The Modernization of Ireland: Gains and Losses

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FREQUENTLY termed the 'Celtic Tiger' for its flourishing economy, Ireland's growth has been spectacular over the past decade and so swift and dynamic that it has essentially leaped from an agriculture to an information technology focused economy, bypassing in the process the industrial revolution. Its recent prosperity is primarily based on high-tech manufacture fuelled by the plants of numerous electronics and software mammoths such as Intel, Digital Sun Microsystems, Dell, Motorola, Oracle, Microsoft and pharmaceutical giants such as Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson. These companies, largely American, were attracted to Ireland by generous government incentives, proximity to a vast European market, and a highly educated workforce. Ireland's reform of the educational structure, rendering it more appropriate for the technological and global economic marketplace, has also been a major factor in the Celtic Tiger's success. Moreover, Ireland, whose economic well-being was not so long ago inextricably tied to that of Britain, now, as a member of the EU, looks more to a wider Europe for its economic and social advancement. Ireland joined the European Economic Community in 1973 and over the years has benefited greatly by its membership and not least by the receipt of plentiful money from richer members in the form of 'Structural Funds', intended to assist poorer, less developed EU nations become more economically and market competitive. EU membership has also helped build greater confidence, a stronger international profile, and a more global outlook. Greater participation on the European and world stage together with the modernizing effects of the media, more travel, greatly increased exposure to multicultural forces have changed irrevocably Ireland's traditional inward-looking mind-set. Earlier this year the influential journal Foreign Policy awarded Ireland the title of the world's most globalized nation.

Ireland is certainly richer than ever before. Though I lived my first three decades in Ireland, being born and bred in `buttered'--as the Irish say--in Dublin, I have spent most of the past twenty years in the United States. I have returned to Ireland infrequently. It is to be expected, after being abroad so long, that I should find Ireland changed; however, the transformations have been particularly evident. The shops are more chic. There are more hotels, many of very high quality. The cuisine for a long time the butt of so many jokes is now sophisticated and there are numerous excellent restaurants. The cars are sleeker, the fashion more stylish, the pubs, once dark and gloomy but now modernized and inviting, are full. The people are more cosmopolitan. Money is much in evidence. Tourists are everywhere, Ireland, especially Dublin, being considered a trendy place to visit. Cranes, sign of feverish building, clutter the skyline.

However, as recently as the 1980s economic prospects were so bad that tens of thousands of Irish emigrated to the US, some legally and many as undocumented aliens. Numerous others took the traditional emigrant's path to Britain while others worked as Gastarbeiter on the Continent. A high percentage of these emigrants were well-qualified university graduates, whose loss rendered the already stagnant Irish economy even more precarious. However, with the booming 1990s emigration has drastically declined. Though some highly educated and skilled individuals still leave for better paid opportunities abroad, with Ireland's unemployment remaining low the Irish are tending to stay at home. Indeed, statistics for the late 1990s reveal that thousands more Irish returned to Ireland than emigrated, a trend that the Irish Government is very actively encouraging. Moreover, many Britons and Continentals have flocked to a thriving Ireland seeking work.

In matters of religion, sex, gender equality the Irish have also witnessed great changes. …