When leaders of the world’s eight largest economies convene in Northern Ireland next month for a summit of the G8, they’ll be surrounded by fictitious prosperity. As the Irish Times’ Dan Keenan explained to Public Radio International on Wednesday, the town of Enniskillen is erecting facades over vacant storefronts to simulate active businesses in a place Keenan says “has suffered terribly as a result of the credit crisis and the resulting recession.”
In all, Keenan reported in the Times, “More than 100 properties within range of the sumptuous Lough Erne resort which hosts the world’s wealthiest leaders, have been tidied up, painted or power-hosed.” The effort covers up the grimmer reality of a place more vulnerable to austerity than much of the rest of the United Kingdom, where child poverty is substantially higher than in the rest of the country. After three years of harmful austerity under Prime Minister David Cameron, the G8 summit will be the first shot of stimulus County Fermanagh’s economy has received in a long time. The Toronto Star puts the hoped-for spending injection at just under $60 million U.S., but notes that Toronto’s experience hosting a G20 summit in 2010 cost many times that much, and left “scars” on the city.
Like much of Europe, Northern Ireland faces cripplingly high unemployment, with nearly one in four young people out of work. That’s driven partly by what Keenan calls “the demise of the Celtic Tiger,” a reference to the economic collapse in the neighboring Republic of Ireland. The “Celtic Tiger” moniker was coined in the 1990s as the Irish economy boomed. Conservative proponents of supply-side economics, including think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute, and American Enterprise Institute, and then-presidential candidates Mitt Romney and John McCain, credited tax cuts, spending reductions, and “Reagan-style” policy for Ireland’s prosperity.
But then Ireland went bankrupt in 2010. It accepted a bailout, which meant imposing strict austerity measures that have kept the economy so mired that young Irish are emigrating in droves to search for jobs. In retrospect, the supposed exemplar of low-tax high-growth conservative economics was a mirage. Ireland became a tax haven – the country is key to the tax avoidance strategies of companies like Google and Apple – without establishing core economic and employment growth.
Nearly three years on from its bailout and the ensuing about-face from conservative economic pundits, the Celtic Tiger’s next door neighbor is covering empty butcher shops and pharmacies in stickers that simulate the look of an active business, just in time for the international news crews.