At rank 14, Ireland’s status performance has clearly decreased (SGI 2009: rank 10).
As a consequence there is a contrast between the generally upbeat summary provided in 2007 and the much more somber assessment that is called for in 2010.
Over the period in review, Ireland’s economic situation deteriorated dramatically. The dimension of the current economic crisis is still frightening. A bail-out was necessary in November.
One of the few positive achievements during this period was the successful campaign on the second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.
Ireland has a democracy of high quality (rank 8).
The electoral process is fair and does not overtly discriminate against parties or groups. Public and private media are wholly independent of government, and for a country of just four million people, the variety of print, radio and TV media in Ireland is striking.
Expert ratings for civil rights protection are among the highest in the OECD. By and large, government and administrative units act in accordance with known rules.
The political system came under severe strain during the review period. Although the transition to new leadership following Prime Minister Bertie Ahern’s resignation in April 2008 was smooth, the new government was doomed to falter in the wake of the economic and financial crisis.
During the review period, Ireland suffered its worst economic setback in more than 60 years. In all economic criteria, Ireland suffered huge losses relative to the SGI 2009.
Poor policy decisions and the weak management of problems have aggravated the Irish crisis. Chief among these was the failure of the Irish financial regulatory system to take corrective action to the credit-fueled property boom.
Plummeting confidence in the Irish economy has been stemmed somewhat by the introduction of austerity measures.
Ireland ranks 15th in the SGI’s social affairs category.
During the country’s boom years, the benefits of economic growth were not spread evenly. Growth in social expenditure has lifted many in Ireland out of poverty, but the steep rise in unemployment bought this trend to an end.
Health care is a subject of considerable controversy. Despite widespread criticism, politicians point to progress manifest in a rationalization of care and improved services.
Women are underrepresented in politics and business leadership positions. Recent reforms have offered new support for two-career families.
Traditional a country of emigrants, Ireland’s boom years transformed it into a high net recipient of immigration. However, recession drove a return to net emigration after 2008.
External security is not a major issue in Irish policy-making or political debates. Military spending is low relative to GDP (less than 0.5%) and minimal in absolute amounts. Ireland cultivates close relationships with the UK and the USA in particular. Ireland’s armed forces have in recent years been active in UN deployments.
Since security threats posed by groups such as the IRA have dissipated, concerns regarding internal security issues have faded. Nonetheless, there have been violent incidents in Northern Ireland in 2009 and 2010. The rise of organized crime and “gangland” activities related to the drugs trade is currently the biggest single threat to internal security.
At rank 21, Ireland’s record on resource sustainability has worsened somewhat relative to the SGI 2009.
The country has implemented a wide range of measures aimed at protecting and preserving the environment. In 2007, a national environmental program was designed to comply with EU goals in this area.
Support for R&D and innovation figures prominently from a rhetorical perspective. However, the most striking success of Irish industrial policy has been in the attraction of foreign-owned firms in various high-tech sectors to Ireland.
Confidence in the merits of the educational system faltered as the boom turned into bust, unemployment levels soared and the inflow of foreign investment stalled. The costs of high dropout rates during the growth years are now becoming evident.