Having slipped down the index slightly last year, Ireland has reclaimed its position at 19. Initially viewed as a national political crisis, the no confidence vote in former PM Enda Kenny actually proved to be a positive boost to Irish soft power following the election of Leo Varadkar. Varadkar, the country’s first openly gay Taoiseach and of immigrant descent, has been received positively around the world. Interestingly though, perceptions of Varadkar vary considerably across domestic and international media. While his sexuality and race have garnered tremendous support internationally, his conservative policies have faced scrutiny at home. In other news, the ongoing uncertainty linked to Brexit remains a concern for Ireland. How the nation approaches negotiations will almost certainly have an impact on its position in the future, both politically and economically. For now though, Brexit appears to have been somewhat positive for Ireland with citizenship applications significantly increasing and many companies threatening to move their European headquarters from London to Dublin.
As always, Ireland is a strong competitor in our Enterprise sub-index. Retaining its title as Europe’s technology hub, Dublin is home to a large majority of the major global tech companies. The fiscal uncertainties of Brexit could boost this strength even further, especially if Britain becomes a less welcoming environment for big business.
Despite largely positive perceptions around its new leader, Ireland’s stance on women’s rights looks set to come to a head in the next 12 months. The Repeal the 8th Movement has gathered significant momentum over the last year, and a vote is looking likely in the near future. A socially regressive vote, either in parliament or in a potential referendum, could set international perceptions of Ireland back.
Ireland faces several national and international challenges over the next 12 months. The country will have to navigate the debate around women’s rights with sensitivity, and will need to manage international negotiations on Brexit carefully so as to ensure it is treated fairly while maintaining good relations with close neighbours. Improving its Digital scores could be key to Ireland communicating these challenges effectively, and ultimately winning over more of the population – both at home and abroad.