One of the poorest states in the European Union during the 1980s, the Republic of Ireland's economy has grown rapidly in the 1990s, despite an overwhelming dependence on foreign capital. Echoing the "tiger" economies of East Asia, this has led many to dub Ireland the Celtic Tiger. In this critique by one of Ireland's leading economists, Denis O'Hearn sets Ireland's economic success in an international context and contrasts and compares its growth with the other "tiger" economies. He addresses some difficult but crucial questions, such as whether Ireland's apparent success is self-sustaining and what lessons can be learned from the downturn of the comparable East Asian economies. The study focuses on the importance for Ireland's rising economy of three US-led industrial sectors - computers, electrical engineering and pharmaceuticals.
O'Hearn assesses who wins and who loses from such foreign capital-led growth - in the context of working conditions, poverty, consumption and inequality - and argues that the country's apparently significant economic achievements are dominated by growth in corporate profits and professional incomes, but that there is no evidence, as yet, of "trickle-down" to other sectors.
Denis O'Hearn is a Reader in Sociology at The Queen's University of Belfast. He is a former Fulbright Professor at University College Dublin and an Associate Professor of Sociology at The University of Wisconsin, Madison. He is editor of the Irish Journal of Sociology (USA) and has written widely on economic development for a range of Irish and US journals.