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Letter from Dublin

13 Jun 2023 6 minute read
Photo by Claire Tardy from Pixabay

Martin Shipton

When I first visited Dublin in the mid-1970s, I was shocked to observe barefoot children in the streets because of poverty. It was a depressing sign that Ireland still had a long way to go to fulfil the economic promise that people hoped for when the country achieved a measure of independence 50 years before. Equally I was astonished to see lifesize crucifixes in people’s gardens, complete with supposedly bloodstained effigies of Jesus. The power of the Church was palpable.

Much has changed in the half century that has passed since. There are no more barefoot children or crucifixes to be seen, and the Irish economy is booming, thanks both to EU membership and inward investment from the US. Ireland is not free of problems, most obviously with a housing crisis that makes securing an affordable home a challenge for many.

But statistics show how the country has climbed out of the economic doldrums that once seemed a permanent feature and how the bulk of the population is enjoying unprecedented levels of prosperity.

So much is clear to anyone who visits the bars and restaurants of central Dublin, or indeed other cities and towns.

Ireland’s self-confidence jumps out from the pages of its homegrown newspapers, which instead of patronising their readers treats them as the intelligent people they generally are.

The Irish Times

Reading The Irish Times is a genuine pleasure. Still published as a broadsheet – a format almost extinct now in the UK – it has a comprehensive domestic and international coverage supplemented by incisive columnists, invariably making you feel better informed about the world.

On the morning after Boris Johnson announced his resignation as a backbench MP in response to an excoriating Parliamentary report about his lockdown behaviour, he got a brief signposting mention at the bottom of page one in The Irish Times and a fuller story at the bottom of page 10.

This seemed entirely proportionate: for Irish readers he is not a great quirky character who has dominated the political scene for years, but a superficial and clearly dishonest individual whose ability to achieve power is, implicitly, a mark of how debased Britain has become.

There are other, much more significant stories, to cover. Unsurprisingly, the paper leads on the revelation that Donald Trump “held on to secret nuclear papers”, but there is a lengthy piece on page 2 about changes to the EU’s refugee policy aimed at relieving the pressure on “frontline border states”. The coverage of EU affairs by British news outlets tended to be pathetic when the UK was a member state, so the chances of reading such a nuanced piece in Britain’s newspapers is now non-existent.

There’s a factual report revealing that Ireland’s state bodies spent a total of €285k on events to welcome President Biden to the country during his visit in April. Britain’s right wing papers would doubtless have carried hysterical comments from Tory MPs about such expenditure, presumably motivated by a wish that even more could have been spent on the King’s Coronation.

There’s a highly informative article looking forward to next year’s European Parliament election – one we’ll have to sit out – speculating that Sinn Fein, the party of the moment, will increase its representation.

A story that will have resonances for Welsh readers relates to controversy over a proposal to build a large wind farm straddling two counties in Ireland’s Midlands. And there’s a special report focussing on Ireland’s housing crisis from an employment perspective, encapsulated in the headline which reads: “More jobs than workers in many sectors leave employers calling for housing solutions”. There are plenty of other articles too.

Independence 

One factor that quickly becomes apparent is the absence of a looming presence that is inescapable in any discussion of Welsh politics: the role of the British state. However much of an emphasis we place on the Welsh Government’s desire to do things differently with the powers that have been devolved to it, there is always the need to consider the extent of such powers and the degree to which they are constrained by funding issues, where power lies at Westminster.

The Irish government, by contrast, is responsible for its own finances. That, after all, is what independence looks like.

In the wake of Brexit and the years of economically illiterate austerity that preceded it, however, there’s another element that has entered the equation. Perhaps the most telling story to reflect the reversal of roles between Britain and Ireland that has occurred appears as the second most prominent item on Page 1 of Saturday’s The Irish Times.

Headlined “Republic to fund 250 nursing places in North”, its first few paragraphs read: “Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly is to sign off on funding for 250 nursing and midwifery places in Northern Ireland in an unprecedented move linked to Stormont budget cuts.

“The Irish Times has learned that the €10m investment will result in 200 undergraduate places for students from the Republic and 50 for students from the North. All will study at Northern universities from this coming September. Nursing degree courses are currently split across Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University.

“Sources say the Department of Health initiated contact with their Northern counterparts at Mr Donnelly’s request after it emerged that 300 student nursing places were being cut for the 2023/24 academic year due to budget constraints amid Stormont’s collapse.

“Southern nursing students will have no ‘golden handcuffs’ post-graduation and will be free to work in the North’s healthcare system, according to Northern healthcare sources.

“The Irish Times understands the investment is non-recurrent and is a ‘one-off’ due to Stormont’s financial crisis, as part of an ‘all-island approach’.”

The story provides proof positive that a once great power has been reduced to accepting help in kind from its former colony.

We can safely predict that such an outcome will not be mentioned by DUP MPs when they next rant about how the Northern Ireland Protocol is undermining the precious Union. Nor is it an issue that the UK Government will wish to dwell on.

How the mighty are fallen.


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Dr John Ball
Dr John Ball
10 months ago

What an excellent and indeed moving article that positively screams what independence means.
Everyone in Cymru should read this.

