For Ireland in the New Year: Good news expected to continue

This will be an exciting year in Ireland. Signs of an exploding economy started to show up early in 2014 and all indications are that 2015 will offer a continuation of the good news.

According to The Irish Business and Employers’ Confederation (Ibec) as quoted in The Irish Times on Dec. 21, “The Irish economy will significantly outperform the rest of Europe and grow by a spectacular 5.7 percent in 2014.” They are also predicting continuing strong growth in 2015 with the Gross Domestic Product – GDP – rising by 4.8%, unemployment falling, and investment rising.

Some conservative Dublin businessmen are more cautious. Niall Power Smith, a Dublin real estate investor, says, “Ireland is still vulnerable to how the UK, EU, and USA are doing since we are such a small open economy.” But Irish lives will be easier. The government has reduced personal taxes in this year’s budget, and Irish men and women and their families will have more to spend.

Liam Connellan, a leading Dublin businessman, points out that the economy is providing more jobs and reducing the flow of Ireland’s young minds leaving the country. Emigration has been falling, and families are being built at home. He sees construction cranes reappearing in the Dublin skyline as a sign of renewed confidence.

It should be a source of great Irish pride that after the dark days of 2008-2009 such a recovery would occur. With an enormous debt to pay off, the Irish people suffered through a severe austerity that has proved to be the fight medicine. Lower salaries, lower pensions, and many more sacrifices will now result in a rising economy and better living for everyone. Hopefully, the lessons have been learned.

Still, greed being part of human nature, more stringent regulation is in place to prevent selfish “me first” activity.

As to the recovery, the statistics are undeniable: Unemployment, which had reached 15 percent, is down to 10.7 percent, and Ibec expects it will be down to 9 percent this year.

Automobile sales are booming. The Society of the Irish Motor Industry, in an enthusiastic publicity announcement, said that automobile sales in 2014 will exceed 95,000 cars, which constitutes a 15 percent increase over previous estimates and 30 percent over 2013. To further make the point, employment in the auto industry increased by 4,200 jobs and retail sales were up 5.6 percent through the first 10 months of 2014.

In somewhat of a surprise after the successful “Year of the Gathering” in 2013, tourism jumped again in 2014, to 1.186 million visiting Americans in the first ten months, a 14.5 percent increase. Liam Connellan says the hotels are full and the restaurants are very busy, and Micheal Cawley, chairman of Failte Ireland, says Dublin will need more hotels with an expected increase in visitors in 2015.

And there is once again a domestic housing shortage in Dublin, with a huge rush to obtain mortgage approval before the government initiates new regulations in an effort to avoid the previous bankruptcies: a 20 percent down payment requirement and a limit to the size of mortgages to 3.5 times income.

Last April, Ireland’s population was put at 4.6 million by the Central Statistics Office. The cities are growing bigger while the western rural areas are losing people. The recovery follows the same pattern, with the major cities of Dublin, Cork, Limerick, and Galway getting the most benefit.

There are troubling issues in every society, however, and Ireland is not immune. The Irish people have never had to pay for the water they drink and use for bathing as we do in the United States. With the water supply infrastructure needing extensive repair, the government is seeking to install water meters in homes and billing the owner for the water they use.

There have been protest marches and some unfortunate abuse of political leaders, but the new policy appears to be going forward.

Generally speaking, with their economy growing faster than any county in the Eurozone, the Irish should be pleased with their future as they look forward to a very Happy New Year in 2015.