DUBLIN — For decades, the mildewed brick and decay of Dublin’s derelict Docklands were the last thing many Irish emigrants saw of their homeland before they boarded the ferry to Britain in search of work. These days, the place is being transformed into a land of rare opportunity — and a powerful magnet for ambitious people from around the world.
The new Docklands — where scores of cranes feed the frenzy for new hotels and gleaming office blocks — offer a vibrant microcosm of Ireland’s rise from Europe’s emigration black spot to its "brain gain" capital. Poles, Iranians, Swedes, Chinese and Nigerians are among the throngs performing tasks ranging from hawking fast food to writing software code.
In the middle of it thrives a symbol for this new, immigrant-rich Ireland: the rapidly expanding European headquarters of Internet search engine giant Google Inc.
"A lot of companies are moving out of Europe, but it’s the opposite in Ireland. The companies that have located here, like Google and Yahoo and eBay and so many others, are very attractive. So the place is very young and very international. It’s really quite magnificent," said Renate Myhrstad, a 26-year-old Norwegian who is Google’s training manager in Dublin.
The unprecedented wave of immigration comes on the back of a friendly invasion of high-tech multinationals that largely picked Ireland, rather than continental Europe, because Ireland’s 12.5-per-cent tax rate on corporate profits is the lowest in Europe. The jobs sections of Irish newspapers are full of ads from household-name manufacturers of computers, software, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology — and the companies are casting a net throughout the 25-nation EU.
Ireland now boasts the European Union’s highest per capita gross domestic product of $37,738 (U.S.).
"This is a very, very different place than the Ireland I left in 1993. It’s focused on solutions instead of problems. It’s a very innovative place where young, smart people thrive," said John Herlihy, a University College Dublin-trained accountant who emigrated to California to work for Oracle Corp. and Adobe Systems Inc. at a time when Ireland’s unemployment rate was an EU-high 18 per cent.
He returned home last year to an Ireland with unemployment at an EU-low 4.4 per cent.
Mr. Herlihy is director of on-line operations in Dublin for Google, whose tiny office established three years ago has ballooned into a European headquarters with 800 employees, 70 per cent of whom aren’t from Ireland. The company plans to hire another 600 university-educated, mostly foreign people to work in a second office block being constructed next door.
More than 1,000 multinationals have operations here; about half are American-based, and about a third conduct research and development in Ireland. Besides the obvious benefits of Ireland’s rock-bottom tax rate — much better than the Western European average of 30 per cent — American companies also like Ireland’s command of English. Ireland also is considered better than Britain because the Irish use the euro common currency.
Since 2004, Ireland also has offered a 20-per-cent tax credit for company spending on research and development. Science Foundation Ireland, which the government established six years ago, sponsors foreign researchers at Irish universities and businesses here with hopes of more R&D in mind.
The economic currents that drove millions of Irish to the United States are pulling them back. Since 2001, more than 130,000 Irish people have returned from the U.S. to their homeland, a huge influx in a country of just four million.
Ireland was one of three countries — along with Britain and Sweden — to allow unrestricted access to their labour markets when 10 new members joined the EU in 2004. More than 130,000 Poles live here, and on average 10,000 more Eastern Europeans arrive monthly.
Ireland’s new might
The once-moribund Irish economy is Europe’s strongest, drawing expatriates, talented immigrants and high-tech employers.
Corporate tax rate (2006)
SOURCE: DELOITTE & TOUCHE, 2005
Real GDP growth (%)
SOURCE: ESRI, OECD