[VIEWPOINT]Irish success is more than just luckSouth Korea and Ireland are similar in many ways. As Korea experienced colonial rule under Japan, Ireland was a colony of the United Kingdom for a long time.
As Koreans never yielded to the Japanese policy of obliterating the Korean language and alphabet, the Irish people kept their religious traditions of believing in Catholicism despite pressure from the Anglican Church to convert.
The Irish have also experienced the hunger and poverty that Koreans experienced in the past.
As our parents’ generation experienced the “spring poverty period,” the Irish people had bitter memories of suffering from drought and famine.
The Great Famine in Ireland (1845-49) was catastrophic. The potato was one of the few farm products that the Irish could cultivate in their barren soil and was a staple diet of the Irish peasantry. In 1846, the potato crop failed due to a prolonged drought and nearly 1.5 million people out of 8 million died from malnutrition. The villages were ruined and many hunger-stricken Irish immigrated from Ireland to America, leaving their hometowns.
This reminds us of our ancestors who immigrated from Korea to sugar cane plantations in Mexico and Hawaii to escape from Japanese oppression and poverty in the early 1900s.
The national characteristics of the Irish are also similar to Koreans. They like drinking and singing, as the Koreans do. The streets of Dublin are lined with pubs and they are filled with people, starting in the early evening hours.
The tenacious temper and diligence of the Irish are similar, too, to those of the Koreans.
On the basis of such national characteristics, the two countries have succeeded in accomplishing miraculous economic growth that has suprised the world.
The two have now stepped up as the leading countries in the information technology field, to the envy of many countries in the world.
In the middle of the 1990s, South Korea and Ireland went shoulder-to-shoulder as model economies for their development. In the 1980s and 1990s, South Korea was called one of the four dragons in Asia and Ireland, the “Celtic Tiger.” Both maintained the mythology of high growth. In 1994, when South Korea was about to enter the era of the $10,000 per capita income, the per capita income of Ireland was $13,753.
But now, 10 years since then, the two countries are on a completely different track. The gap between the two countries’ income level has grown wide apart last year ― Ireland recorded $40,667, while South Korea’s was a mere $16,291.
The strong international competitiveness of Ireland is reflected in the “World Competitiveness Yearbook” published by the Institute for Management Development in Switzerland every year.
In 1994, Ireland ranked 19th in the world in international competitiveness, not far above Korea’s rank of 24th. In 2006, however, the gap is now vast.
While South Korea’s rank has slipped to 38th place, Ireland is 11th in the world ― one step short of being one of the top 10 most competitive countries in the world. The gap has grown wider than it was in 2005 ― Ireland ranked 12th and South Korea stood at 29th.
That is not all. There is a rush of immigrants from the United States and Europe to Ireland now. The number of net immigrants to Ireland from abroad has grown from 29,800 in 2003 to 31,600 in 2004 and 53,400 in 2005.
How about South Korea? The number of Koreans emigrating overseas has increased from 19,514 in 2003 to 23,866 in 2004 and 24,391 in 2005.
What is the reason? What has made the gap between South Korea and Ireland grow so wide?
Irish people attribute the reason to former Prime Minister Sean Lemas. Mr. Lemas, an opposition leader, assumed the prime minister’s post in 1958 and stayed in power for 12 years. He laid the foundation for the development of Ireland by adopting a drastic foreign investment inducement policy, an open-door policy and a free government-aided education system.
Michael Gervy, head of the Asia department at the Ireland-Industrial Development Authority, said, “Former Prime Minister Lemas had not only established economic development strategies with an insight into the future, but he also made the people follow the government and laid a foundation for social confidence by making people feel the benefits of development.”
He has also said, “If the Uri Party of South Korea established a master plan for the people and the development of the country aiming for the future 10 to 20 years from now, who would dare to reverse or oppose such policies, even if there was a change of government? I think the success or the failure of a policy depends on the consistency of the policy and the confidence of the people in it.”
* The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Jung-min