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Chapter Four-- Irish Step Dancing and the Celtic Tiger

Chapter Four-- Irish Step Dancing and the Celtic Tiger

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Published by Elizabeth Venable

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Published by: Elizabeth Venable on Jul 26, 2010
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Chapter FourIRISH STEP DANCING AND THE CELTIC TIGER
 The economy of the Republic of Ireland changed dramatically in the mid-1990s.Ireland moved from having one of the most depressed economies in Europe to having oneof the most quickly growing. Many social and legal changes accompanied this economicgrowth. Irish step dancing as a cultural phenomenon has been impacted by shifts in the political and economic landscape of Ireland. To address changes in the structure and practice of contemporary competitive Irish step dancing, scholars must assess recenttransformations in the sociopolitical environment of Ireland.CHANGES IN IRELAND IN THE LATE TWENTIETH CENTURY WITH REGARDSTO DEVELOPMENT AND WEALTH: THE ‘CELTIC TIGER’Throughout the middle and end of the 1990s, Ireland witnessed a surge of unparalleled economic growth. The average per capita income of a resident of Ireland,which as recently as the 1980s was far below the European average, has grown higher than that of most countries in Europe. Indeed, the per capita income of Irelandexceeded that of the United Kingdom in 1997, and has continued that trend for everyyear following to the present—2007 (McCarthy, 13). In the same period, and as a resultof various factors, Ireland witnessed a dramatic fall in the level of absolute poverty.The unemployment rate fell from 17 percent to less than 4 percent between the 1980sand 2001. This pattern of growth became known as the “Celtic Tiger” boom.Ireland’s economic growth can be linked to a number of factors. Ireland has a“favorable” environment for foreign investment including low corporate tax rates, an104
 
elastic supply of well-educated and inexpensive labor, flexible labor markets and“industrial peace” (that is, a relative lack of conflict between labor unions and businesses). Externally, other factors affecting Ireland’s economic development includea stable macroeconomic environment and advantageous exchange rates of the mid-to-late-1990s.The concurrent sustained economic boom in the United States also spurredgrowth in the Irish economy. Stephen D. Oliner and Daniel E Sichel note in their 2000article, “The Resurgence of Growth in the Late 1990s: Is Information Technology theStory?” that “from 1995 through 1999” the American gross domestic product rose “atan annual rate of more than 4 percent” (3). Overseas investment by U.S. firms also rosedramatically in the 1990s. The transatlantic (U.S. to Europe) flow of this growth isdescribed by Joseph P. Quinlan in his 2003 paper, “Drifting Apart or GrowingTogether? The Primacy of the Transatlantic Economy.” Quinlan states that out of thetotal sum of U.S. overseas investments—“in excess of $750 billion”—approximately“half of the global total—went to the Old World, Europe” (9).Ireland was able to corral a large percentage of US investment flowing intoEurope during the 1990s. According to Fintan O’Toole,“[from] 1993 [to approximately 2003] 25 per cent of all new USinvestment in the EU has gone to Ireland, which has only 1 per cent of the EU's population. By 2002, 585 American businesses operated in theRepublic of Ireland, employing 94,000 people and representing aninvestment of $23 billion in the Irish economy. Of the €93 billion worthof goods exported from Ireland in 2001, the chemical, pharmaceuticaland computer sectors, in which US corporations are utterly dominant,accounted for almost 60 per cent” (2003: 6-7).105
 
Whereas Ireland had been, until the 1980s, in the words of O’Toole, “an economicsatellite of the UK,” political and economic realities were altered as “European andAmerican markets became steadily more important” (2003: 8). This development parallels with changes in Irish step dancing culture in the 1990s and 2000s, whendancers from mainland Europe became more represented within the competitivestructure and as the population of dancers in North America steadily grew in size.Investment in education also had a significant effect in boosting the Irisheconomy and attracting investors. Ireland’s literacy rates have increased steadily sincethe Irish state began, in 1967, to administer secondary education, which previously had been directed under the auspices of the Catholic church, and generally required a fee for services (Raferty and Hout, 44). In addition investment into university education, and,especially, the promotion of technology education in Irish educational systems preparedIrish workers for the information technology development and manufacturing industriesthat became such a hallmark of the Celtic Tiger boom.Ireland’s growth was heavily impacted by the development of informationtechnology, largely the growth of “new media.” Because of the high rates of technicaleducation, as well as the relatively low wages demanded by workers (in comparison tothe rest of Europe), Ireland was able to attract the interest of software companies andother technological enterprise. According to Michael Cronin, Ireland is the “secondlargest exporter of software in the world after the United States” (Cronin in Kirby,Gibbons, and Cronin 56). While Ireland’s economic growth had previously beenhampered by the particular location of the island, in addition to other factors, the focus106

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