Is Irishness enough to maintain us as a significant player in Europe?

Fionnuala Walsh

The government recently released the National Development Plan, which hopes to account for an extra million people and invest 115 billion euro into infrastructure over the next 10 years. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that the plan must be “realistic” so that it won’t fall into the pitfalls of similar promised schemes which have been delayed, ignored and forgotten.

The new plan commits to a huge investment in the HSE, An Garda Síochana and the IT sector, which is desperately needed, as most of the technological draw which we boast of to the EU only exist in the realm of promise. We need to work a lot harder, not only in government investment but also in innovation and social reform in order to hold on to our crumbling reputation in Europe.

We barely recovered our global reputation after the economic crisis by playing to our strengths – the promise of Ireland as the new technological Mecca, a reliance on Irishness as a brand, and the soft power of being “Europe’s little darling”. As Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole commented after Ireland failed in the bid to host both the European Medicines Agency and the 2023 Rugby World Cup, we need to work harder on being self-aware and own our mistakes. “We expect everyone to love us even when we facilitate global tax avoidance and renege on our commitments to help prevent catastrophic global warming,” O’Toole said.

We are the only European country that is not a member of the research project Cern, our childcare costs are the second highest in the OECD, and in the 2018 Climate Change Performance Index released last year, Ireland was by far the worst in Europe, ranked 49th of 56 countries worldwide.

Our reputation as a tax haven for multinational companies is a detriment not only to our standing in the the European Union, but also to our own citizens. The money that could be made by taxing giants such as Apple and Facebook could go a long way in bringing the promises of the 2040 framework plan into fruition.

With the fallout from Brexit we sneer at Britain and bolster our own sense of national pride, but it is easy to overlook our own selfish approach to Europe’s resources. As a nation we love to be loved. The “best fans in the world”, our culture and history is celebrated across the globe, just friendly rogues out for the craic. But to re-establish ourselves as competent and tradeworthy neighbours, we need to deliver on our framework plans, be more environmentally active and tax appropriately.

In 2018, we are ten years on from the global economic crash and it is time to start planning for a sustainable future that will provide for our growing population as well as doing our part as a functioning member of the EU. We cannot continue to expect to be the world’s sweetheart, we have to re-earn that respect.

Fionnuala Walsh

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