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The Celtic Tiger In Distress

Written by Peader Kirby, senior lecturer in the School of Communications, DCU, Palgrave. Reviewed by Paul Keenan

"More done, more to do", proclaimed the May election posters. "More of the same," the headlines jubilantly cried in the aftermath. More More More; the word of the age, the mantra of the Celtic Tiger cubs, and the euphoric party-chant from all the boats on the rising tide of Ireland's economic prosperity.

All the boats? Well, if the spin-doctors of the newly re-elected Fianna Fail Government are to be believed, then yes, all have benefited from the Government policies that have brought us to this point.

But isn't that what spin-doctors are paid to do, be selective with the facts, find the positives wrapped in the negatives, enhance our euphoria? This knowledge appears to be the starting block for Peader Kirby's look at our modern, Ireland, The Celtic Tiger in Distress. Dismissing the official theory that "success" equals "good times", The Celtic Tiger in Distress takes the economic evidence to hand to paint an entirely different picture of the state we are in.

Kirby asserts that our reasons for euphoria in the current climate are based on a very partial reading of the economic evidence available, and which he presents to the reader here. As an example, he questions those mainstream economists who see no irony in criticising our past economic dependence on Britain while greeting with satisfied silence our growing dependence on the United States, taking away none of the nation's economic vulnerability. (Published in January 2002, Kirby's book has seen some of his findings borne out by the recent downturn in the IT production sector).

Yes, but there has been job growth, insist the Euphorics. Agreed, says Kirby, but two-thirds of all jobs have been in services, with the majority relatively low-paid, insecure, and with anti-social hours. But, the Euphorics counter, the evidence shows a 35% increase in take-home pay between 1987 and 1999. In response, Kirby need only point to the 104% rise nationally in house prices (136% in Dublin), to put such spin to bed.

In a nutshell, then, The Celtic Tiger in Distress demonstrates how, instead of our economic success being the means towards an end, i.e. a better society, the success has become everything, resulting in a society that is subservient to the economy, not for the sake of progress, but to sustain the 'high tide'.

What benefits there have been from the Celtic Tiger, Kirby argues, have been for a very small elite. This leads to his discussing the growing inequality of Irish society. He deals with the institutions of education, health, tax and social welfare to bear out his contention of an in-built inequality in the system, and reveals the lack of any Government policy to address it.

Boats may rise on the tide, but a yacht rises higher than a holed canoe. While he does not seek to pour cold water over the success of the Irish economy, Kirby cannot bring himself to ignore the glaring evidence that we have "economic success at the cost of social success." Having weighed up the evidence, he uses the later sections of his book to map out the options facing Irish society now, identifying possibilities for development and social action to provoke debate on the type of society we want to create, and, further, to apply pressure on policy-makers to face their responsibilities.

Those wishing to ride the wave of Celtic Tiger euphoria in blissful ignorance would do well to steer a course well clear of Kirby's thesis. Those wishing to see exactly what lies in the belly of the beast should pick up this book.