That is No Country For Old Men

Preliminary figures from Ireland’s 2006-2011 census were posted online in April. The results are astounding with regard to housing construction and population growth and decline.

The dark blue and blue areas on this map of Ireland depicts areas where 20% to 25% of dwellings are vacant.

The dark green and light green areas show where 10% to 20% of the homes are vacant.

Yellow depicts 0% of vacant dwellings.

According to the 2006-2011 Irish Census online, “Housing numbers (dwellings) have increased more rapidly than total population between 2006 and 2011, with a 13.3 per cent increase in dwellings compared with 8.1 per cent for the population.”

The census statistics show a remarkable phenomenon that brought the Celtic Tiger, Ireland’s once booming economy, to its knees. Property developers ignored the age old adage of “supply and demand,” and built houses without knowing if a demand existed.

The census states that,  “The number of dwellings increased by 234,562 from 1,769,613 in 2006 to 2,004,175 in 2011, representing an annual average increase of 46,912.”

Almost 50,000 homes were built in Ireland over a five year period.The Census reported that there were 294,202 vacant units that were habitable in Ireland.

Add to this the fact that inward migration to Ireland started to increase in 2002.

People began to return in small numbers starting in 1991. Between 2002 and 2006 net inward migration to Ireland averaged 47, 800 per year. Then the turnaround came, early signs of an end to the Celtic Tiger’s growth. Starting in 2006 the population declined and continued to do so.

Between 2006 and  2011  almost twenty five thousand people  left Ireland. It was the first population decline since 1991. Previous migrations ‘en masse’ occurred in the seventies and eighties and previously in the fifties and sixties.  The record low according to the 2011 Census findings was a staggering 44,000 leaving the country in 1989.

Going back to the housing situation; a 13.3 per cent increase in dwellings compared with 8.1 per cent for the population, who were they building these houses for? Property developers cashed in during the population boom and continued to cash in when the decline in population was apparent. Politicians and bankers turned a blind eye because they all benefited financially. Over 250,000 houses lie empty or unfinished in Ireland. Despite some well meaning pressure groups wanting to house the homeless, other uses that are regularly mentioned for the now-closed hotels, empty offices and ghost estates are nursing homes, hospitals, schools, community centers and prisons according to an article in The Irish Times. The common solution to half finished houseing estates is to tear them down and return to farming the land.

In the aftermath of the 82 billion Euro IMF bailout agreement for Ireland, those same politicians, property developers and bankers are now living abroad, in million dollar homes. Sean Dunne now lives in Greenwich CT, after NAMA, the National Asset  Management Agency of Ireland acquired €350 million Euros  of Mr Dunne’s loans from Irish banks.

Banker David Drumm lived a luxurious and quiet life in Chatham on Cape Cod, Massachusetts until karma caught up with him.

An Taoiseach, Irish Prime Minister,  Bertie Ahern in 2008 resigned amid financial scandals to be replaced by Brian Cowen. Each man was being paid more than the president of the United States whilst in public office. According to an article by  the Associated Press in 2007,

“Prime Minister Bertie Ahern gave himself a hefty pay increase Thursday, putting his salary higher than both President Bush and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Ahern, Ireland’s leader since 1997, will see his annual salary rise 14 percent to $444,000,  more than Bush ($400,000), Brown ($387,000) and a host of other European leaders.”

The Taoiseach’s salary has led to ongoing discussions and presently much needed cuts. Harry McGee of the Irish Times said it correctly in 2010,

“The Irish elite have big notions about themselves.”

For a small country where do they think all this money is coming from? The new taxes imposed on the Irish left in Ireland will cripple the economy, the mass exodus of Ireland’s  young will leave an older generation to steer the tax heavy sinking ship.

All of these factors help to fulfill the first line of William Butler Yeats’ Sailing to Byzantium, “That is no country for old men.”


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