A St. Patrick’s toast and a challenge from clean, green Ireland

When St. Patrick’s Day rolls around on March 17, the Irish will have lots to celebrate. Ireland is still clean and green. And now, it is spending $15 million to bring visitors back. 

Irish tourism officials are targeting the 35 million people living in the U.S. with Irish heritage. They are key to restoring Ireland’s $3 billion in pre-coronavirus yearly tourism revenue.

Ireland is an island nation roughly one-third the size of Washington with 5 million people. It is no longer an agrarian country. Today’s Ireland attracts tourists, high tech companies and manufacturers from around the world.

One of the keys to its economic growth is its low corporate tax rate of 12.5%, which is nine points lower than the 2017 tax cuts signed by President Donald Trump.

Not only are lower taxes driving the Irish economy, but it is rated as the world’s ninth most “economically free” economy based on an index created jointly by the Wall Street Journal and Heritage Foundation.

Tourists were flocking to Ireland when the pandemic struck. In 2018, it welcomed nearly 10 million visitors. Irish Central reporter Mairead Geary wrote: “Ireland feels like a dear old friend.”

Ireland prides itself on attractiveness. Good music, folklore and a friendly people are augmented by “Tidy Towns” with freshly painted buildings and no roadside litter.

Just as in most urban areas, the Irish have their share of street garbage in the inner cities and discarded needles from drug users; however, the Irish have some creative solutions worth considering.

Business leaders have been integral to anti-litter cause. The Irish Business Against Litter sponsors annual competition between cities and towns. The group measures Ireland against other European Union nations.  In 2017, it found that 88% of Irish communities were as clean as the European average and 10 of the 40 were among the “cleanest.”

SuperValu, Ireland’s largest supermarket chain, sponsors the annual “Tidy Towns” competition. The winners receive cash and have their names engraved on trophies that are as coveted as hockey’s Stanley Cup.

“Tidy Towns” was suspended for 2020. It restarted in 2021, with SuperValu awarding about $284,000 to the winners.

In Waterford where the famous Irish crystal is made, business and city leaders decided to sponsor “street art” competition.

Rather than having old downtown buildings tagged with graffiti, they encouraged some of the world’s best spray-paint artists to come to Waterford Walls International Street Art Festival each August.

Americans could learn from the Irish.

Not only is Ireland a country which has lower taxes and is high on the economic freedom list, but it has fresh ideas to control litter, turn unwanted graffiti into attractive murals on dreary old buildings and revitalize country villages, towns and cities.

According to Litter in America’s fact sheet, litter cleanup costs us as estimated $11.5 billion each year and business pays about 80% of expenses. Annually, Americans collectively toss 250 million tons of wrappers, bottles, cans, cigarette butts, needles and bags of garbage.

The Irish learned that not only do visitors want good entertainment and welcoming people, but they want uncluttered communities, shores, and country side as well.

Families who migrate to Ireland to work for software, pharmaceutical, medical technology and financial services – the new Irish economy – not only want good jobs, safe streets and quality schools, but places to live which are clean and tidy. People in America share that goal. 

This St. Patrick’s Day, we may want to look to Ireland for innovative ways to make our country cleaner, greener and more prosperous.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist.  He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.

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