure to adopt typical European models of corporate taxation and regulation. So far Ireland seems to be negotiating this minefield reasonably well, and the world continues to marvel at the Emerald Isle.
Credit: AP/PA Haydn West