With a maximum of four months to go to Ireland’s general election Irish emigrants are being put centre stage of the campaigning – albeit without a voice or vote
The ruling Fine Gael- Labour coalition, riding high on the best official economic statistics since 2000, has launched a campaign to persuade exiles returning for Christmas to move back.
Ireland’s Central Statistics Office (CSO) last week published Gross Domestic Product (GDP) figures of nearly 7 per cent that show Ireland’s economic growth roaring ahead of the rest of the Eurozone (1.6 per cent) and China (6.9 per cent).
#HomeToWork Let’s start a conversation about people coming home for good to jobs, not just for Christmas.
— Enda Kenny (@EndaKennyTD) December 4, 2015
The GDP figure includes figures from huge US conglomerates and multinationals that have located in Ireland for tax purposes and can give a misleading figure which is why many economists prefer the more modest, but still healthy, GNP (Gross National Product) which is around 3.2 per cent annually (it actually fell by 0.8 per cent in the last quarter) after the US giants are stripped out. But taken at face value the official figure for economic growth is at its best since 2000, the height of the Celtic Tiger, when it was at 10.2 per cent.
To highlight those figures the Irish government says its wants to bring back skilled emigrants, primarily those who left after 2008 – over 80 per cent of whom are under 35 – to meet the demand for growth and new jobs.
The advertising campaign, #hometowork, which will feature posters at Dublin, Cork and Shannon airports, echoes the very similar IDA “young Europeans” campaign in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
That period of a rising population, a well-educated and flexible workforce, an enterprising business culture, tax incentives, infrastructure spending and FDI is generally seen as the first stage of Ireland’s recovery which led to the ‘good Tiger’ years.
After 2004 came the ‘bad Tiger’ years during which the then Fianna Fail led government became disproportionately dependent on the construction industry, speculative developments, tax revenues from the sale of ever increasing house prices, tax cuts and out of control consumer spending – based on credit – quite specifically and directly encouraged by the government of the day – and supported by the Opposition.
One of the new posters, clearly with London emigrants in mind, will be on display at arrivals and shows the usual joyful Christmas return with the tagline: “Make your Christmas commute shorter next year. Come #hometowork in 2016.”
Another one, displayed in Departures, says ‘Slán go fóill. Hope to see you again soon. Have you thought about making 2016 the year you move back to Ireland?’ It was inspired by last May’s #hometovote Twitter campaign which encouraged people to come back to Ireland to vote in the marriage equality referendum.
Irish government press secretary Feargal Purcell, a former Irish Army commandant and press officer, who has pushed the campaign said: ‘One thousand jobs a week are being created here.’
In fact, the Irish government says a net 136,000 jobs have been created since 2012, primarily through Foreign Direct Investment with unemployment dropping from 15 per cent to 9 per cent.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has repeatedly said he expects 70,000 emigrants to return to employment in Ireland by 2020.
More than half a million people left Ireland in the years its banks had to be bailed out with a €67 billion ECB/IMF/EU loan to prevent the economy collapsing.
Ireland’s government is making much of the fact that it has emerged from Ireland’s most dismal economic performance since 1945 to an official economic growth rate of nearly 7 per cent or four times that of the rest of the Eurozone where it is 1.6 per cent.
Employment is growing at about 3 percent a year, again far outpacing the rest of the sluggish Eurozone, exports are up 12 per cent, and personal consumption up 3.6 per cent. Money flowing out of Ireland, such as profits to the headquarters of foreign owned multinationals, increased to €8.2 billion in the third quarter, compared with €7.6 billion in the second.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates suggesting the next strongest performance will be Iceland with growth of 4.8 per cent while within the EU it will be tiny Luxembourg (4.4 per cent). In the UK and the US economic growth is expected to be around 2.5 per cent.
The 34-member-strong Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which uses member countries’ own official data, also expects Ireland to top the growth charts among its 34 members in 2016, before being overtaken by South Korea and Turkey in 2017.
The sharp acceleration in growth since the start of 2014 has largely been driven by exports to the UK and US but in the third quarter Irish domestic household and investment spending became the driving force as export growth slowed and was overtaken by the growth of imports.
Leading Irish economists including the governor of Ireland’s Central Bank Patrick Honohan, have warned that the economic growth figures may, in the long run, be misleading. Ireland – whose principal export destinations are the UK and the US – benefits from a weak euro and the quantitative easing in those two countries as well as from lower energy and commodity prices.