My tandem-riding friend in Ireland stirs me by sending a recent ‘Irishman’s Diary’ column from the Irish Times. It’s a rant. It’s a triumphalist hymn to the economic and social triumph of Catholic Ireland when measured against today’s Scotland: ‘Catholic Ireland has demographically and economically overhauled its once-triumphant Presybterian neighbours. A vibrant enterprise culture flourishes in a once priest-ridden, backward and dirge-filled land. Whine-Eire has been vanquished by Ryan-Eire.’
Meanwhile Scotland, home of Adam Smith, birthplace of ‘economics, the raincoat, tarmacadam, single malts, penicillin, the suspension bridge, modern roads ….’
The ruin of Scotland … subsidies. And he ends ‘Depend on the state for your wealth and you will end up watching daytime television and drawing the dole while your diminishing band of overweight offspring shoot up in their classrooms.’ Rant indeed and triumphalist at that!
But how much truth? Certainly there is amazing economic energy in modern Ireland. The first generation of young people since the famine have been able to make their lives at home. 10% of the Irish population is now non-Irish. Infrastructure has been transformed. The power of the Catholic church has been broken – the confessional state is no more.
By comparison, Scotland seems a bit dull and shapeless. I am still looking, without success, for politics which would fire my interest. There are some dreadful areas of deprivation.
But Ireland, whose children helped to build America, now looks quite American itself. The new Dublin suburbs sprawl like Los Angeles. There is no limit to how far you can rise or to how far you can fall. When my elderly aunt came out of hospital last year we found that there is no community social service provision for the elderly. Not just that it is inadequate. It doesn’t exist. The Irish rural landscape is scarred by overdevelopment – some of it facilitated by political corruption. The population of the Irish Republic voted overwhelmingly for the Belfast Agreement – but there is still some ambivalence about politically motivated violence around.
It’s moat and beam time again.