Not All Irish Are Enjoying The Nation's Economic Recovery
LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
Seven years after the global economic meltdown, there are countries that are still struggling to recover but not Ireland. Its economy is not just robust, it's the fastest-growing economy in Europe. Many credit Ireland's turnaround to the austerity measures the European Union forced on them, similar to the belt-tightening that Greece must now do. So what better model for economic recovery than Ireland? On a recent trip to Dublin, though, reporter Miranda Kennedy found not everyone thinks it's been such a big success.
MIRANDA KENNEDY, BYLINE: The government of Ireland might be trumpeting the economic news, but in the seaside village of Dun Laoghaire, just outside Dublin, the picture is different. Cruise ships bring in tourists to shop at boutiques and drink at ocean-side bars on one side of the village. Just a few streets away, though, it's all empty storefronts. Cafes and convenience stores started closing in 2008 and haven't reopened. Moira Kelly was born and raised here.
MOIRA KELLY: Well, the shops that just closed, that was in the recession there from 2009. And shop after shop just closed, you know. And all that's in Dun Laoghaire now is empty shops, secondhand shops and a few retail outlets.
KENNEDY: But Simon Harris, the deputy finance minister in the Irish government, says that it's worth noting that Ireland entered a period of economic uncertainty at roughly the same time as Greece did, and Ireland dealt with its crisis very differently.
SIMON HARRIS: If government says to its creditors, we're taking measures to reform our economy, to create jobs, to pay back our debts, it's much easier for them to then make your debt more sustainable. It's a two-way street and both sides have to play their part. And Ireland has shown that that model can work.
KENNEDY: Ireland only got here by imposing deeply unpopular reforms and cutbacks. And all along, the EU was criticizing Greece for not doing enough of that. The former president of the European Central Bank called Ireland, the model for Greece, and the Irish foreign minister called Ireland, the pride of Europe. Irish Times columnist Fintan O'Toole says that is a made-up story.
FINTAN O'TOOLE: I think if you look at Ireland now, you have to be very careful not to follow into the trap of the cock who crows and the sun comes up, and the cock says, well, the sun came up because I crowed. Austerity was imposed in Ireland and the Irish economy is recovering. So therefore, there's a kind of story that Irish economy is recovering because of austerity. And, of course, it makes no sense as a narrative.
KENNEDY: In fact, O'Toole says, Ireland survived not because of austerity but in spite of austerity.
O'TOOLE: The mythology is very, very strong because there was a kind of a necessity, in terms of the whole European narrative, to have a good boy. You know, and Ireland is the good boy. We took our medicine and, look, we're bouncing back. You know, it's a little moral tale.
KENNEDY: Cuts to welfare and health services and education mean that austerity has hit the poor particularly hard. In the seven years since the financial crisis, child poverty in this tiny country has doubled, and hundreds of thousands of people lost their jobs.
Back in Dun Laoghaire, Declan Rider has a job, but he doesn't think Ireland should be considered the success story of Europe. He used to have six people working for him, but since 2008, he's been on his own.
DECLAN RIDER: I think the government - I think the banks are a success story of Europe. I don't think the people have felt it. Ask a single mother with three kids, is she doing well? You know, ask a self-employed carpenter like me, am I doing well? No, but that's life.
KENNEDY: Like many in Ireland, Rider feels sympathy for the Greek people, who are about to feel a new level of economic pain, similar to that suffered by the Irish. But he also doesn't want Ireland to have to pay for the Greek government's financial misdeeds. For NPR News, I'm Miranda Kennedy in Dublin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.