by DESMOND FISHER.
STATISTICS are not always lies but they are nearly always boring. I don't know if the average reader is impressed by the statement that the average increase in Ireland's gross national product averaged 41 per cent between 1958 and 1962, with industry rising by about 7i per cent.
I think one must look to the changed atmosphere in Ireland to appreciate the significance of the minor economic revolution which has been achieved in that country in recent years.
A decade ago I remember writing depressing articles about what a Government Commission in Ireland had called the "atmosphere of helplessness and hopelessness" in which the country had been gripped.
There was no incentive to work. A dreary cycle of inflation and deflation had made steady economic progress impossible. Emigration was siphoning oft' the youth of the country at the rate of 60,000 a year. More people were leaving the country than were being replaced by the natural increase of births over deaths.
Even the most casual visitor to Ireland today can sense the change. New houses dot the countryside and ring the towns. Irish people today are, I think, better housed than the English.
More and more motor-cars are coming on to the roads, so that a trip across Dublin can be as frustrating as a journey through central I.ondon.
Motor through the Irish countryside on a Sunday morning and you will he surprised at the long lines of cars outside the churches. Every farmer seems to have his car, and every farmhouse its gaunt television mast.
But it is in the attitude of the Irish people themselves that one notices the greatest change. I remember years ago talking to an Irishman settled in London. He told me he had given up going to Ireland for his annual holiday.
"1 got tired of seeing the same men in the same jobs, at the same pay, year after year. Nothing had changed except that they had another child more every year."
Now the economic situation has improved. Jobs are more plentiful, though they are rising at a rate only sufficient to absorb the migration from the land. Wages and salaries are better. People are well clothed, well fed, well housed.
Of course, there is grumbling and complaint. But it is not the hopeless defeatism of a decade ago. The complaints have a constructive core. They are aimed at improving the situation, not merely a cry of helplessness.
The signs of progress are many. One of the most significant is that there is now a steady stream of workers going hack to Ireland from Britain. In the last three months, four of my closest friends in London have gone back to jobs in Dublin.
Admittedly these are subjective reasonings. And this is why we must continually fall back on the statistics. What do they show In 1963 the total value of Irish exports reached a record level of £196.2m. This was £22.2m. (11.3%) above the corresponding figure for 1962 and £15.9m. (8.8%) above 1961, hitherto the record year.
Live animals, foodstuffs and manufactured goods all contributed to the 1963 increase.
A spokesman for the Irish Export Board commented: "Economic conditions at home and abroad coupled with the 1963 export record give ground for optimism in assessing pros
pects for 1964, total exports in which are likely to reach a figure of £2 Om.4215m."
A significant feature of the 1963 export achievement was a further increase in the value of manufactured goods in the nonfood and drink categories. In the first 10 months of the year (the last period for which detailed figures are available), these exports were valued at £36m. as compared with £30m. in the corresponding period for 1962. The full 12 months of 1963 will almost certainly have produced a record figure of over £40m. Ten years ago comparable exports were worth a mere £5m./£6m.
The contrast underlines the growing importance of industrial production and industrial exports in the economic life of I reland—a country whose industrial development started no later than 30 years ago and which up to quite recent years exported few industrial products other than manufactured foodstuffs, drink and a few traditional items such as tweed and linen.
Today Ireland's industrial exports feature a growing range of products including clothing and other textile manufactures, footwear, leather, machinery and metal manufactures, paper and printed matter, petroleum products, medical and pharmaceutical goods, cement and other building materials, glassware and furniture.
So far, so good. But, one may justifiably ask, will this rate of progress be maintained ? How will Ireland face up to the economic difficulties ahead ?
It is very hard to predict. Certainly it is quite clear that Ireland faces some very real obstacles to further economic progress. At this moment, very important talks are going on in London between Britain and her main meat suppliers.
Ireland is one of these; indeed, the Irish economy depends largely on the sale of cattle to Britain.
Any tampering with this trade could have very serious effects on Ireland. Recent British action to regulate imports of bacon and butter shows that Irish exports can be severely hit. Reduction of cattle exports could be disastrous to the country's economy.
On a larger scale. the failure of Ireland's bid to enter the Common Market is causing continued concern. Since Ireland takes half her imports from Britain and sells her two-thirds of her exports. there is no hope of entering the Common Market without Britain.
But as long as she remains outside the Common Market, Ireland is largely prevented from increasing her European exports since her potential markets are within the EEC.
At the same time, the EFTA countries offer her no outlet for her exports, which are largely agricultural. Indeed, EFTA represents a threat rather than an opportunity.
For lreand is gradually losing her competitive status in the British market as Britain progressively removes the trading barriers against her EFTA partners.
Ireland is therefore finding it increasingly difficult both to survive in the British market and to find alternative markets in other countries. Despite that. the Government has taken courageous decisions. It is proceeding on the assumption that the country will eventually be admitted to the Common Market. In the meantime, everything will be done to ensure that, when that day comes, Ireland will be able to shoulder the economic obligations of membership.
So, the trade barriers which Ireland erected 30 years ago to protect her own infant industries are being dismantled. Already important tariffs have been reduced by 20 per cent. and the Government plans to continue the reductions in accordance with the schedule she would be faced with if she had joined the EEC.
To offset the damage to Irish firms, a thorough survey has been made of how different firms and industries are being affected. An elaborate programme for redeploying industry to meet the new trading conditions has been prepared.
Whether or not the drive can be continued depends on many factors—the future of the Common Market negotiations, the political developments in Europe, the political situation in Ireland.
It seems likely that both Britain and Ireland will fairly soon renew their applications for Common Market membership. it is anyone's guess what the outcome will be. At the same time, a general election is in the offing in both countries. Again the issue is uncertain.
But there is every indication that Ireland will be as successful in pushing her economic development in the next five years as she has been in the past five.
Modern Ireland has found her feet and is beginning to move forward. There is no reason why the first tentative steps cannot soon be transformed into strides.
It is confidence that enables a child to walk. Ireland is discovering that sort of confidence in herself.