‘Ireland followed Britain into Europe in 1973, because it was believed ties were so close that we had no alternative.’ Photograph: Francois Lenoir/Reuters
Ireland was the poor man of north-west Europe for almost all of the 20th century. Peripherality, isolationism and policy mistakes mired the country in relative poverty and stagnation. Few facts show better than employment how so little changed over so long. In 1991 were fewer people were at work in the Irish Republic than when the first post-independence census was taken, in 1926.
Then everything changed. In the 1990s the Irish economy exploded into life. After a decades-long stagnation, employment almost doubled in just a dozen years. In terms of income per person, as gauged by the (admittedly imperfect) GDP measure, Irelandcaught up with it peers. By the turn of the century it had overtaken many, including the UK.
The period of belated catchup was intimately related to Europeanisation and globalisation, and the interaction between the two. The creation of a single market in Europe in the 1990s was exploited by Ireland like no other country. The luring of globalising companies from across the world who sought to locate in the planet’s biggest market was the greatest economic policy success in independent Ireland’s history. Their enormous presence remains the economy’s most important engine for wealth generation today, accounting for up to 90% of goods and services exported out of Ireland.