27 March 2012
From 2005 and for the the next 12 years, New Zealand media repeatedly referred enviously to the celtic tiger – to the rampant Irish economy and the need for a Kiwi emulation.
But Ireland’s boom came unstuck in 2008. It fell apart with the onset of the global financial crisis. Ireland is now grouped alongside the clapped out economies of Portugal, Greece and Spain. Its GDP declined 11% over two years; unemployment rose to 17%.
Misplaced Government optimism increased public spending by 43% over three years. Rash activities by banks and developers caused a property boom – and bust – that ultimately disadvantaged many. A subsequent self examination by Irish institutions disclosed unethical conduct on a wide scale. Senior politicians seemed as bad as any.
Last week the findings of a 15 year investigation into the administration of Prime Minister Bertie Ahern were published. Described as a “3,200 page fact finding study” a conclusion is that corruption was “…endemic and systemic at every level of government in Ireland in the late 1990s when Ahern was Prime Minister”. The judges conducting the enquiry were unwilling to find that Ahern was corrupt. Although they identified numerous payments to the Prime Minister they fell short of describing the events as corruption.
The Environment Minister at the time and subsequently a EU commissioner, was found to have accepted bribes. He bought a farm with the payments. The judges found his explanations “astounding, incredible and untrue”.
This revised description of the celtic tiger brings into question the accuracy of surveys like the Transparency International corruption perceptions Index.
In 1998 Ireland was placed 14th on the CPI (when New Zealand was 4th). it slipped to 19th place in 2000, (NZ 3rd), was 19th again in 2005 (NZ 2nd), and in 2011 was 19th still (NZ 1st). Perhaps it is just that most other countries are so much worse.
An unsurprising finding in 2011 was that the Irish had the lowest levels of trust in their government of the 23 EU countries surveyed that year. The Edelman trust barometer showed that only 20% had trust in the system of government, down 11% from the previous year. (There has been a substantial bounce back in the 2012 Eurobarometer.)