Celtic way of life cannot compare with lure of East


The siren call of the Irish economic miracle is an alluring one and I can testify that it reaches as far as the villages nestled by the sea in Hong Kong's New Territories.

It was there that my Dublin born wife and I lived in relative comfort for six years before deciding to return to Europe, with an eye on the opportunities offered by the Celtic Tiger.

Two months later, we are packing our bags and heading East. So what went wrong?

We all know there is a shortage of skilled workers. Sure enough, we landed in Dublin on October 11th and on October 12th I was sitting in the offices of The Irish Times earning my keep as a freelance sub-editor.

So why was I suddenly feeling that my quality of life had fallen through the floor?

Leaving aside the niggles of adjustment - like trying to get a social security number without a fixed address, the poor quality of food in Dublin, and the ridiculous price of drink and entertainment - it just didn't feel like the city offered value for money.

The Government tells me I have a lower tax burden than comparable economies. It pulls out statistics to show how better off I am here than in Britain, my country of birth.

Really? But what do I get for my tax? As a chronic asthmatic, I have to make regular visits to a GP - for which I pay the same as I paid in Hong Kong , a low tax, low-benefits society. In Britain these trips are free. My medicine costs are higher here than in Britain - where it is based on fixed prescription charges - or in Hong Kong, where I can buy it on an open market. What about transport infrastructure? For my daily commute from Drumcondra, the bus takes approximately 20 minutes. I can walk it in 30 and by bike the journey is 10 minutes. As for travelling at night, you might as well forget it: the transport nightmare imposes a virtual curfew on me.

Dublin feels like a city built for 500,000 people, bursting at the seams with one million.

There isn't even the satisfaction of knowing my tax contributes to an effective policy to reduce the social inequities that threaten to tear this economic miracle to pieces.

High income taxes as a disguised subsidy for corporate profits are a key source of dissatisfaction when friends tell me of the discrimination and poverty faced by inner city children and the travelling community.

The structural rigidities of Irish working life are another source of dissatisfaction. This doesn't just stem from the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness - which constrains all our wages - but from the restrictive working practices within the national culture.

A journalist in Ireland commands a decent, middle-class wage. Unfortunately, it is about half that paid in Asia - and taxes in the Republic are about twice as high.

It may be that Irish wages are matching global rates in some sectors but this is certainly not true across the board.

Of course, working in Asia means working much harder. There is no clock-watching, there is no demarcation between jobs, there are no barriers put in place to the introduction of new technologies.

For me, working here risks eroding the skills and knowledge built up over years, and the market edge that brings me as an employee.

In the meantime, the soaring property market is eroding what exactly it means to have a middle-class income. Part of the equation that makes up the Irish quality of life that is supposed to attract skilled workers includes decent housing: a family home fit for starting a family.

Should my wife and I want to start a family and live - albeit temporarily - on one of our wages, we would find it nearly impossible to finance a mortgage, let alone maintain anything remotely resembling the standard of living we have come to expect.

So, we are going to Singapore, to bask in the all-year sun and think how lucky we are to be working in a technology-savvy country, paying 12 per cent in taxes and, should we wish to start a family, knowing we will do so with the help of generous childcare allowances and subsidised creches.