Ireland: The land of the lost perspective
Why can’t we just be pleased about the latest the UN development rankings?
Here we are in the United Nations Development Programme index, with only Norway, Switzerland and Australia ahead of us and Germany behind us at number five.
The Taoiseach retweeted an international report on Sunday. And yes, of course the content was positive; otherwise he wouldn’t have pushed it out to his 173,000 followers. That’s hardly the fault of the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), an organisation that does what we have always demanded. Rather than using slippery GDP growth statistics as the sole measure of a country’s wellbeing, it uses human development markers such as availability of health, education, a decent income, a people’s freedoms and opportunities.
Now prepare to be astounded. Out of 189 countries and territories, Ireland came fourth. In fact, Ireland moved up 13 places in five years. So, reason for a quiet moment of . . . hope maybe?
“Propaganda”, snorted anonymous Christybones, first on the draw. “Yea man, the UN Development Programme are trying to keep Fine Gael in power. It’s all a conspiracy” responded Ross Frenett, a real person.
So that settled it? No. Unable to leave well alone, the Taoiseach had capped the UNDP tweet with his own cheerful message: “We have enormous challenges and lots of problems to solve but we should not forget that Ireland is a great country to live in and that we are very much on track to make it even better.” He scored over 200 replies but it wasn’t pretty. Like setting a match to tinder, in fact.
Our forested areas have grown by two thirds since 1990 and no one dies from unsafe water, sanitation or hygiene services
A small selection: “Lies”. “Fake news”. “Define great country. . . it must be the only country in the world where ur better off not working, rent allowance, medical card. . . or go to work, pay rent , pay medical, pay bills, try save for a mortgage (not that there are any to buy)”.
“Have you ever tried to actually live on welfare. The rent allowance is a joke. . .”
“There’s 10,000 people homeless and rising daily. . . ”
“So long as you are not hoping for help with learning difficulties.”
“Try suffering a heart attack in the southeast on a weekend. . .”
“Environmentally we are a disaster. . .”
“Why is the Moriarty report still gathering dust?” “Jesus Christ . . . the country is rotten to the core!”.
“188 children waiting on scoliosis surgery don’t completely agree. . .”
“. . . a Canadian commented on how great the Irish education system is. When I brought him up to speed he wasn’t as impressed”.
“Oh yea, it’s wonderful if you’re rich, if you don’t have to pay tax on your millions (billions) if you’re Apple or other multinationals.”
“You mean covert trials done on human subjects organ gland cartilage thieves. . .”
“So you are delivering pay equality in the next budget?”
“Define country? Never mind Great whilst six are still missing.”
“. . . He’s sneaking the migrants in rightly. Who voted for this?”
“I feel so tired and a bit like crying”, wrote a carer.
And so it continued.
Some might argue that it’s part of the Taoiseach’s job description to talk the country up. If he doesn’t tweet the good news, who will? Others insist he only gets what he deserves if he chooses to hit social media.
Yet here we are in the UNDP indices, with only Norway, Switzerland and Australia ahead of us and Germany behind us at number five. The figure for total debt servicing is missing alas, as is housing; significant omissions in Ireland’s case. But it tells us that our research and development expenditure could do with a boost; our gender inequality figures are poor; at 12.5 per cent in 2017, we had twice as many youths (15 -24 year olds) as our peers not in school or employment; our renewable energy usage is dire.
On the other hand, our forested areas have grown by two thirds since 1990, no one dies from unsafe water, sanitation or hygiene services and our death rate from household or ambient air pollution is lower than Denmark’s.
The odd thing is that we managed to hit that startling number four ranking despite the UNDP’s figures on Irish Government spending on health and education, measured as a percentage of GDP.
By this reckoning, between 2012- 2017, education spending seemed very low at 4.9 per cent compared to Norway and Sweden’s 7.7 , though it equalled Germany’s. Our health expenditure in 2015 was also significantly lower than our peers.
Since Irish GDP measurements are unreliable, Paul Goldrick-Kelly of the Nevin Economic Research Institute computing per capita levels of spending instead, concluded in a December 2017 blog that Ireland underspends its peers on social protection, defence, public order, environment and recreation/culture – but that it outspends them on general health, education and economic affairs – also on housing/community, which he puts down to a quirk related to spending on water supply. Or perhaps the vast amounts spent propping up a housing system without supply.
The UNDP has a good story to tell us about ourselves even if by no means the full story. The Taoiseach was right to tweet it – and to add his own glass-half-full message.
What this report tries to do is to give lend perspective. Looked at across decades, it says, progress is being made across the world. And still, a child born in Ireland today can expect to reach 82. In Sierra Leone, the child may reach 52. An Australian child can expect 22.9 years of schooling compared to 4.9 years for a child in South Sudan. This is perspective.