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Last Updated: Monday, 21 May 2007, 08:24 GMT 09:24 UK
Europeans admire 'Celtic Tiger'
By James Helm
BBC Dublin correspondent

Brian Cowan and Bertie Ahern
Riding the "Tiger": Finance Minister Brian Cowan and PM Bertie Ahern

Ireland's economic success is no secret. The "Celtic Tiger" economy has achieved almost mythical status.

Ireland's fortunes have been transformed, and the rest of the world has sat up and watched with interest.

Unsurprisingly, many countries have flown delegations to Dublin to find out how it has been done.

And Ireland, a place renowned for the warmth of its welcome, has opened the door to those inquisitive visitors.

One government official recounts the story of how officials from the Baltic states still refer back to a trip they made in 2004 with great fondness.

The current Foreign Minister, Dermot Ahern, took a group of them for a night out at the greyhound racing in Dundalk, something they had not done before, and they loved it.

From all around the world they come - politicians, students, academics, business and union leaders. In recent weeks, a Brazilian delegation has come to see the Irish economy for itself, and Executive MBA students from an Ivy League college in the US have come to compare Ireland with other EU states.

So the path to Dublin is very well trodden, especially by groups from countries whose economies are growing rapidly, or who dream of emulating Irish success.

Around the time of EU enlargement in 2004, when Ireland also held the EU presidency, there was much focus on what the new accession states in Eastern Europe might learn from the "Irish model".

How do they do it?

The usual schedule for such visitors to the Emerald Isle includes trips to meet government officials in the capital, to companies in the city and beyond, and sessions with unions and academics at universities and think-tanks.

Prior to the growth of the past 10 or 15 years, Ireland's economy was known more for its failures

So what do they want to know?

David Croughan is chief economist at the Irish Business and Employers Confederation, and he estimates that his organisation deals with dozens of such visits every year.

He said: "Essentially it's to do with how all this has come about - how Ireland has had such rapid growth in the past decade or so."

And what answers are they given once they are here?

"A lot of it was a catch-up process," says David Croughan. "Partly that was due to inappropriate policies in the past, and everything came to a crisis in the mid to late 1980s.

"The partnership process was born out of that - government, employers, unions and farmers came together with a common goal of trying to solve an unsustainable situation."

Past failures

Prior to the growth of the past 10 or 15 years, Ireland's economy was known more for its failures: high unemployment, high emigration, and the loss of skills that produced public debts and a general malaise.

High-speed train in Heuston Station, Dublin
Ireland's financial success has spurred transport growth
The "partnership process" between the various parties is credited by some as helping to create a stable platform for economic growth.

Other ingredients which foreign visitors hear about include government policy, support from the EU, and the importance of a young, well-educated, English-speaking population.

Foreign direct investment, especially from the United States, has provided a catalyst.

Imitation is flattery

Other smaller nations have also noted Ireland's tax policies with great interest. Corporation tax, at 12.5%, is low here by comparison with the rest of Europe. Income tax rates have been cut since the hard times of the 1980s.

It is not only Ireland's economic success which has been the subject of scrutiny by the outside world.

When I was reporting on the smoking ban, I filmed a group of Swedish civil servants who had come over to Dublin to learn lessons from the introduction of the smoking ban here.

At the time, in 2004, many outside observers had wondered how a country with such a strong pub culture could even consider bringing in such a ban.

But at a smart hotel in Dublin city centre, an Irish official described how the new legislation had been brought in, as the Swedes took notes.

Ahead of Scotland's smoking ban, the then First Minister Jack McConnell also came to have a close-up look at the Irish experience.

In a similar vein, the UK government has looked hard at Ireland's introduction of a plastic bag levy, widely viewed as an environmental success here.

If imitation is indeed a form of flattery, then sending a fact-finding group to Ireland probably comes into the same category. The heat of the Irish economy may have cooled a little, but Dublin Airport won't be rolling away its red carpet just yet.

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