CJPh
CJPh
10 months ago
Reply to  Dr John Ball

What’s more is that Wales has the benefit of learning from the Irish model, good and bad. We would also emerge in a far better position than Ireland did – no bloody internal conflicts, no ww1, no (early 20th century style) depression looming, no barefoot children on the streets… apart from the prodgeny of wealthy faux-hippies in Roath Park. We’re better off in terms of natural resources, we share a land border with one of the wealthiest and most advanced nations on earth, we have retained our language to a much higher level, and we have something Ireland can never… Read more »

Last edited 10 months ago by CJPh
Richard
Richard
10 months ago
Reply to  Dr John Ball

Agreed John but the centralisation on greater Dublin has come at a cost for many other parts of Eiré.

The rural areas of the West , Midlands and South East have all seen a mass migration to the capital with the Europe wide problems of second homes and weekend cottages and villages.

Not all is gold I’m afraid 😳

John
John
10 months ago

Can I endorse what John Ball has said : If only a decent number of Wesh people would read such articles regularly, what a difference it would make to the quality of our national debate.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
10 months ago

The south giving their brothers and sisters up north a hand, I’m not surprised. I was there a handful of years before you Mr S. It was during May 1970. A hitch from Dol to Fishguard and a boat to Rosslare. The ‘troubles’ were in full swing and the cop on the boat followed this 17 year old around all the way across without introducing himself. Ireland had not yet taken onboard the idea of travelling by thumb, or maybe the length of my hair put them off, in one rare lift the driver said it was a good thing… Read more »

Benjiman Angwin
Benjiman Angwin
10 months ago

Ireland’s long-term success in Europe, and having had a gay head of state, is what voting Fine Gael to hold back Sinn Féin’s envy-fueled resentment and radicalism delivers.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
10 months ago

Funny you should mention the all Ireland approach, I cited that regarding the Language App developed by Bangor Uni yesterday…

Brian Williams
Brian Williams
10 months ago

Erthygl ardderchog yn adlewyrchu fy mhrofiad i, ar ôl dau ymweliad â’r Weriniaeth, y cyntaf yn 1968 a’r ail yn 2022. Yn 1968 es i draw i gerdded i fyny Croagh Patrick ger Galway, a welais ugeiniau o drigolion, fel penyd, yn cerdded i’r gopa yn droednoeth. Roedd cyflwr eu traed yn ddifrifol o waedlyd, ond roedd eu ffydd yn ddryw i’w crefydd. Ar y pryd, roedd y ddelwedd yn fy mhen yn berthnasol i gymdeithas yn gyffredinol. Yn 2022 ni cherddais i fyny’r mynydd, ond wrth deithio o amgylch y wlad, y ddelwedd y cefais oedd o wlad lewyrchus… Read more »

Philip Davies
Philip Davies
10 months ago

Perhaps Wales should apply to become a province of Ireland? And in memory of Saunders Lewis revert to the Catholic Faith? I recall the days when there were only two British TV channels available and we in the rural west of Wales could pick up Raidió Teilifís Éireann, spilling across the sea from Ireland. As a child it had the charm of numerous American shows never seen on British TV, owing to the culturally favoured status of Ireland in the USA. ‘The Sarsaparilla Kid’ a western hero who drank only non-alcoholic beverages, and ‘The Adventures of Hiram Holliday’ about a… Read more »

Last edited 10 months ago by Philip Davies
Llyn
Llyn
10 months ago

Sadly I suspect very few people on Wales have any idea that Ireland is outstripping the UK economically. Indeed, would hazard a guess that many think Ireland would be better off leaving the EU. Ignorance is bliss in Brexit Britain.

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
10 months ago
Reply to  Llyn

Do you have any idea that there is now a substantial majority of people in the UK who consider that Brexit was a huge mistake? For a very long time Ireland was an economic backwater, largely because of the policies of a very reactionary government in cahoots with an authoritarian church. It was only EU membership and the ending of economic dominance by the UK that began to change things. Inward investment by big multinational corporations settling their European operations in Ireland due to low corporation taxes has undoubtedly brought huge benefits to the country, but reliance on inward investment… Read more »

Peter Cuthbert
Peter Cuthbert
10 months ago
Reply to  Padi Phillips

Yes indeed. Any Goverment that is keen to have foreign investment should also have a plan for how the skills and benefits that the particular company brings are to be rolled out to ‘infect’ the local economy and create ‘sympathetic’ businesses that will not disappear when the foreign company CEO becomes bored with the local golf courses.

Robin Lynn
Robin Lynn
10 months ago
Reply to  Peter Cuthbert

To which must be added a good education system.

Dr John Ball
Dr John Ball
10 months ago
Reply to  Peter Cuthbert

A Brief reply to Padi and Peter. Your analysis of the problems with FDI and Wales experience are correct but Ireland’s experience is different. Attracting FDI to Wales was based on cheap, unskilled labour producing end of life cycle products. Ireland has avoided this in three ways. A well educated and skilled workforce, products attracted are new cutting edge products at the beginning of life cycle and a system of local suppliers servicing the FDI businesses.
Just for the record I’m not a fan of FDI, but the contrast with Wales experience could not be greater.

Ian Titherington
Ian Titherington
10 months ago

An excellent article on how far forward Ireland has come, in comparison to how far backwards the UK has gone. Having recently visited there for a work trip, I agree with Mr Shipton’s perceptions.

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