- Feb 19, 2009
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It never seemed to matter in the boom years, but strictly speaking, there is no such thing as a Celtic Tiger. The image was coined in the mid-90s to compare Ireland with voraciously expanding economies in east Asia.
Now that boom has turned to bust, and Ireland is negotiating a European bailout, the mythical nature of the beast is poignant. There were no big cats in Dublin after all.
But there were fat cats. The Irish boom saw a vast property bubble puffed up by appallingly managed banks with the complicity of idle regulators and political cronies. House prices between 1994 and 2006 rose by around 520%. The relationships between developers, their financiers and the officials who authorised the building spree were usually cosy, often corrupt.
... Ireland's unique misfortune is to have, in Brian Cowen's Fianna Fáil government, leaders who shipwrecked the economy and then capsized the lifeboats. The initial crisis response in 2008 was designed in such a way as effectively to absorb the doomed banking sector into the state, with no safeguards for taxpayers. While fitting as a kind of poetic commentary on what had happened in the boom years, as policy it was insane.
There is a real danger of Irish society being hollowed out, with a discredited political elite holding nominal power and no legitimacy while an angry, disoriented, heavily indebted and increasingly poor population chase dwindling jobs. Ireland needs social and political renewal as much as it needs economic recovery
Ireland has been betrayed by its leaders | Editorial | Comment is free | The ObserverIreland can still be a good place to do business. But it needs to rediscover the vigour and imagination that fired the early years of the boom and jettison the lazy cronyism and corruption that marked its decadent demise.
The moral bankruptcy of Irish politics is the biggest obstacle to recovery. The EU can bail out the budget; only a public vote can clear out the government.