By Harry Keaney
Memo to immigrants with property outside Dublin: hold onto it, it may become the status symbol of the future.
Research by estate agents Sherry Fitzgerald indicates that a significant number of people are selling their houses and moving to the provinces. Clair Culinan, managing director of Sherry Fitzgerald, said this may not be a bad trend as it increases the supply of houses coming on the market.
"This trend is not peculiar to Dublin, or Ireland, as evidenced by a recent report that 1,700 people a week are leaving cities in England for a new life in the country," Culinan said.
She said continuing job creation in Dublin, which is causing net immigration, coupled with a lack of a comprehensive public commuter system, is continuing to cause high housing demand.
"The solution must be expanded population and employment centers within a 30- to 50-mile range of Dublin, linked by rapid rail together with an aggressive and proactive drive toward regionalization for the country as a whole," she said. "The alternative vista is to continue to put pressure on Dublin, a pressure it simply can’t digest."
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Skyrocketing house prices, traffic congestion, and better access to outlying areas are reasons why more people are leaving the capital city for regional cities and towns. And with telecommuting, more workers will be able to work from their home computers.
Ireland now has the highest growth economy in the European Union.
The economy grew by more than 8 percent last year, the fifth successive year of strong growth, according to the latest figures from the central statistics office.
Gross national product grew by 8.1 percent, compared to 9 percent in 1997.
However, in Ireland and the U.S., both of whose economies are booming, there is concern about inflation. Last week, the U.S. Federal Reserve raised interest rates by a quarter of a percentage point while in Ireland, the central bank warned that the rate of price increases in the Republic of Ireland was edging ahead of the rest of the euro zone.
Despite the rosy economic figures, the National Competitiveness Council has warned that in key areas of the economy, Ireland is becoming less cost competitive. The council’s report referred to high wages costs in key areas such as food manufacturing, the shortage of skilled resources in the software sector, the increasing cost of renting industrial buildings and the high cost of employers’ liability and public liability insurance.
Irish unemployment should fall to about 4 percent by the year 2001, and could even fall below 3 percent before 2005, according to a new report.
The figures come in the latest Labor Market Update compiled by the employment and training agency FAS. The Labor Market Updates are prepared by FAS’ economist, Terry Corcoran, and have been among the most accurate forecasters of employment trends.
Corcoran suggests that employment growth in Ireland this year and next should be significantly higher than official forecasts.
There are now more Irish workers in unions than ever before, with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions having more than 700,000 members. Membership of unions in Ireland increased by 40,000 in the last two years alone.
Despite these figures, the news is not all good for the Irish trade union movement. Union recruitment is not keeping pace with economic growth. The proportion of the work force now in unions is 48 percent, compared with 55 percent a decade ago.
Each month, the Irish Business Organization of New York holds two business networking breakfast forums, on the first Tuesday of each month in New Jersey and on the fourth Wednesday of each month in New York.
Also, an evening networking dinner in New York is planned on the third Tuesday.
The meetings are open to non-members and usually includes a guest speaker.
Details, call an IBO member, or John Corkery at (201) 796-2571, Bill Buckley at (212) 627-2111, or log onto www.ibo-ny.com.
Focus on banks
AIB has bought an 80 percent stake in the Polish banking group Bank Zachodni for 443.7 million. Earlier this month, AIB bought a 25 percent stake in Singapore bank Keppel Tat Lee for £661 million.
Meanwhile, in Europe major consolidation is expected in the banking sector. However, the governor of the Irish central bank, Maurice O’Connell, said he would not like to see Ireland’s banking industry fall into outside ownership. But O’Connell added that Ireland may have no choice in the long run because the single European currency may lead over time to facilitate centralization of financial services.
"We have no wish to go down the road of New Zealand, for example, where the whole banking industry is now in outside ownership," O’Connell said.
Expressing concern about the trend toward bigger global banks, O’Connell said "God help us all if one of the big, new and huge conglomerates should fall by the wayside."