Ireland has recently received criticism for offering favorable tax rates to American companies who relocate there. The governor of California was particularly scathing. Other EEC countries see it as being unfair to them. Everyone concerned has a valid point but it is difficult right now for the Irish government to change its policy. The fake economic boom known as the Celtic Tiger long ago rode forlornly into the sunset. Irish people are emigrating by the airplane load to Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Britain in search of employment. Not very many are coming to the United States due to restrictive immigration policies and the slow American economy. Smaller numbers are heading for mainland Europe and Asia.
The staff of Aer Lingus recently voted overwhelmingly to strike on a busy bank holiday. They have an issue over rostering. The strike was effective in that it cost thousands of Euros and inconvenienced thousands of people. It also had the long term effect of future business and vacation travelers considering alternate destinations. It is difficult to be sympathetic with the union that organized the strike. Earlier this year a court forbade another trade union shutting down Aer Lingus on another bank holiday. Not, however, before the damage was done and thousands had been lost from cancellations and rescheduling flights. The airline company is taking the union to court in an effort to recover some of the lost revenue.
Over the years I have worked for a number of American companies in Ireland. Most of the jobs involved shift work as they worked 24/7. It is impossible to determine the value to Ireland those companies have been. It went far beyond the wages earned by the employees. Many of those employees would have had to leave Ireland without the American businesses. Local stores, restaurants, bars, contractors, car dealers, garages, real estate agents, cleaning contractors……the list of people who benefitted indirectly is enormous.
It did not all go smoothly, either. There were industrial disputes, sudden closures and political disquiet. When Ferenka left Annacotty, Limerick after a series of strikes it left a void in the economy for many years. More recently Dell’s departure from that same city left over 1,000 unemployed and countless ancillary workers seeking alternate business.
Ireland constructed purpose-built industrial estates to attract the foreign companies. While some politicians (usually those in opposition) complained at the waste of taxpayer’s money the estates were a success. They had buildings that were ready to be moved into. If a company wanted to build its own facility there was space to do so.
On a recent visit to Limerick, I stopped at the old Dell (formerly AST and formerly Wang) building. It was sad to see the once busy facility lying dormant. Fortunately, a new business was looking at moving in. However, an environmental agency placed an objection on the grounds of traffic congestion. (Actually, it was difficult to understand exactly what their objection was. It looked like muscle flexing to me.) Anyway, instead of giving up in disbelief the potential new owner met with the objector and sorted things out.
We can be a silly crowd in Ireland. Many people with secure jobs (public service, state-sponsored companies, education) can be extremely selfish. They want more and more money, retirement benefits and time off while their fellow countrymen and women are leaving in droves in search of employment.
We are also a people who like to blame others for our troubles. Yes, the government and bankers were fiscally irresponsible during the Celtic Tiger. However, it was the people who built homes they could not afford, started businesses with enormous loans, purchased one, two and three cars that were well beyond their means and squandered borrowed money on shopping trips to New York and Dubai. The phenomena of Irish people becoming property moguls and purchasing places in Eastern Europe, Florida and Spain looked too good to be true because it was. We really got too big for our boots. An acquaintance told me his cautious bank manager turned down several undeserving loan applicants during the Celtic Tiger. The clients invariably paid her a gloating visit and showed her the money they had receiver from a competitive lending institution.
When I visited Ireland during the Celtic Tiger, nobody was interested in my opinion that it would all end in tears. I felt I was being a realist; they felt I was being a pessimist. The Garda who quit and owned millions worth of developing property is now broke. The Brazilian workers lining the streets of small towns waiting for farmers to hire them have returned home. The then new SUVs the farmers were driving are now becoming aged and worn and failing their mandatory emission tests. Giant cranes and construction equipment is lying idle – a testament to silliness.
My most recent visit to Ireland revealed a country I was more familiar with. The ridiculous over-spending was conspicuous by its absence. There was less evidence of people rushing about in expensive vehicles going nowhere. (Most people who absolutely must own a car are most likely to purchase an economical diesel compact.) Public transportation is well utilized. One also encounters many pedestrians and bicyclists on the roads. Please exercise care if you are driving in the Emerald Isle.
An Irish politician is once reputed to have said of Irish immigrants: Let them be someone else’s problem. I guess the concept of them being out of sight and out of mind worked. Irish people, with the enthusiastic assistance of the Irish media, have long been willing to criticize other countries. Living in the United States I have been the recipient of complaints about American foreign policy, treatment of its own people and, of course, how America is the cause of all the ills in the world. Yet the same people see no irony on insisting the American government should give special consideration to Irish undocumented immigrants above those from other countries. (Well, who else sends shamrock?)
On a positive note the Irish immigrants of today are closer to home than in the past. It only takes the price of an airfare to return from anyplace in the world. They even return to get married, attend football and hurling games and family reunions. Many leave by choice rather than necessity to experience other cultures, follow career opportunities or a potential marriage partner.
As I mentioned the main recipients of Irish people seeking gainful employment are Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Britain. There is a limited choice. Some, if not all, of those countries are attempting to satisfy their immigration regulations by favoring Irish people. It is a fact we are better educated and better workers than some others. The fact we speak English is an overwhelming advantage.
What would happen if those countries limited or completely stopped accepting our people? As an old woman who worked in England just after World War II once said to me, "Ireland would sink under the sea from the weight."