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Monday, 31 May 2010

Ghost Estates & Mirages...

Writing Ireland's wrongs...

Like buzzards picking over a carcass, foreign media is delighting in writing in-depth analysis pieces on our economic tribulations...The way they see us: we were once the landlords of the world; now ghost estates is where we're at.

Ireland may not be ablaze, but it is all the rage. Last Tuesday, the UK Guardian newspaper did a major feature on the once mighty, but now much lamented, Emerald Isle. The week before that both the Financial Times and the New York Times produced long articles on Ireland and the state it's in.

The headlines said it all. "Ireland's miracle – or mirage?"; "Ireland's shattered dreams"; "How bankers brought Ireland to its knees".


It immediately becomes obvious that these esteemed organs are not in pursuit of clues as to how the country produced Jedward or Crystal Swing.

Ireland has now become something of a laboratory for chin-stroking international journalists. Profiling the place is a piece of pie. Just google 10 things to write about Ireland five years ago. Dynamic, thrusting, Celtic thingamabob, Gerald Kean, champagne lifestyles, landlords of the world, Andrea Roche, bright shiny people, sunshine and more Gerald Kean.

Then google 10 things about Ireland now. Rain, economic collapse, angry, depressed people, ghost estates, debt, David McWilliams, Greece, Nama, doom and gloom and David McWilliams' upcoming stage show.

Once you've got those items together, feed them into a customised software package, mix in a little of your own politics, and bob's your uncle, out comes a brilliant critique of a morality tale for our times.

In the Guardian on Tuesday, the piece was introduced with a large photograph captioned: "Horses roam around an abandoned, unfinished home in Leitrim". If it wasn't for the blue skies in the background, you might be looking at a scene from the post apocalyptic movie, The Road.

The author, Patrick Barkham, took his life in his hands, deplaned from his flight at Dublin airport and walked the dangerous streets where mothers have now been reduced to eating their young.

He opened with the eviction last week of Anne Moore. She was described as a care worker who came off her 12-hour shift to find that she, her husband and three children were being evicted from their council house.

The scene was presented as if it was a day in the life of new Ireland. In reality, evictions by local authorities are as rare as hen's gold teeth, but the scenario provided a perfect launch pad for what was to follow.

Naturally, the author sought out David McWilliams' opinion. He thinks the Sean Bean is rightly Bhocht. In order to cast wide for the wisdom of sages, the Guardian writer also garnered a comment from Pat Ingoldsby, the Dublin- based street poet.

Pat opined: "Daily, I wander through my city with a trolley and a cardboard box full of dreams and I hear the crashing of other's people's jobs all around me. My most treasured possession is that I've got nothing to lose."

Back in the day when the thingamabob was roaring, they used to quote Joyce and Beckett to illustrate the imagination of the Irish. Now they parse the words of Pat Ingoldsby.

There is also the conflicting views of the economic sages. John FitzGerald of the ESRI is optimistic about the country's prospects, predicting a return to growth next year. McWilliams is then asked whether he'd concur. "That's horseshit," he replies.

Elsewhere, there are quotes from the ubiquitous and anonymous taxi driver and plenty about the Right To Work protest outside the Dáil a few weeks ago.

What comes across is that the author is intent on viewing the country through his particular political lens.

"For a decade, the Celtic Tiger was the poster-child of free market globalisation. Now, this bedraggled alley cat of an economy is neo-liberalism's favourite example of how to cut your way to recovery."

At the opposite end of the spectrum economists blogging in the New York Times have written a piece in a tone that suggests they would hold the bedraggled alley cat at arm's length with thumb and index finger.

Basket case

Peter Boone and Simon Johnson reckon Ireland is a complete basket case which should up sticks and leave the euro, like a good neo-liberal pet. They also give absolutely no credit to what was achieved in the country prior to the bubble.

"Simply put, the Irish miracle was a mirage driven by clever use of tax-haven rules and a huge credit boom that permitted real estate prices and construction to grow quickly before declining ever more rapidly." Such an analysis ignores the export-led boom that raised living standards all the way up to 2001.

A balanced view of how we are viewed from beyond these shores is available from the Financial Times feature of two weeks ago. How bankers brought Ireland to its knees is an accurate portrayal that manages for the most part to avoid patronising digs. For the most part.

A great story

"Twenty years ago, any Irish man or woman would be fluent in EU lore, from the number of scholarships available to the precise value of Brussels regional aid," David Gardner writes.

"Ten years ago, they became encyclopaedic on property prices, and a storehouse of tips for buzzy holidays from Barcelona to Bangkok. Now, they enumerate toxic assets like a loss adjuster. 'That building there, it's just been Nama-ed,"' said one resident, pointing to one of Dublin's best-known hotels."

It is inevitable that the fascination will persist. If the country goes down the tubes, it will be a great story. If the country turns itself around, it will be a great story. The rapid rise and the steep fall, combined with folksy notions about the Emerald Isle, has rendered it easy meat for the foreign media.

There is also the feeling in some recesses of Old Blighty that it's no harm to see that John Bull's uppity other island is now being put back in its box.


Report by Michael Clifford - Tribune News.

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