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Hope and lessons on St Patrick's Day

Around the globe today, iconic locations like Niagara Falls and the Leaning Tower of Pisa will turn green to honour the patron saint of a small island off the north-west coast of Europe. In scores of cities today and tomorrow, drums will beat and flags will fly as the descendants of Irish emigrants march to proclaim their ancestry.

No other country has anything approaching the Irish diaspora, sometimes estimated at 70 million people. No other country has its joys and sorrows shared so widely and so intimately.

Sadly, in recent times, the sorrows have outnumbered the joys. During the Celtic Tiger, the world stood amazed at the successes of what it had thought of as a misty green backwater. When the boom ended, not with a whimper but with a calamity of historic proportions, our friends wondered when we would recover -- if we could recover at all.

Today, while we remember St Patrick, our many centuries of turbulent history -- and most of all the recent emigrants from our own families -- we can attempt an answer.

We will survive. We will recover. We will prove ourselves, in the words of our greatest poet, "still the indomitable Irishry".

It will be desperately hard. At the very best, we must endure many more years of struggles against the odds, fighting to hold on to our jobs and our homes, chipping away at our intolerable burden of debt.

But we have done some things right, and we have begun to reap the fruits, notably in two vastly differing areas.

Agriculture is thriving. We produce food of the highest quality, and our opportunities to sell it abroad are limitless. At the same time, we have consolidated the hi-tech sector, with spectacular effects on exports. Last year, we achieved a record trade surplus of €44.7bn.

And yesterday, Finance Minister Michael Noonan pointed to the chances before us and the conditions involved: "If the world economy picks up, Ireland can take off like a rocket." He envisaged a growth rate of 4pc or more.

Many reacted to these words with disbelief. Mr Noonan is embroiled in the Herculean task of mending the financial devastation he inherited. But his views must be treated with respect, not scorn. He is a level-headed, conservative minister not given to indulging in fantasies.

There is, however, another condition which must be met in addition to world recovery. This country must never again be subjected to the reckless misgovernment it experienced during the boom. On St Patrick's Day, Irish charm has its time and place. For the rest of the year, we need efficiency and justice. And some of Patrick's courage.

Irish Independent