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Resolutions for Ireland's future

Jan 08, 2021

It’s almost impossible to predict the economic forecast for 2021. However, there are steps we can all take to get Ireland back to living its best life. Neil Gibson explains.

When making resolutions, we inevitably start with great enthusiasm and, all too often, by February, our lives look just as they did before. With 2020 over, perhaps it is a good time to think about our collective resolutions, which will need to last well beyond January if we are to get Ireland back to living its best life.

Eat and drink more

Many hospitality businesses had their worst-ever year in 2020. As vaccines are introduced, thereby making it safer to be outside later in the year, it will be important to spend money in the hospitality sector. Treating yourself to a dessert in 2021 – you are doing it for the economy!

Get fit

Physical fitness improved for many people with time at home, while others went in the other direction. For almost everyone, mental health has been impacted due to feelings of isolation, loneliness, vulnerability and fragility. Tiredness and fatigue have become significant issues too. We need our healthcare system fit-for-purpose and our businesses sufficiently robust to survive. We all need to be adequately fit – physically, mentally and financially – to face whatever might come our way.

No backsliding

2020 revealed ways to work and live better. There is unlikely to be a desire to return to pre-COVID-19 congestion levels, and many digital ways of working are simply more efficient. Embracing these improvements to free-up time for the things we enjoy should be a goal.

Bring forward our goals

We now know how quickly policy can be implemented and what an emergency response looks like. However, we still have other emergencies at the door, so let’s be more ambitious on timelines. Achieving carbon neutrality is an obvious one, but there are others such as the housing crisis, rural broadband roll-out, and the delivery of Metro North.

Watch the spending

Our Government spent record amounts on our behalf in 2020. All very necessary and, so far, there is no great urgency to balance the books. There may well be a global debate about turning a portion of the costs into perpetual debt or a form of ‘great reset’ with debt we effectively owe to ourselves being forgiven. However, that cannot breed complacency over managing spend. Maybe, to coincide with the season’s theme, we need to resolve to make a list of what we need rather than want.

Plan for the future

Resolutions are often limited to things we can get stuck into in January. Real change takes longer and requires a new culture and attitude. There has been criticism from the Fiscal Council and others that recent spending decisions have built up expensive future problems. We need to keep an eye on the long-term vision. Does Ireland 2040 need to be revisited? Should corporates look again at their vision? The answer should be a resounding “yes” in both cases.

Be grateful for what we have

There are challenges ahead, but 2020 has allowed many to appreciate what truly matters in life. This may improve our appreciation of a broader range of jobs in our society; it will undoubtedly enhance our view of the importance of government. Firms that worked hard on purpose and culture saw those principles tested and, hopefully, strengthened. Community and a value on friends and colleagues are part of the culture shift that could potentially be the biggest lesson learnt.

At the heart of the word “resolution” is the concept of “resolve”. How apt that we need to be steadfast in our commitment to a better tomorrow. If we didn’t already know that real success is a mixture of economic, social and environmental progress, we do now. Ireland appears set to continue its strong economic performance. However, it will need similar strides in the other two dimensions to say with honesty that we kept our New Year resolutions.

Neil Gibson is Chief Economist at EY.