Monday, 7 November 2011

A Tale of Two Countries

Same country, actually. Ireland. I had a full day in Dublin: a lecture to CARDI (Centre for Ageing Research and Development Ireland), a meeting at the Department of Health, and a lovely occasion at Trinity College Dublin. This full day gave me a glimpse of the two Irelands.

The first is the suddenly poor country that had previously grown rich by people lending each other other people’s money. People were feeling rich, their houses kept going up in value, price actually. They were rich … until the bubble burst. The signs of new riches are everywhere to see in Dublin: the tarting up of the riverside, the new bridges, the buildings in the financial sector, the splendid Terminal 2 at Dublin Airport.

But then came the crisis. The figures below show huge drops in expenditure and decline in GDP and GNP in 2009. They have a long way to come back. And unemployment is at 14.3%.
What the figures show, people feel. The usual informants, car drivers, say that they have never known it so bad. Going hungry and emigration were supposed to be part of Ireland’s sorry history not their bold new present. It is hard to believe that health inequalities will not be a casualty of all this.

On the other hand – there always is another hand – I had a very positive meeting at the Department of Health with the CMO, a minister of health, Ms Roisin Shortall, and others. The question I had been posed was should Ireland do a Marmot Review? The concern was that it was time consuming and expensive in terms of money and intellectual resource. My suggestion was that they take our English Review and adapt it to the Irish context. I’m hopeful.

The second Ireland was captured by Trinity College Dublin. Its enduring beauty is part of the point. The occasion was the award of 6 doctorates honoris causa to, among others, Lord Darzi, Parveen Kumar and me. Trinity has seen so many ups and downs in its 400+ years that, although the current economic mess has to be tolerated, it will not drag this great institution down. The award of honorary doctorates was part of the 300 year anniversary celebrations of the medical school. The occasion was so special because it was to celebrate scholarship. Despite all the push for academic life to contribute to the GDP, for students to see a degree as an economic investment, here was the University spending an afternoon and evening celebrating scholarship. Relevance was not ruled out, but contribution to knowledge and academic pursuits was the whole point. Wonderful.

Trinity’s public orator, a Professor of Latin, wrote the plaudits for the honorary graduands in Latin and recited them with rhetorical flourish. She stole the show. She had, though, strong competition from Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, who is now the Chancellor of Trinity College Dublin, who put everyone at their ease with her genuine warmth and grace.

From the quarterly Economic Survey ESRI
                                2009                       2010                       2011(up to summer)
Real annual Growth %)
Private Consumer Expenditure

Public Net Current Expenditure


Gross Domestic Product (GDP)

Gross National Product (GNP)

(Annual Growth %)
Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices (HICP)

Consumer Price Index (CPI)

Wage Growth


Unemployment Rate (as % of Labour Force)


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