Belfast Telegraph

Republic of Ireland second richest in EU despite crippling downturn

By Aideen Sheehan

Despite plummeting house prices, spiralling dole queues and soaring debt levels, the Republic of Ireland was the second richest country in Europe on paper last year, according to a new report.

The country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) -- the measure of all goods and services produced in the country -- plunged by over 11pc last year.

But per head of population it was was second only to Luxembourg and remained 31pc higher than the EU average, the Central Statistic Office's 'Measuring Ireland's Progress 2009' report found.

The report relates to GDP per capita, a blunt measurement where all the goods and services produced in a country is divided by the number of people living in the country.

But when GNI (Gross National Income) or domestically produced wealth only is measured the country's ranking falls to number 10 in the EU.

Average GNI per person is now back to €31,300, almost the same as in 2001, and down from a high of €37,200 in 2001.

The report, which also measures social and environmental trends, highlighted the impact of the recession with Ireland's 14.2pc budget deficit the largest of any EU member state and government debt surging from 25pc in 2007 to 64pc last year, though still lower than the EU average of 74pc.

The Republic was one of just three countries in Europe where prices fell last year, but this was from an overpriced starting point as the second most expensive country in the EU in 2008.

And over the last decade the country has seen a "significant deterioration in price competitiveness vis-a-vis our main trading partners", the CSO said.

Irish workers were a third more productive than their EU counterparts although this was partly because they worked longer hours, while employment levels fell from 69pc in 2007 to 60pc last year, and at 12pc and growing our unemployment rate was the sixth highest in the EU.

But, surprisingly, the number of people living in consistent poverty -- which is defined as not being able to afford basics such as new clothes, adequate heating or a substantial meal -- fell from 5.1pc in 2007 to 4.2pc in 2008, and the number of children in this category also fell from 7.5pc to 6.1pc.

On the social front the country enjoyed a number of advantages as it has the lowest divorce rate, the highest birth rate and the youngest population.

Student numbers increased in 2009, and 45pc of people aged 25-34 now have a third-level qualification, the second-highest in the EU. School drop-out rates are better than average in Ireland but pupil-teacher ratios were high compared to other countries.

The homicide rate fell back from a high of 84 murders and manslaughters in 2007 to 55 in 2008, while sexual offences fell by a fifth since 2004, but there was a surge in other crimes, particularly controlled drug offences which more than doubled.

Irish people are living longer than ever before with a life expectancy of 76.8 for men and 81.6 for women, very close to the average across Europe.


Irish Independent

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