Learning from Ireland: Cleaner, greener and more prosperous

“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.”

This St. Patrick’s Day (March 17), the Irish have lots to celebrate. Ireland is cleaner, greener and more prosperous.

Ireland is an island nation roughly one-third the size of Washington with 4.7 million people. It is no longer the agrarian country which its patron saint converted to Christianity in the early fifth century. 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 percent which is nine points lower than the new U.S. level enacted by Congress late last year.

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.

Tourist are flocking to Ireland. Last year, 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. IBAL measures Ireland against other European Union nations. In 2017, it found that 88 percent of Irish communities were deemed as clean as the European average and 10 of the 40 were among the “cleanest.”

SuperValu, the nation’s largest supermarket chain, sponsors the annual “Tidy Towns” competition. The overall winners in four categories: villages, small towns, large towns and urban centres are awarded cash prizes and have their names engraved on perpetual trophies which are as coveted as hockey’s Stanley Cup.

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 repulsive graffiti, they encouraged some of the world’s best spray paint artists to come to Waterford Walls International Street Art Festival each August.

Last year 40 artists participated and 40 drab buildings now have eye-pleasing murals. One painting is of an old fisherman and it ties Waterford, a southern port city, to its rich waterfront history. Today, people come to admire art. The idea spread to Derry and Belfast.

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 percent of expenses. Annually, Americans carelessly toss out 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

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