The Irish do not do well with good news. The next time you’re near an Irish person, as an experiment, say something positive. Anything. Watch the eyes narrow slightly as he or she looks about nervously. The person might even laugh, because somewhere there’s a sneaking suspicion that something tricky is going on. All our best poetry -- and Irish poetry is the best -- arises out of periods of economic misery.
The problem is particularly acute at the moment: Ireland is on the verge of exiting the bailout from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) after five years of economic despair. Despair is something of an understatement. Since 2007 alone, Ireland has seen a cumulative fall in the value of national output (as measured by GDP) of more than 20 percent. Economic demand has also plummeted since 2007 -- by 22 percent in volume and almost 30 percent in value. And national debt is severe: Today, the Irish government owes almost 118 percent of the value of its national output to national and international creditors.
Individually, Irish people, too, are suffering: Unemployment rose from four percent in 2006 to over 15 percent at its peak in 2012. The ratio of the number of unemployed to the number of job vacancies is higher only in Latvia, Portugal, and Cyprus. Perhaps that is why Ireland has returned to the days of emigration. During 2012, more than 50,000 citizens left Ireland (200,600 total since 2008). That is comparable to the last large-scale wave of Irish emigration, in the 1980s; in 1989, the height of the exodus, 70,000 left.
It is all a bit grim. You can bet that the next Irish Nobel Prize laureate is churning out poems right now. But she probably is doing it in Australia.
When Ireland exits its bailout this year, it will be the first EU country to do so. And some might think this is good news -- proof that IMF- and EU-mandated austerity worked and that Ireland is well on its way to recovery. Given how
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