This has been a momentous year for Ireland, and as 2017 draws to a close we look back at the many changes and events that have happened in the past 12 months.
- Storm Ophelia
Ireland was captivated in October when news that the worst storm in 50 years was coming our direction. Storm Ophelia closed the country for 24 hours with most employers sensibly sending their workers home. The authorities reacted in a coordinated fashion with the meteorological, emergency and government services all working in unison.
The south and west appeared to be worst hit, with estimates of damage of between €500m and €800m. Media reports suggested 27% of respondents to a survey indicated that their local area was impacted by Ophelia. Of those who said they were affected, 51% in the Munster region said they were left without power. While impacted, the level of damage in Dublin and other areas was considerably lower.
- Economic Growth Continuing
Irelands economy continued to strengthen throughout 2017, with all main indicators pointing upwards. This was evident by increased tax revenues, lower unemployment rates, and strong economic growth across most sectors. Property, energy, financial services and technology all led the way. The Central Bank forecasts that the jobless rate will continue to fall and as a country we are at or near full employment.
While obviously desirable this increases the challenges around securing the additional workers to continue the growth. However, return of Irish emigrants from abroad coupled with immigration is helping to address these challenges.
Ireland attracted some negative headlines during the year, for example in respect of the Apple taxes, however it appears to have mostly weathered the negative headlines by the year end and 2018 is looked forward to with optimism.
- Political and Social
At a local level there was a changing of the political guard with a new Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, taking over from Enda Kenny.
The concern in respect of housing and some ongoing enquiries cast a cloud on the political environment. Social initiatives continue apace in 2017. Uppermost was a continuing drive toward gender equality in the political, business and sporting worlds.
Internationally there was continued interest in Donald Trump’s twitter account and his various initiatives, domestically and internationally. Towards the year end a new US tax bill was passed introducing lower corporate taxes and also providing incentives to US business to transfer overseas profits and cash back to the US. These are consistent with his key election promise of putting the US first. Furthermore, on the international scene there was continued heightened tension with North Korea.
After considerable deliberations at European level, a political deal was recently agreed allowing Brexit negotiations move into phase two. One of the main concerns was and continues to be the implications in respect of the Irish border. Arguably this has proven to be one of the greatest challenges facing the North and South of Ireland in recent years.
With no overall majority the position of the UK government is vulnerable in respect of its strategy around Brexit and considerable work remains. A key debate has opened up surrounding the type of Brexit. Will it be a soft Brexit with the UK potentially staying within the customs union and single market? Or a hard Brexit with a need to renegotiate trade agreements unilaterally, the jury is out.
While much of the attention in Ireland has focused on the negatives, there are also opportunities which we should not lose sight of. Ireland can become an attractive base as an entry point into the EU market and act as a bridge between the EU and the UK.
Rapid developments in technology continued throughout 2017. Key headlines included concerns around data protection, GDPR, bitcoin and cryptocurrencies. The continued attractiveness of Ireland as a base for technology investment was impacted in the short term by the ongoing debate around Apple, however the media have moved on to other matters as the year closed out.
As we are look forward to 2018 we are hoping to maintain our economy’s momentum and continue to be one of Europe’s fastest-growing economies.