Sir, – Mark Henry's "clap on the back" for the Irish State in its first century of existence is missing just one thing, but a vital one – a comparison with other states, especially in Europe ("The Irish State has had unimaginable success in its first century", Opinion & Analysis, January 3rd).
For much of the century we lagged far behind others. In relative terms, Ireland was a less prosperous European state in 1950 than it was in the early 1900s. In 1910, we had a national product per capita ahead of Norway, Sweden, Italy and Finland. Between 1910 and 1970, we had the slowest growth of per capita income of any European country, except the UK. Whether we like it or not, independent Ireland until the 1990s was not by any stretch of imagination an economic or social success when compared to analogous countries. We did some things well in the early years (housing); some things appallingly (child protection); and some things not at all (a proper public and equal health system). For much of the period we exported our problems (unwanted pregnancies) and our people (the get-up-and-go ones got up and went) – to other jurisdictions.
We were largely an inward-looking race, docile under a deeply conservative clericalism that was never properly challenged or interrogated. If we now feel we might be basking in slightly sunnier uplands, it is precisely because of the contrast with all those dark, wasted decades.
Let’s not forget that. – Yours, etc,