In the final installment of our weekly look back through the 50-year Business & Finance archive, we check out some of the top news stories from the noughties.
Ireland’s electricity crisis (2000)
A shortage of gas capacity, and government delays in allocating that capacity, led to fears concerning the first electricity shortage in the history of the State.
Ireland was struggling to generate and import enough electricity to meet peak demands in 2000-01. Government delays in introducing legislation to allocate scarce gas capacity meant problems for the country. The most serious consequence of a shortage of electricity supply in 2000 would have been the effect on our international reputation as a business base.
The reaction of the nation to the threat posed by foot and mouth disease was exemplary in 2001, with many organisations and businesses applying voluntary restrictions in advance of guidelines from the government.
But the question was, for how long would the country tolerate restrictions and what would the effect be on business if the crisis continued.
The panic disrupted rural life across Ireland, with the movement of humans and animals halted. Many sporting meetings were abandoned, while the St Patrick’s Day parade was also postponed.
The Digital Hub (2002)
The Digital Hub, a €250m partly government-sponsored digital media/urban renewal project was hailed as one of the outgoing government’s most prestigious flagship schemes in 2002. However, controversy surrounding a sister project, a perceived lack of vision on the part of its promoters, and the impact of ambitious foreign competitors brought some outside criticism.
The Digital Hub is a zoned area of nine acres based on either side of Thomas Street. The core, developed in the first phase, comprised five acres including some landmark buildings which Guinness sold to the government.
The idea behind the project was to create a digital media district that would foster an industry by clustering together the few indigenous Irish companies with international, leading-edge research and development outfits.
Professional rip-off (2003)
Ireland’s sky-high prices were rapidly eroding economic competitiveness in 2003. With our membership of the eurozone ruling out the old remedy of currency devaluation, reform of the professions was vital to get domestic services costs under control.
At a little under 5%, Irish inflation was over twice the average for the rest of the eurozone. This was rapidly undermining Ireland’s competitiveness and the Central Bank estimated the Irish prices were 12% higher than the eurozone average in its spring bulletin of 2003.
In from the cold (2004)
Business & Finance reported on how Europe had come a long way since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. On May 1st 2004, the European Union’s borders stretched from Lisbon to the borders of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.
It was a political and cultural triumph but, as in all previous enlargements, harsh economic challenges remained. This was the most ambitious enlargement in the history of the EU – an entirely peaceful one at that. This enlarged Europe of 25 states, for the first time in centuries, wasn’t bound by empire-building or warfare but by economic, political and cultural ties.
Merkel’s moment (2005)
Angela Merkel was sworn in as Germany’s first female chancellor, despite many political observers feeling she had blown her chance following the indecisive German general election.
Opinion polls in the run-up to September 2005’s elections had given Merkel a clear lead, but her conservative Christian Democrats and their Christian Social Union allies emerged just four seats ahead of sitting chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s Social Democrats, seemingly ending her chances of becoming chancellor and calling into question her continued role as leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU).
But writing off Merkel, a protestant East German who had broken the leadership mould in the CDU (dominated by catholic West German men), was a mistake and a deal hammered out between the CDU and Social Democrats to form a grand coalition eventually saw her emerge as chancellor.
State-sponsored drugstore cowboys (2006)
In 2006, Business & Finance reported on how Ireland set up a well-meaning system so that less-well-off people got the medicines they needed under various reimbursement schemes. But, it also questioned whether these schemes were working for the taxpayer who funds them or for private profit?
A lack of transparency in the industry yielded a number of practices that seemingly suit the pharmacy industry, rather than the taxpayer who was footing much of the wage bill.
What lies beneath (2007)
Water, a source of life and a vital part of both diet and industrial process, faced a crisis in 2007 throughout Ireland – a terrible irony for a country famous for its rain.
With climate change increasing the pressure, Dublin was little more than a heatwave away from running short of water. This had massive implications for future industrial development in the greater Dublin area, and for the economy as a whole.
The city area system, which at the time delivered 520 million litres of drinking water everyday, was put under enormous stress during two periods of the year in particular. Icy conditions in winter caused badly corroded pipes in the old cast-iron networks to burst and a leakage rise by 30 million litres overnight. Hot weather in summer also caused problems, driving up daily demand by up to 40 million litres.
Last orders (2008)
Excise on drink, combined with changing lifestyles, new retail laws and the smoking ban continued to endanger a key manufacturing sector to Ireland in 2008.
One pub in Ireland was closing down every day. Tax and excise on beer, wine, spirits and cider, which was among the highest in the EU, was forcing many within the industry to call last orders.
Given Ireland’s well-documented problems with alcohol and the social, health and law enforcement issues this creates, many argued the such high taxation was completely appropriate. But many involved in the industry felt the heavy burden of taxation was just one more issue that was crippling one of the country’s most important indigenous industries.
Squeezing the SMEs (2009)
Irish bank chiefs may have insisted they were ready to release essential credit to small firms, but on the ground it was different story in 2009.
Financial pressures were mounting on small businesses in Ireland as they faced credit restrictions, adverse exchange rates and weakening consumer confidence. Accessing finance to meet short-term needs was the biggest challenge for the small to medium-sized enterprise (SME) sector in 2009 according to industry sources, with some lobby groups urging the government to consider the option of a small business loan guarantee scheme.
*To read this article in its entirety, pick up a copy of the 50th Anniversary edition of Business & Finance, available now.