Sunday 1st May, 2005

Peter Quentrall-Thomas
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A leaf out of Ireland’s book

I have had the pleasure of doing some travelling recently and last week I shared a few observations about the UK especially from a 2020 perspective. We also visited another country and I wonder if you can guess where you will find the following:

o Large signs by the roadside urging drivers to keep death off the roads and lamenting they had 47 deaths in one part of the country with a population similar to Trinidad’s over the last four years!! (Hasn’t ours reached that already this year?);

o Two former government ministers in prison for failing to correctly declare their income;

o Lots of sniffer dogs at the airports but not a sign of a gun.

o Competitions everywhere for The Cleanest Town, The Best Garden, The Safest Town and so on.

o Such a strong national consciousness about keeping your home and garden well maintained that I had to ask if there was a law about it. (There wasn’t).

o Every sitting of parliament is televised and the camera shows all the people in the chamber. (Needless to say there was no one asleep or reading newspapers).

o A population and land area three times ours.

o The complete rebuilding of their port area with a billboard pledging to make it home to 200 international banks and 36,000 jobs.

o A plan to spend the equivalent of over $60,000 on each student per year. (We spend less than $12,000).

o Mile after mile of new roads being built including toll roads. They are not squeezing in another lane that disappears after you pass UWI causing a serious traffic hazard. They are buying land, demolishing buildings and building brand new roads.

o Toll roads that charge as much as $15 but which are packed with drivers.

o Only two police cars and five police persons seen in five days of driving. No sign of any army or armed police patrolling the streets despite the fact that parts of the country are embroiled in a civil war.

o Almost religious adherence to the speed limits because they have a system where, if you are caught more than two times in excess by even as little as two mph, you lose your licence for a year or more.

o They lose a quarter of the number of babies at childbirth as we do.

o They have no natural resources to talk about compared with T&T, but a per capita income that is four times ours.

o They have endured centuries of jokes mocking their people.

o Their annual growth between 1995 and 2002 was eight per cent.

o Only ten per cent of the population is living below the poverty line compared with over 40 per cent in T&T.

I’m sure you have worked out that I’m talking about Ireland: a country that suffered far, far more under the heavy hand of colonialism than we did. A country that lost one in every two people, or nearly four million people in a famine that occurred at the same point in history when we were starting to import indentured labour. A country where, even to this date, Catholics are killing Protestants and vice versa.

And yet, despite all of these terrible setbacks, they have built a country, which could teach us a great deal.

For example, they have battled with a brain drain a 100 times worse than ours as you could be in England in less than one hour with your degree or diploma.

Ireland was behind God’s back, a place no one with any sense stayed or went to live until they made their streets and towns safe.

They slashed their tax rates to become the lowest in Europe, they made heroes of anyone who made money, they made their Internet infrastructure the biggest single capital expenditure item in the budget and they took full advantage of various European aid schemes (unlike ourselves who left hundreds of millions of dollars of Lomé aid money on the table).

So, instead of going back to corporal punishment of colonial days, why don’t we simply take a leaf out of Ireland’s book and use our brains to make life better.

Just a thought.

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