Hold the front page! A lot has happened in 50 years



Ireland joined the European Economic Community on January 1, 1973. September 16 that year saw me join the Irish Press as a rookie, initially running copy to the print room in the halcyon days of hot metal.

Back then, Dublin’s Rathmines College was the only institution offering a course in journalism – the rookie way, or via the regional press, was, until then, the norm. Rathmines refused me entry as it had an age ceiling of 20 years and I was then 21, having dabbled with a science degree. Ironically, in the ‘80s Rathmines invited me to lecture weekly, which I did for two years.

The late Fintan Faulkner, an Ardee man, was deputy to Irish Press Editor Tim Pat Coogan. He was old school, and offered me the job as I had, previously, had the occasional piece published in the Press papers. I was the only male writer ever published in the evening paper’s weekly ‘women-only’ Petticoat Panel. However, I was also the first to write about the (admittedly few, then) homeless sleeping rough when I spent a night on O’Connell St with a member of the now defunct charity Home. I was also the first to write about autism, then a relatively unknown.

The ‘70s were the height of the Troubles, the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, the kidnapping of Dutch industrialist Tiede Herrema. The late ‘70s saw me head for Rhodesia/Zimbabwe to cover the bush war. I watched Robert Mugabe march his tanks down the capitol’s First Avenue before returning to Dublin and the Irish Independent in 1981.

The ‘80s were the years of Reagan and Thatcher and Haughey, of course; and the long, drawn-out nights of the Hunger strikes. The Stardust disaster, too. It also saw the European Union make its mark on Ireland socially and economically, on its fishing and farming and its GDP and allied issues. And our still contentious neutrality. A decade, too, of deep recession.

The ‘90s saw the Good Friday Agreement and the Omagh bombings. And Mary Robinson as first woman president. The Celtic Tiger.

I found myself in two more conflict zones – Colombia, undercover in 2003, and the civil unrest in Kenya in 2008. Down the years I got to meet and interview many noted people but the greatest moment was meeting Nelson Mandela. There were also the non-famous, their stories of grief and loss. They left a greater mark.

In 50 years our demographics have changed dramatically. Property prices have risen much faster than average wages, and increased at more than three times the rate of inflation.

A report by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) shows that, although the economy is 10 times the size it was in 1973, housing is far less affordable. The average worker needs more than seven times their salary to buy a house today, compared to four-and-a-half times in 1973. Mortgage rates may well have been into the double-digits in the 1970s. However, the Central Bank now restricts the amount of money a homebuyer can borrow to four times their gross income. Average residential property prices are now 35 times more expensive than in 1973, rising from an average of €9,009 to €318,000. But the average (nominal) industrial wage is only 21 times higher, rising from €38.25 a week in 1973 (£30.12) to €825.01, while consumer prices have risen tenfold.

Ground-breaking referenda aside, Ireland has transformed since joining the EU, with gross domestic product (GDP) growing more than tenfold in real terms (taking inflation into account) – more than three per cent of the bloc’s total GDP.

The population has almost doubled since 1973, from 2.9 million to 5.1.million people. And the jobs people have are very different. Almost a third was in the industrial sector in 1973, but that’s less than a fifth now. Almost a quarter was employed in agriculture in 1973. Now, it’s just four percent. People in services have grown from a little less than half 50 years ago to over three-quarters – due to the growth in tech and finance jobs.

The number of third-level students has increased nearly six-fold since 1973. Additionally, we are leaving it until later before settling down with partner and/or children, careers coming first.

The population is getting older overall. Half a century ago, almost half was under 25. That is now less than a third. With all that that implies – and another brain-drain seemingly begun – one cannot but wonder what the next 50 years will bring…

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