Forget the USA, Sri Lanka or South Africa, Ireland is the best place to live in the world

Click to follow
The Independent Online

For generations, hundreds of thousands left the Emerald Isle fleeing war and famine ­ all clinging to the belief life would be better elsewhere. Now, after two decades of a meteoric rise that has staggered financial gurus, Ireland has topped a poll as the best place to live in the world.

For generations, hundreds of thousands left the Emerald Isle fleeing war and famine ­ all clinging to the belief life would be better elsewhere. Now, after two decades of a meteoric rise that has staggered financial gurus, Ireland has topped a poll as the best place to live in the world.

In a report published by The Economist magazine, the Republic won over Switzerland, Australia and Italy. In the process, Ireland trounced the main destinations of its traditional emigration. The US ranked 13th with the UK coming in at a miserable 29th position ­ the lowest of any EU pre-expansion members. Of the countries surveyed, the worst place to live in the world is Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe which came bottom at 111th.

Ireland's combination of increasing wealth and traditional values gave it the conditions most likely to make its people happy, the survey found. The survey was prepared for The Economist's "World in 2005" publication, with the remit: "Where will be the best place to live in 2005?"

Researchers took into account not just income, but other factors considered important to people's satisfaction and well-being.

They included health, freedom, unemployment, family life, climate, political stability and security, gender equality and family and community life.

The Economist said: "Ireland wins because it successfully combines the most desirable elements of the new, such as low unemployment and political liberties, with the preservation of certain cosy elements of the old, such as stable family and community life."

The magazine admitted measuring quality of life is not a straightforward thing to do, and that its findings would have their critics ­ "except, of course, in Ireland".

Ireland was followed by Switzerland, Norway and Luxembourg in the rankings. All but one of the top 10 were European countries ­ that was Australia, in 6th place.

The Republic has made significant gains from its membership of the EU, earning the soubriquet "Celtic Tiger" for its economic progress. It is widely admired by the EU's newest members, and has become a model for what they hope to achieve.

Since the 1980s, Ireland has been transformed from a glum financial basket case to a vibrant rapidly-changing country. Dan O'Brien, of the Economist Intelligent Unit, said: "Ireland is now one of the richest countries in the world by any measure. It enjoys social calm combined with civil and political liberties, which surveys show, are not bettered anywhere. Thousands of returning emigrants and arriving immigrants who vote with their feet know there are few better places in the world to live."

Although European nations generally do well in the survey, the continent's major industrial powers ­ France, Germany and Britain ­ finished a poor 25th, 26th and 29th respectively.

The researchers said although the UK achieved high income per head, it had high levels of social and family breakdown. Its performance on health, civil liberties, political stability and security was also below the average.

Elsewhere, the survey found the quality of life in the US has plummeted in the past year. Second only to Luxembourg in last year's survey, it has dropped 11 places to 13th this time round. The impact of war is hard to quantify but even harder is Iraq, which has dropped off the scale, with the compilers citing "lack of information".

Despite the reports of China's healthy economic development, it is still in the bottom half of the league in 60th place, thanks in part to its civil liberties' failings.

Sri Lanka wins the prize of the the most improved nation with a jump of five places to 43rd. Vladimir Putin's Russia is further than ever from the good life, falling 50 places to 105th after a torrid year on the security front.

HOME SWEET HOME IN THE REPUBLIC

The man who cuts the grass around holiday homes in Donegal used to have a rusty old van. Now he has a shiny Range Rover.

For him, as for Ireland in general, business is booming. The old bangers have all but disappeared from Irish roads; extensive road-building programmes have consigned most pot-holes to history.

Perhaps most tellingly, thousands of young Irish people are not forced to emigrate: many still go, but now it is a matter of choice.

Money can't buy happiness but poverty almost guarantees misery, and the state has left most of its poverty behind. It was not a complete surprise, therefore, when the Economist Intelligence Unit gave its opinion yesterday.

The three big strikes against Ireland are a relatively poor health service, gender inequality and, unsurprisingly, the weather. Gender equality is below the European average while health deficiencies are an important political issue.

While efforts are being made to grapple with these, the weather is clearly beyond improvement. The Donegal grass-cutter knows not to leave his vehicle's sunroof open, although of course the rain helps his business.

David McKittrick

Comments