I left Ireland in 2007 at the height of the economic boom there, the unemployment rate was under 5%1, house prices had gone through the ceiling and the head of state had suggested that anyone who thought there might be an end to the boom should go and kill themselves. I passed through Philly in March 2008 and the news from back home was not so good as the international banking collapse was having its impact. That June I moved back to Ireland, and from then on the economy went into free fall, pushed over the edge by property speculation, which had grown exponentially in the previous decade.
A global crash was always going to hit the Irish economy hard. Government policy was to rely on global corporations moving to set up factories, headquarters and tax shelters in Ireland to create wealth and employment. At the start of the Celtic Tiger Ireland had low wages and a skilled workforce by European standards, and this on top of a criminally low corporate tax base meant international investment poured in. For much of the 1990’s Ireland was attracting ten times more Foreign Direct Investment per capita than the next nearest European country, Spain. During this long boom the Irish unions had become bloated and lazy, there were almost no protests or strikes as everything was sorted out by the trade union leadership in national deals negotiated every three years, and without struggle there was no rank and file organizating. Worse still, these national deals (called social partnership) negotiated tax cuts instead of decent pay increases inevitably storing up trouble for when the boom ended.