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Monday 30 January 2023 Dublin: 5°C
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Analysis Let's hear it for Ireland's success on our 100th birthday - we’ve come a long way
On the centenary of the formation of the Irish State, author Mark Henry says Ireland is one of the very best countries in which to live today.

ONE HUNDRED YEARS ago today, 26 counties of Ireland seceded from the United Kingdom and the Irish Free State was born. Let’s take a moment to celebrate our success on our big birthday.

Ireland has not just taken her place amongst the nations of the world, she has taken her place among the leading nations. We now regularly place amongst the top 10 or 20 countries in any league table that matters.

We are one of the most highly educated people. Nearly two-thirds of those aged 25 to 34 years have a third-level qualification. Only Japan, South Korea, Canada and Luxembourg have a higher proportion.

We have doubled the number of people in employment over the past 30 years with growth that has exceeded that of practically every other EU country. And more than four-in-10 of those jobs are high-skilled, contributing to significant increases in take-home pay over the years even allowing for inflation.

Equality and improvements

Female participation in the labour force has risen to record levels, aided by post-Covid flexible working arrangements that enable better work-life balance. Ireland is ranked as the ninth-best country in the world in gender equality and is one of only a dozen nations where women have attained gender parity in the law.

Rising employment and government income supports have helped reduce poverty hugely. Of course we need to do more to help the four percent who remain in consistent poverty, but this is the lowest percentage since records began.

We have built a well-working, modern republic that delivers for its citizens. In fact, we are ranked the seventh most democratic nation on the planet by the Economist Intelligence Unit, and one of only 21 that they consider ‘full democracies’.

Our rule of law is judged to be the 10th strongest of any country; corruption levels are amongst the lowest anywhere; we have the sixth freest media in the world; our personal, economic and human freedoms are amongst the greatest anywhere; and we are the third most peaceful place in which to live after Iceland and New Zealand.

We have every reason to be proud of what we have achieved. It has been a collective effort by our politicians, our civil servants, teachers, health workers, business owners, charities, volunteers, and so many others. Indeed, every voter has played their part in making this a stable democracy.

And we are generally content with what we have built. Eight-in-ten of us is satisfied with how democracy works in Ireland today – one of the highest levels of satisfaction in any democracy. And 97 per cent of us agree that we are happy living here. That makes us the third happiest peoples in Europe, behind only the Danes and the Swedes.

None of this is to say that we have reached utopia. There are many challenges facing us as we enter our second century, of course.

A lot done…

We have grown economically without due cognisance of the environmental impact, resulting in carbon emission levels that are the third highest in the EU and significant biodiversity loss.

Our housing shortage risks undermining the social cohesiveness that has motivated us to build a society that works for the many, not the few. And government investment in higher education per student is half what it was before the austerity years – contributing to most of our universities dropping down the global rankings in recent years.

In seeking solutions to address these issues and improving our citizens’ quality of life, we should turn to the Nordic nations for inspiration. It is our near neighbours to the north who excel in the global league tables of citizens’ well-being.

For most of our first century, we were focused on establishing our independence from the UK and obsessed with comparing ourselves to our former lords and masters. Such a comparison today is simply unwarranted: Ireland now surpasses the UK on what matters.

We live a year longer than the British and are far more likely to describe our personal health as good. Our economic wealth per person exceeds theirs. Fewer of our people are in poverty and we have far lower levels of income inequality. We are more highly educated. Our media is deemed far freer. And we are far more satisfied with how our democracy operates.

We are also using our success to help the development of other nations. Ireland has been deemed amongst the very ‘goodest’ countries in what we have given back to the world. We are a significant contributor of overseas development assistance to the world’s poorest, and we have an unrivalled record in United Nations peacekeeping.

Birthdays are a time for celebration and for reflecting on our positive achievements. Let’s celebrate what our country has done for us and what we have done for our country. We have got a lot right. Let’s take the time today to raise a glass to that.

Mark Henry is the author of ‘In Fact: An Optimist’s Guide to Ireland at 100’. See www.markhenry.ie for more.

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