Will we learn our lesson?

Ireland can restore its wealth and confi dence but not by moaning about the good old days, writes William O’Brien.THEY SAY cats have nine lives. Tell that to the Celtic Tiger whose obituary continues to eat up column inches up and down the country. Such is the frequency with which we are faced with the usual platitudes relating to the lost ‘roar’ of the Celtic Tiger that it is beginning to feel like an Irish variant of Groundhog Day.celtictigerIt is time to stop deconstructing the past and instead focus on constructing the future. The worst thing this country could to is brood on the excesses and wastefulness of the last decade to the detriment of planning for the next. We will all live in the future but the past, it is said, is another country.Yet it seems the past is where many people are living. With job losses continuing to rise and employment prospects dwindling, harking back to the good old days has replaced the living-for-the-moment mentality that characterised the boom years. Such nostalgia acts like a crutch for reality – something to lean on when the banality or the gloominess of the here and now needs to be escaped.While nostalgia is set to dominate the Irish psyche for the foreseeable future, it is Ireland’s youth who are in many ways free from this ‘what-once-was’ mentality. Post-Celtic Tiger Ireland is only as bleak as the experiences that went beforehand.For many of the current generation of students and young people this experience did not manifest itself in fi ve-star hotels, helicopters to the horse-races, Michelin-starred restaurants, jaunts to Marbella twice a year, cocktails in the Ice Bar, and all the other over-the-top and certainly over-priced excesses of the last decade.Indeed, for many people, the Celtic Tiger was but a feline phantom, rarely seen but often heard.The Tiger economy created a consumerist mentality whereby the barometer for happiness and success was measured in material terms. Wealth was artifi cially generated through an inane reliance on the property market which in turn created a false sense of economic security leading to profl igate spending.Wealth is an inherently good thing that enables us to build roads, hospitals, schools and enjoy a better quality of life. But when it begins to consume the very fabric of a society then ceases to be a social benefi t and becomes a social drawback. Indeed, many would argue that the Celtic Tiger did more harm than good.Should this wealth return, will we squander it once again?That all depends on whether the mistakes made in the past are not repeated in the future. Less greed to make a quick buck and more focus on enduring values would make a difference. The time is ripe for a fresh start. In many ways we have no choice. The economic recovery will be long and diffi cult but eventually this country will rebound. The positives far outweigh the negatives despite the daily media apocalypse.The decisions made in the next few months by the Government will decide this country’s future. Ireland was on the verge of collapse in the 1950s when the former civil servant, T.K. Whitaker, came up with ‘Economic Development’ and lifted us out of the doldrums. More prescient thinking like that displayed by Whitaker is needed by the current generation of policy-makers.A renewed confi dence in Ireland’s ability to stride the world stage is also needed. It should not be confused with the arrogance, based upon a hollow property shell, which characterised the last decade.This confi dence can and should be embodied in the youth of Ireland. Many of Ireland’s students were immune from the excesses of the Celtic Tiger years. The only way to vaccinate against repeating these mistakes is to learn from the past. A generation which has a greater awareness of the real value of money and the important things in life may be no bad thing for society.It is a hard lesson to endure but it is one that, many years down the line when the economy gets back to normal, will not easily be forgotten.The descendant of the Celtic Tiger will eventually emerge out of the current mess created by national complacency, international myopia and a world in which globalisation has effectively overtaken itself.Post-Celtic Tiger Ireland will not be as kind to students but it is during times of hardship that people show their innovativeness, the perseverance and work-hardiness. Forget about the Celtic Tiger that was. Begin thinking of the Celtic Tiger that will be.Remember these months and years and why they came about. In doing so, the future will look that much brighter.