Since the birth of my first child, Emani, last May, I have often wondered what sort of life she can expect to have in this country. Like most parents who have grown used to watching every cent, I fret about how government cutbacks will affect her education in the short-term and how the punitive demands of the Troika will determine her quality of life further down the line.
She arrived in the midst of one of the most severe recessions in the history of the State, yet a major survey by the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit, published this week, ranks Ireland as one of the best places to be born in the world right now.
We were placed 12th – ahead of the US, Britain, France and Germany, as the analysts took into account our present and projected prosperity; life expectancy; quality of family life; trust in public institutions; health; education; crime, and contentment.
It is news that provides a measure of perspective – and optimism. Maybe all is not as gloomy here as so many of us have come to believe, especially when we stand back and take in the whole picture.
Of course, the depressed economy remains constantly in our thoughts, especially for those of us mired in negative equity – but there's still much to cherish about living in Ireland.
We don't have to fear the conflict that stalks the Middle East today, or panic over the bush fires that continue to rage in Australia. And the spectre of a school shooting – that very American phenomenon – has not visited our shores.
But what does the future hold for Emani – and all those other children who were born in the early years of the second decade of this century? In what sort of Ireland will she live in 2050 when she is 37, the age I am now?
Ireland's long-term future has obsessed economist Stephen Kinsella since the birth of his own children. The University of Limerick lecturer is the author of Ireland in 2050 – How We Will Be Living.
"You can't predict exactly what life will be like for us 20, 30 or 40 years into the future," he says. "But you can predict the direction we are going in areas such as health and climate and try to put plans in place to make sure we are as well placed as possible to meet the inevitable changes."
Long, long lives
One certainty about life in the middle part of this century will be our ability to live longer. Kinsella says one in four will be over 65 in 2050 compared to just one in 12 today.
He believes Ireland needs to plan for that eventuality as the healthcare needs of an older demographic will put considerable strain on the country's finances.
According to the CIA World Factbook, Irish people – males and females – born in 2012 can expect to live to 82.69. That places us 26th on the global longevity map, four ahead of Britain.
But a recent report in UK medical journal The Lancet suggests that at least half of the babies born there will live to be 100.
Emani was born with good genes: her paternal great-grandmother is enjoying life at 97 and her other great-grandmother died a month short of her 96th birthday. Which augurs well for a long, long life for Emani.
The new golden generation
Far from being marginalised, Ireland's elderly generation of 2050 and beyond will enjoy a good quality of life, according to Kinsella. "They will be wealthier than the senior citizens of today," he says, "and politics, culture and finance will bow to their needs. The future's bright – as long as you live long enough to see it."
And being very old doesn't automatically mean being reliant on others. A new US study shows that 40pc of "super-centenarians" – people aged over 110 – need little outside assistance. Remarkably, the research showed that many people of this age are leading quite independent lives.
Lengthy work lives
People will live much longer – and they will be spending more time working, too. Richard Tol, former ESRI economist, believes the days of people retiring at 65 are being consigned to history.
"I'm 43 now and reckon I will be working until at least 75," he says. "And people born today might conceivably work until they are 80, 85.
"Better health will allow people to lead a fuller life for longer, including work, but there will also be those who will have to work for economic reasons. The state pension may not be adequate for them, and, anyway, the minimum age limit will be changed upwards."
Emani was born two months premature and was in Holles Street's neonatal unit for four weeks. I became acutely aware of how survival rates of premature babies have improved in just 10 years – a palpable, and very personal, indicator of the speed of medical breakthroughs.
By 2050, developments in stem-cell technology and regenerative medicine will transform healthcare. There will be a far greater emphasis on management than cure, according to Science Daily, with home diagnostic equipment capable of detecting potential problems at the earliest stage.
Medical robots – at present in a fledgling stage of development – will be used for surgical procedures to minimise the possibility of human error. Already, a machine called the Da Vinci Robot is being successfully used in gastro and neurological procedures – and it's just the start.
By 2050, Emani will be experiencing milder winters and warmer summers than those we are getting now.
Ireland's leading environmental scientists, based at the ICARUS unit, NUI Maynooth, predict that within 40 years, January mean temperatures will increase by 1.5C, while average summer temperatures will jump by 2.5C.
These changes are likely to be particularly detrimental to our agricultural sector, according to Prof John Sweeney of ICARUS, who has warned that our most emblematic crop may be under threat.
"Potatoes are a problem crop for the future. They require a good deal of summer moisture and as we are expecting less summer rainfall, particularly in the south and east of the country, it may soon be no longer viable to continue growing potatoes in these regions."
Increased temperatures and other weather extremes will pose considerable adaptation challenges, especially in an environment when new pests and diseases could be at large.
More rainfall – including a projected 20pc increase in the northwest of Ireland – will put flood plains under greater pressure than ever.
In a matter of decades, Ireland went from being an agrarian, rural society to an urban/suburban one. Like many of my generation and those before, I relocated to Dublin from the country after finishing school and never returned.
That migration to Ireland's urban zones will continue unabated for the remainder of the 21st Century – especially as the country's population is likely to be close to seven million by 2050.
Stephen Kinsella believes the newer suburbs created in the boom years will be in need of renovation or demolition by 2050 because they were "badly built, and built in the wrong places".
He believes there will be another construction boom in the 2020s, as these remnants of the Celtic Tiger will be replaced.
"The areas that replace the richer suburbs will resemble small towns," he says, "with flexible working spaces. These micro-suburbs will still be recognisably suburban, but will be within walking distances of many amenities. The time-pressed – or lazy – will use their electric cars."
Kinsella fears those ghost estates and poorly planned suburbs in undesirable areas face a grim future: " Life in them will be awful; services won't locate there."
Work and lifestyle
Whether Emani follows me into a brave new media world, her mother Lynn into teaching or chooses a career we can't even envisage today intrigues me even at this early stage.
In 1975, the year of my birth, few could have grasped that within a couple of decades something called the internet would have changed the world forever – and created innumerable new job descriptions. Fast-forward a few decades into the future, and a similarly seismic shift is a distinct possibility.
According to Stephen Kinsella, "jobs will change, work won't". Technology will have moved on to levels that can't be foreseen but he believes that the focus for entrepreneurs in 2050 will be on knowledge-work.
Many future companies, he predicts, will need very little set-up, very little maintenance, and can fail or succeed easily.
The baby boom of recent years will likely mean they will be well placed in the 2030s to take advantage of the drop in the numbers of younger workers in countries such as the US, because people there are having far fewer children today. That could mean emigration for Emani and her friends – but unlike many of those leaving Ireland today, she may go by choice.
Lest we get carried away, a cautionary note was sounded this week by international credit ratings agency Fitch. It suggested Ireland's property prices could decline by a further 20pc.
Richard Tol – who has relocated to England with his family – believes Ireland could be facing up to 10 years of austerity. But he is convinced the pain of today will abate.
"Vision is needed. It's still an attractive place to do business and although there have been significant cutbacks, it will continue to produce a well-educated workforce.
"The Government will not have money to spend on schooling and healthcare, yet there is a reluctance to go down the road of privatisation. Something's got to give."
He doesn't rule out the prospect of another boom-bust: "Bubble economies happen time and again. There's a huge surge in childbirth today, so maybe in 20/30 years there will be another big property boom."
Here's hoping that Emani and her generation will not suffer the effects of such a property bubble years down the line.
And, despite the all-pervasive gloom right now, there's much to be hopeful about – and a great deal to look forward to.