Dublin offers a better quality of life than the UK. But can its economy withstand Brexit?

The incredibly picturesque Samuel Beckett Bridge, in Dublin. Image: Salim Darwiche

Dublin was recently ranked 34th out of 231 global cities on the Mercer Quality of Life Survey 2017It ranked higher than London, which came 40th, and every single other city in the UK and Ireland.

The city’s strength is wide-spread, and spans culture, the economy and the environment. Noel O’Connor, Consultant at Mercer Ireland, remarked that Dublin offers “an excellent choice of consumer goods, lower levels of air pollution, and a stable political and strong socio-cultural environment”.

As such, the Irish capital continues to be an attractive option for businesses seeking a base in north-west Europe, at a lower cost of living than London or Paris.

Indeed, the Irish economy as a whole has enjoyed strong growth in recent years. Last year’s 5.2 per cent growth rate meant that Ireland remained the fastest growing economy in the European Union for the third consecutive year.

Twilight for Dublin? Image: Hans-Peter Bock.

Growing pains

However, the UK’s decision to leave the EU may have already begun to hurt Ireland. Consumer spending growth slowed to 3 per cent in 2016, down from 4.5 per cent in 2015, with a significant dip in the second half of the year. Export growth was the joint lowest that Ireland has seen since 2008, at just 2.4 per cent.

The terms of the trade deal between Britain and the EU are yet to be agreed. Pat Leahy, political editor of the Irish Times, argues that the worst possible outcome would be no agreement between the Britain and the EU, meaning that World Trade Organisation rules (including tariffs of up to 50 per cent on agricultural goods) would apply. “Such an outcome would have the potential to devastate Irish exporters to the UK,” he says.

At a time when export growth is already slowing, this is bad news for the Irish economy. While Ireland’s main export market is the US, with whom it traded €26bn of goods and services in 2015, it still relies heavily on exports to the UK. However, it is worth noting that in the same year, Irish exports to Belgium exceeded the value of Irish exports to the UK.

Such a large trading relationship with the US means that the Trump administration’s preference for protectionist trade policies is of course another significant threat to the Irish export market.

Nobody's quite sure about the big stick but it looks cool. Image: Robzle.

The Home Front

On the domestic front, the outlook is far more promising. The Economic and Social Research Institute is hopeful that the renewed boom in the construction sector could bring Ireland to full employment (defined as a level of unemployment below the post-crash low of 5.6 per cent) by the end of 2018.


The ESRI report found that the housing market is now the main driver of growth in the domestic economy, and emphasised the importance of managing this growth in a sustainable way. Dr. Kieran McQuinn, the report author, commented: “We’re treading a fine line between driving the economy to produce more houses and pushing it into overheating territory.”

Danny McCoy, chief executive of the Irish Business and Employers’ Confederation, is also optimistic about the prospect of domestic growth acting as a shock absorber against uncertainty in trade relations with the US and UK. He said:

“The economy is now facing some major external threats… [but] we are facing those threats from a position of economic and fiscal strength…

We must use that position of strength to take more decisive steps to relieve competitiveness pressures which are within our control, by massively ramping up investment in infrastructure, R&D and education.”

Another gratuitous picture of Dublin. Image: Doyler79.

Invest to be the best

While Ireland is now running a budget surplus, and there are signs of strong domestic growth, it is understandable that industry leaders such as McCoy are calling for increased capital investment to protect against external shocks. Directly after the UK triggered Article 50 last month, industry leaders called on the Irish government to exert as much influence as possible to ensure that key exporters receive the best deal possible.

Paul Kelly, director of Food Drink Ireland, said: “The agri-food sector exports €4.1bn of food and drink to the UK and accounts for 43,000 Irish jobs. Agri-food is the Irish sector most exposed to trade disruption, and the Irish Government must do all within its control to ensure minimum impact to the free flow of goods.”

Despite these calls, the fact remains that, as just one of 27 EU states, Ireland has limited influence over the final outcome; this despite the significant implications for trade, immigration and the north/south border.

While the forecast for the export market is fairly bleak, the domestic economy and national budget are both strong. As this Irish writer can confirm, Dublin remains one of the best cities in the world.

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Cats and dogs and Pokémon and ball pools: The eight joyful trains of Japan

Okay, it may not look like much, but... the exterior of the Genbi Shinkansen art experience. Image: ©Mika Ninagawa, used courtesy of Tomio Koyama Gallery.

If you’re on this website, you’ll likely agree with the statement: trains are good. We like trains. Trains are marvellous.

But in Britain our idea of a good train is “runs on time, doesn’t smell of wee, possibly has a spare seat”. Our national rail ambition has been battered by years of this crap: the most exciting we can hope for is to catch sight of the Orient Express as it flashes through a station, or a ride on the Settle to Carlisle railway.

Yet in Japan, there are trains dedicated to art and sake and Pokemon. There’s a train with a ball pool, for Christ’s sake.

