The Celtic Tiger has caused the Irish economy to roar ahead, but what has it done to Irish society? Some see the rising tide as having lifted all boats, while others argue that the benefits have accrued mostly to those who were already well placed. Some highlight how economic growth has raised living standards, while others say that it has imposed strains on family life, eroded values and communities, and created problems in accessing adequate housing, health care and other services.
So, are we in Ireland now living in ‘the best of times’, or has increased prosperity come at (too high) a cost? The purpose of Best of Times? The Social Impact of the Celtic Tiger, which contains a collection of chapters written by some of Ireland’s leading social researchers, is to bring to bear the latest research and empirical evidence to answer these questions. It is aimed at a general audience and seeks to contribute to public debate in Ireland, while at the same time striving for rigorous, evidence-based argument.
The overall judgement offered by the book is positive, though with qualifications. Ireland still has problems: social inequalities are slow to narrow the indignities of poverty and hopelessness, though less widespread than before, are still too common; some public services are poor; and traffic congestion frays the nerves. But there is a long list of social fundamentals that are stronger today than before the Celtic Tiger arrived. National morale is among the highest in Europe, most people's economic circumstances have greatly improved, jobs are astonishingly abundant, people are now flocking into the country rather than out of it, and they are marrying and having children at a higher rate than fifteen years ago. These are only some of the positives identified in the book. Together they suggest that even on social grounds the Celtic Tiger deserves at least two cheers, even if it has far from succeeded in solving all social ills.