The Republic of Ireland, which declared itself in 1949, allowed the Catholic Church to dominate its civil society and education system. Investment by American and European companies, and a welcoming tax regime, created the 'Celtic Tiger' of the 1990s. That brief burst of good fortune was destroyed by a corrupt political class which encouraged a wild property boom, leaving the country almost bankrupt.
What Ireland needs now is a programme of real change. It needs to become a fully modern republic in fact as well as name. Politicians have been let get away with murder, and there is a fatalistic sense that nothing can change. The country needs to encourage participation in, and oversight and knowledge of politics, to make people feel that they have a right to challenge the old party machines and to make a difference. It is their country, after all.
Fintan O'Toole is Ireland's most respected and controversial political and cultural commentator, and an acclaimed biographer and critic. His books include White Savage, A Traitor's Kiss, Meanwhile Back at the Ranch and Ship of Fools, which Terry Eagleton called 'a brilliant polemic'. He lives in Dublin and is a columnist for The Irish Times.