After papal rebuke, Ireland takes stunned stock of battered church, economy, and nation
Many in Ireland are stunned that the once high-flying 'Celtic Tiger' is now just another battered economy – and by fresh revelations of coverups of sexual abuse of children in the Roman Catholic church as Pope Benedict XVI apologized directly to Irish abuse victims.
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But many people are skeptical about the church's ability to regain its moral authority.Skip to next paragraph
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Damaged peace process, politicians' diaspora
The Northern Ireland peace process, meanwhile, has been damaged both by ongoing attacks by small dissident groups opposed to the settlement and political bickering between the local political parties.
The temporary diaspora of Irish politicians on St. Patrick's Day has many citizens here infuriated. Mary Harney, who runs the country's healthcare system, has been attacked for taking a 15-day trip to New Zealand and refusing to return despite a scandal erupting at a Dublin hospital.
Maureen O'Sullivan, an independent lawmaker who represents a tough inner-city district of Dublin, encapsulated the sense of public disbelief about the ministers' trips, saying her constituents are suffering and the government is doing nothing to help.
"There's a lot of anger among those who have jobs. It's the lower paid who are feeling the crunch.... For many people in my constituency, the 'Celtic Tiger' was nonexistent so they're neither better nor worse off. But they have a total lack of faith in politicians."
"The big story of 2009 and 2010 is fiscal consolidation – to what extent did the finance minister stop the wheels coming off the bus? Well, we have a yawning budget deficit that is being plugged by borrowing.... The problem is we cannot devalue our currency or pursue quantitative easing policies like the UK has done, so all of the adjustments come through the wage channel. This means more people have to lose their jobs, more people have to endure pay cuts and see living standards fall."
"A prominent German economist said to me at a conference, 'would you stop pretending you are a country' – and he's right," says Mr. Kinsella.
For many, Ireland's mass unemployment is a simply a return to form. Opposition politicians from the center-right Fine Gael to center-left Sinn Féin have lamented that many young people are effectively forced to leave the country to seek work, slamming the government for creating a "lost generation."
But concerns about mass migration resuming are not borne out by the statistics. Government figures show that from May 2008 to April 2009 65,100 people left Ireland – but most were non-Irish nationals. Only 18,400 were Irish citizens. Some 18,400 Irish citizens returned to Ireland over the same period.
Still, many Irish people do live abroad, and their view of the old country isn't as positive as it was during the boom years. Web developer Cormac Flynn lives and works in Paris and says he is unhappy with the passivity of Irish politics.
"Traits that I would excuse away in the past as symptoms of our national character – our 'ah sure it'll do' attitude, our laziness, our conformism, the 'cute hoor' [appreciation of tricks] aspect [of our character] – don't seem good enough anymore," he says.
"It's so frustrating to live abroad and see all that's happening at home – from the clerical abuse scandals to the state of the economy – and to know not only that I'm powerless to do anything, but that even if I lived at home, that fact would not change. We seem, as a people, inert in the face of all this, content to complain without actually changing our behavior, voting in something better or taking to the streets. We can't be bothered."
"I'm still happy to be Irish – I'll never take French citizenship. But this is all clouded for me with frustration and disappointment at what we've done to ourselves."