DUBLIN — Irish political punditry has long been something of an echo-chamber, so it was not much of a surprise when a tired default acronym got another airing over the past few weeks. “GUBU”, coined by the late Conor Cruise O’Brien, former UN diplomat, Irish government minister and editor of The Observer, stands for “Grotesque, Unbelievable, Bizarre and Unprecedented.” There is nothing, however, unprecedented about its over-use, as the acronym is invariably fired out whenever something controversial or unusual takes place in Irish politics. Inevitably, GUBU is the shorthand of choice, irrespective of hyperbole or appropriateness. The bizarre death-throes of the current government led by Brian Cowen and his party, Fianna Fáil, are as close to GUBU as Ireland has seen since the term first entered the political lexicon back in 1982 – when Ireland’s economy was spinning through another crisis.
DUBLIN – Europe is becoming a new horizon for China’s business-based diplomacy, less than a year after the European Union overtook the US to become China’s second-largest trading partner. Chinese investment expansion is increasingly turning to Europe, and it is finding a grateful audience. Last September, before the arrival of the International Monetary Fund and an €85 billion bailout offer-you-can’t-refuse for the economy once known as the Celtic Tiger, Ireland Prime Minister Brian Cowen tried to sell Chinese investors on the proposition that the country could be a low-tax Anglophone gateway to Europe. After meeting with a Politburo delegation in Dublin, Cowen said that China’s representatives had vowed to be “as helpful as they can to a friend like Ireland in the difficult times that we have.” That friendship appears to include a consortium of Chinese investors who are starting work on “an investment gateway to Europe” – an industrial park in central Ireland.
DUBLIN — While doing research on folk beliefs in Ireland in the early 20th century, an American anthropologist asked an elderly woman if she believed in fairies. “No, I do not, sir,” came the seemingly decisive reply. End of story? Not a chance. “However, they are there anyway,” the lady continued, perhaps wryly trying to make fun of her overly-earnest interlocutor. This well known anecdote might in fact be apocryphal, and though the supernatural is long gone from Irish popular culture, there is a mystical tinge to the country’s recent economic boom-to-bust saga. From the mid-1990s to 2007, Ireland’s economic growth changed a nation of emigrants into one where around 10 percent of the population were recently arrived immigrants, many from Eastern Europe. Growth ranged from 5-10 percent over a 15-year period and Ireland acquired the “Celtic Tiger” moniker after a Morgan Stanley economist compared the transformation of the North Atlantic island with the Asian Tiger economies of South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan. Since 2008, however, Ireland’s GDP has contracted by 14 percent and its unemployment rate is now around the same percentage. One Asian country that was never close to joining the Tiger ranks was Burma. The country’s military rulers are known for their attachment to bizarre economic thinking, some of it apparently based on numerology or other esoteric notions.
The tale could begin, “During the short reign of the Ritalin King cameth the downturn. . . .” During his six-month EU presidency, Nicolas Sarkozy laced into any number of challenges with a typically hyperactive gusto and self-importance. The spirit of the Sun King may have been whispering in Sarko’s ear, as he put his own stamp on Louis XIV’s famous motto…”L’Europe, c’est moi.” When time came to pass the EU crown to Prague, the Frenchman threatened to boycott the handover, after unsuccessfully pushing for self-serving alternatives to existing EU mechanisms.
SINGAPORE — Two of the world’s most open and successful economies face tough times as the global downturn marks the end of one era and opens a new period of peril and possibility for both. Singapore and Ireland have staked their fortunes on being small, export-oriented, investor-friendly dynamos. Singapore was one of the original Asian Tiger economies, and the label passed to the Atlantic nation in the 1990s, as 15 years of 5 percent average growth earned Ireland its “Celtic Tiger” reputation. But as Kishore Mahbubani, a former Singapore diplomat and author of The New Asian Hemisphere – The Irresistible Shift of Power to the East, told The Washington Times, “being globalized has its downside – when the world economy stutters, the more open economies feel the pain first.” Both Singapore and Ireland are officially in recession, defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth. Last week, U.S. computer giant Dell Inc. culled 2,000 jobs at its plant in Limerick in the west of Ireland, while Singapore’s Trade Ministry stated Jan. 2 that it expected the economy to contract 2 percent in 2009, the worst predicted performance of any Asian economy for the coming year.