Life in the Republic after its economic fall from grace

By Karen Atkinson
BBC News


Walk into any book shop in Dublin and you'll find the Republic of Ireland's recent woes laid bare on the shelves.

How it tumbled from economic miracle to a country that had to go cap in hand to the EU has proved lucrative for the authors who have analysed every detail of this all too familiar tale.

Mass consumerism, a property bubble that spectacularly burst and a banking crisis that left the nation shell shocked.

The Republic's sense of self took a battering. The question is, how it repairs that and moves forward?

David Norris is an independent politician in the Irish Senate and a likely candidate in the forthcoming Irish presidential election.

He says the prosperity of the Celtic tiger era was also the cause of many of the country's problems.

"There was a vulgar excess and the possibility that Ireland would jump from being an unthinking Catholic country to being an unthinking materialistic country.

"That has certainly been stopped in its tracks."

But Mr Norris also sounded a note of optimism.

"I think we have the power and the resources to recover from this situation quickly. It presents the country with an opportunity to rediscover those values that made us human and made us value community rather than the economy," he said.

Image caption,
Broadcaster Ray D'Arcy said his listeners had been hit by the "economic fall from grace"

Not everyone thinks the Irish psyche can be repaired so easily.

Ray D'Arcy, one of the Republic's best known broadcasters, says listeners to his Today FM show are amongst the worst affected by Ireland's economic fall from grace with many out of work or struggling with an oversized mortgage.

Ray believes that one time pride in the country has been replaced by stigma.

"A friend of mine was boarding a flight in Germany recently and she was asked where she was from, for the first time in her life, she thought about whether she should say she was Irish," he said.

"That would never have happened before because even if the country was down, we were always fighters and proud to be Irish.

"There is a sense now that people are embarrassed about the state Ireland is in."

That problem is compounded by the fact that the Republic is heavily indebted to its European partners and the International Monetary Fund.

This loss of fiscal control is hard for a country whose history is steeped in the values of independence.

So can a new government gives fresh impetus to a tired and weary nation? Shane Coleman, political editor of Dublin based newspaper, the Sunday Tribune, thinks a changing of the political guard at Leinster House would be a start.

"Any new government is going to have to do what the current government in doing - raise taxes and cut spending," Mr Coleman said.

"They're not going to be able to significantly renegotiate the bailout deal but I think psychologically a new government will draw a line under what has happened.

"Until that happens, it will be very difficult to move on."

Ray D'Arcy says real change requires more than that, given the widely held view that the Irish banking industry was largely to blame for the country's problems.

"People need to feel that the injustice that is palpable to everybody is righted in some way. That may mean some form of retribution.

"Nobody has been imprisoned for what happened to this country and I think people want to see that."

There is a mural in Dublin's docklands which says "Greed is the knife and the scars run deep."

The cost of the boom and bust years has, undoubtedly, scarred this country but there is hope that it can rise up and move beyond these troubled times.