Even before my good employer cast me mercilessly onto the dole cue last September, I had already decided that if God were to spare me, I would spend my summer holiday in Ireland in 2009. The reason for this was not patriotism, but economic. Bean Thomaltaigh had given up work to return to college (little did we know that I would lose my job within weeks of that). So after a nice stay in the Vendée last summer we decided that we'd spend 2009 at home.
But then today I was thinking about the number of trips abroad the Irish make and the amount they spend. In 2007 for the first time the Irish made more trips abroad than visitors came to the Emerald Isle. And the Irish spent more abroad than tourists spent here. In fact, we spent 4 billion abroad in 2007 on holiday trips (according to the CSO). This excludes business trips which was in the region of 400 million. So the Irish spent over 2% of GDP abroad that year.
Without question overall spending on holidays this year will be down dramatically. Yet a huge chunk of the population will take to the skies this year for foreign lands. Even if spending fell by 50%, it would represent well over 1% of GDP.
That would be in the region of say 2 billion euro. If Irish residents were to turn patriotic and spend this at home, it would be a huge injection into an economy where every billion counts. There will be a massive battle very soon to narrow the gap in the public finances by 2 billion this year. So an extra 1 billion in the overall economy would certainly mean a great deal.
But in the end of course this is purely a mental exercise. If people are cutting the heels of one another to get across the border to hand their taxes to he Crown, they are hardly going to forgo their tans for the sake of the greater good.
The notion I have outlined would have some practical issues, but in theory it is possible. But on reading it, you just wince at its naivety. And the reason of course is that you know that in reality people are willing to sacrifice precious little even if they knew it would make a difference to the overall state of the country. In short, people are governed by very powerful self interest, and there is no doubt we will see that in its rawest form very soon when various groups start screaming about why they are special and shouldn't have to make sacrifices for the greater good. It will be terribly interesting - though I predict unsightly - to watch how this plays out over the coming months and years and how it will reflect on what solidarity means in this country.