These trains aren’t usually part of the ‘real’ timetable (that is, they don’t show up in the regular searches), and sometimes only run on specific days, they do still run proper routes. The Tohoku Emotion, for instance (all about dining; one car is an open kitchen) runs between Hachinohe and Kuji, adding a direct train between those cities in an otherwise annoying two hour gap.


Cost is, of course, another issue. It’s not possible to book many of these trains outside Japan so prices are tricky to come by, and some of the dining packages on offer will obviously involve laying down some hefty yen.

That said, the Kawasemi Yamasemi, an exquisitely decorated train that runs three times every day direct between Kumamoto and Hitoyoshi in central Kyushu, costs about the same as travelling between the two on the bullet train (it’s faster too, because it’s direct). And I’m happy to bet the farm that any of these trains will cost a damn sight less than Japan’s newest, shiniest novelty train – and probably be more fun.

So without further ado, here are some of the best – and this really is what they’re called – Joyful Trains in Japan.

Pokémon with YOU

Yes, there really is a Pokémon train. Introduced in Tohoku to cheer up – and raise money for – the region’s children after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, the service runs between Ichinoseki and Kesennuma stations, and if Niantic hasn’t worked out a way to put special Pokémon Go characters at each station, it’s missing a trick. There’s a playroom with big Snorlax cushions, the Drilbur Tunnel and real life Poké balls. And, as far as we can tell, a seat costs less than a fiver.

Oh, and because it’s run by JR East, you can do a Google Street View walkthrough of the whole train, which are available for many of the company’s Joyful Trains. Japan. Is. Awesome.

Image: Google Street View.

Tama-Den

If cute character-themed trains are your thing, then you should also check out the Tama-Den which runs on the Wakayama Electric Railway’s Kishigawa line. Tama, you may recall, was a calico cat who became feted as a stationmaster, and elevated into a goddess when she died in 2015. (Her replacement, Tama II, works a five day week at Kishi station.) The Tama-Den is covered in drawings of her. And you thought your cat was spoiled.

Meow? Image: as365n2/Flickr/creative commons.

The same company also runs the Omo-den, which is all about toys and has cash-guzzling capsule toy vending machines on board.

Aso Boy!

Where there’s a cat train, there must also be a dog. Aso Boy! usually takes you past the caldera of Mount Aso, the largest active volcano in Japan, but since the Kumamoto earthquake the route is altered.

 But even with the lack of its main scenic draw, this is still a top train because it features the cutest of all Japan’s regional mascots. Kuro is JR Kyushu’s yuru-chara and the damnably adorable dog gets everywhere. It’s one-up on the Tama-Den because you can buy Kuro-themed food and souvenirs, and this is the train with the ball pool.

The balls are wooden though. Ouch.

On board Aso Boy! Image: Jill Chen/Flickr/creative commons.

Genbi Shinkansen

The bullet train is cool enough, but this one is decorated inside and out with the work of eight modern artists. Running between Niigata and Echigo-Yuzawa, the Genbi Shinkansen reckons it’s the world’s fastest art experience. With a journey time of just under an hour, works range from standard wall-mounted paintings to art that’s literally part of the furniture.

Images: ©Mika Ninagawa, used courtesy of Tomio Koyama Gallery.

SL Ginga

Not only is this train hauled by a steam locomotive, it has a freaking planetarium on board. It’s inspired by children’s author Kenji Miyazawa’s book Night on the Galactic Railroad which is set in the early 20th century, and the decor is meant to echo that era. There are galleries devoted to Miyazawa’s life, and the train runs between Hanamaki – where he was from – and Kamaishi.

Image: Google Street View.

FruiTea Fukushima

The whole of Fukushima province has been tainted by association with its namesake nuclear power plant, which is deeply unfair as it’s a gorgeous part of the country.

To drum up tourism, the FruiTea train went into service a couple of years ago on the standard line connecting Koriyama to Aizu-Wakamatsu, a castle-and-samurai town. There are several Joyful Trains dedicated to eating and drinking, but this one deserves a mention because its locally produced fruit snacks and drinks deserve wider recognition. As does the area.

Here’s your Google Street View walkthrough:

Image: Google Street View.

Shu*Kura

There are three Shu*Kura trains, all departing from Joetsumyoko but with different destinations. This is another train dedicated to eating and, well... drinking.

Niigata Prefecture claims to brew the finest sake in the world, and this three car service showcases the best of them. It also has live music and snacks, but the point here is that you can stand at a sake cask-themed bar and get tiddly without anyone judging you, like they would for that M&S prosecco.

And check out the lights on that thing.

Image: Google Street View.

Toreiyu Tsubasa

This is the train to catch if you want to go full Japan. Most of the cars don’t have seats, they have tatami mats and low tables instead, billed as a ‘conversation space’.

There’s another tatami car designed as more of a lounge for people after they’ve used the footbath. Yes, you did read that correctly. A footbath. You’re not going to want your shoes with all this tatami anyway, and it’s a unique way to view the scenery between Fukushima and Shinjo.

Image: Google Street View.

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