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2018 OECD Economic Surveys: Ireland 2018

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Living standards are high in Ireland, with recent improvements underpinned by the strongest post-crisis output recovery in the OECD. The economy is projected to continue expanding over the next two years, albeit at a more sustainable pace and amid heightened economic uncertainty primarily relating to the future trading relationship with the United Kingdom. Greater uncertainty makes it vital to further improve the fiscal position, which could be partly achieved by broadening the tax base and raising the property tax yield. Vulnerabilities in the financial sector also need to be further addressed by introducing stronger incentives for banks to reduce the high level of non-performing loans that remain on their balance sheets. The future resilience of the Irish economy hinges on unblocking the productivity potential of local enterprises and enhancing productivity spillovers; most Irish firms have experienced declining productivity over the past decade, causing the large productivity gap between foreign-owned and local enterprises to widen. Given strong international competition to attract foreign-owned firms, the economy should not be overly reliant on the performance of such entities. Improving the productivity performance of the local business sector can be achieved by reducing high regulatory barriers to entrepreneurship, further improving Irish infrastructure and raising the absorptive capacity of local businesses. Other significant challenges for wellbeing and inclusiveness exist in the areas of housing, health and getting people into work. To address these challenges, stringent housing regulations that are constraining dwelling supply should be rationalised, universal healthcare coverage provided and some social benefits withdrawn more gradually as labour earnings rise.

SPECIAL FEATURE: RAISING PRODUCTIVITY

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Reforms for sustainable productivity growth

The Irish economy has experienced a decline in productivity growth over the past decade. This has mostly reflected the poor performance of local firms, with the large productivity gap between foreign-owned and local enterprises having widened. Given the mobility of foreign-owned firms, achieving sustainable productivity growth requires addressing productivity stagnation in the local business sector. Government policy should ensure high-potential businesses can enter markets and expand unimpeded, and that the most productive firms thrive in the market. To achieve this, some aspects of the regulatory environment for businesses need to be reformed and the quality of Irish infrastructure improved. Access to finance for high-performing firms must be broadened as well, through restoring credit supply in the banking sector, developing equity finance and improving public financial support. It needs to be assured that government policy is also calibrated to encourage productivity-enhancing knowledge spillovers from frontier firms. Trade linkages and research collaboration between foreign-owned and local firms can be better promoted. However, the ability for local firms to absorb new knowledge relies on their investment in knowledge based capital and managerial skills. These can be promoted by greater direct government funding of business R&D, supporting labour mobility across firms, and worker participation in lifelong learning activities.

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