Ireland in 2030: Thinking ahead
The spring 2023 issue of Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review is dedicated to the proceedings of a set of seminars held in May 2022 on the theme of ‘Ireland in 2030’. The seminars were organised by the Royal Irish Academy and led by Professor Philipp Rosemann, then of Maynooth University and now the Cottrill-Rolfes Chair in Catholic Studies at the University of Kentucky. Dr Rosemann curated the content for this issue of Studies and provided a lengthy introduction to the theme and to each of the six contributions.
Dr Rosemann opens his introduction as follows:
What would we like Ireland to look like in 2030? In what kind of society do we want to live, on both sides of the border? This seems like a simple question. 2030 is just seven years away, so surely politicians, intellectuals, journalists, and the general public are busy imagining our future. But this is not really happening. Initiatives like Project Ireland 2040, a national development plan for the Republic of Ireland, have in the past several years been overshadowed by emergencies that have demanded all our attention: climate change, Brexit, the Covid pandemic, and now the war in Ukraine. These emergencies have forced us to into a reactive, crisis-response mode. There is a sense that events are unfolding so fast that we can hardly keep up. This raises the question: Are we still shaping our future? Or are we merely adapting, breathlessly, to the rapid changes which characterize life in the twenty-first century?
The May 2022 seminars were designed to address issues of this kind. Six of the contributors submitted their essays for inclusion in this special issue of Studies. Among them are Alan Titley, Professor Emeritus of Modern Irish at University College Cork and author, who examines the question of the ‘Celtic revival’ and the language question that was crucial to the architects of the Free State one hundred years ago. His assessment is far from entirely negative. Peadar Kirby, Professor Emeritus of International Politics and Public Administration at the University of Limerick, was one of three contributors to consider issues of climate change and sustainability. In ‘Living lightly on our planet’ he recognises Ireland ‘laggard status in climate action’ but notes the emergence of more positive developments which could help Ireland become a low-carbon society without suffering economically. Amanda Slevin, Director of the Centre for Sustainability, Equality and Climate Action at Queen’s University Belfast, sees the root problem regarding sustainability to be the ‘individualised, hyper-consumerist’ capitalism on which the Western world relies, supporting an anthropocentric lifestyle dangerously alienated from nature. And author and filmmaker Johnny Gogan looks at community-based responses to the issues raised at a theoretical level by Slevin. In particular he considers the success of the community response in Leitrim and Fermanagh in fending off the threat of oil and gas exploration through fracking.
The two remaining papers tackle issues of a more technical kind that could create problems for Ireland in the proximate futire. Jane Fountain, Distinguished Professor and Director of the School of Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, examines the dangers presented by advances in digitalisation and the use of AI-based tools. Used wisely and cautiously, these can enhance democratic processes, but they can just as easily be manipulated to create an all-controlling Leviathan that disregards equality, privacy and other democratic values. In the final essay, Orla Lynskey, Associate Professor at the London School of Economics Law School, recognises the dangers that Fountain indicates and provides an overview of the legal initiatives which the European Union has developed – including the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) but extending well beyond this – to protect personal privacy and other rights. She judges, however, that insufficient attention has been paid to the challenges that enforcing this legislation will meet. Enforcement, she notes, is a weak point of all EU legislation.
The cover of Studies has received a makeover. It now sports a sharper and more contemporary look.