Tourism key to hopes of revival
Tourism and shopping could rescue the Irish economy from crisis, a minister has claimed, after official figures showed home-grown companies once again hit by a dramatic slump.
While the overall economy grew 1.3% at the start of the year the domestic sector declined by 4.3%, prompting Finance Minister Michael Noonan to call for a consumer spending splurge.
"The focus was on the tourist industry and of course what we really need is for people to go into the shops and start buying again," he said.
"If that starts, with tourists visiting our shores stimulating the retail side, and is followed by our own ordinary citizens going about their shopping and beginning to spend again, then we begin to lift out of the crisis."
Despite the three-month slump in gross national product, overall growth, measured by gross domestic product and including the huge multinational sector, is the biggest quarterly boost for the economy since the end of 2007.
According to official revisions by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) for last year, the overall economy contracted by 0.4% but the Irish-owned sector grew by 0.3%. Preliminary CSO estimates in March warned it shrank by 1% but it is still the second worst performance in the euro zone after Greece.
Mr Noonan said the figures were encouraging and dismissed suggestions the domestic economy was in freefall.
But trade unionists remained unimpressed, claiming the sudden slump in the first three months of the year demonstrated that budget cuts and tax rises in three austerity budgets have pushed the country to the limit.
Paul Sweeney, economic adviser with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, said cuts have crippled the domestic economy.
"It is choking off demand, closing businesses and costing us jobs," Mr Sweeney said. "Even the most ideological of zealots must now concede that the programme is self-defeating as it is killing that which it purports to try and save."