Dec 13 - Ireland's preparing to become the first euro zone member to complete its bailout, also deciding to do without a precautionary credit line. Ireland's well-known abroad for its pubs, and they're also attracting international investors, who are banking on confidence slowly returning to the economy. Joanna Partridge reports from Dublin.
The heart of the community and one of Ireland's most successful exports. At home, the recession's been tough for Irish pubs. When Dave Murray took over the Rathmines Inn in Dublin last year, it'd stood empty for two years - a victim of the property crash. SOUNDBITE: Dave Murray, General Manager, Rathmines Inn, saying (English): "Still a long way to go but with each passing month it's getting better. We've moved into the food side of the business, where we're trying to compete with a restaurant. We're trying to give the same quality of food almost but at a pub price. Then on the drink front we're trying to compete with supermarkets selling it cheaper. Providing an overall package." At the height of the boom, an average Dublin pub could sell for more than 6 million euros - now it's more like 800,000 euros. And British pub operator JD Wetherspoon believes the time is right to move in. It's just bought this bar south of Dublin. Founder Tim Martin expects to invest up to 50 million euros in the country over the next decade. SOUNDBITE: Tim Martin, JD Wetherspoon Founder and Chairman, saying (English): "We've said in Britain one pub for 40,000 might be a reasonable target. There's more unknown unknowns in Eire so I would say 10 - 20 over the next 5-10 years." As Ireland prepares to exit its three-year international bailout programme, other investors are appearing, says Robert Hoban, an auctioneer at Allsop Space. SOUNDBITE: Robert Hoban, Director and Auctioneer, Allsop Space, saying (English): "People are investing a lot in properties that have income, so whether it's a small commercial or large commercial property, if there is income, overseas buyers are competing with Irish buyers and bringing in relatively good prices, certainly compared to where we were a couple of years ago." Ireland's attractions are clear - the only English-speaking member of the euro zone, with a well-educated population and one of the lowest corporate tax rates in Europe. Philip Lane, an economics professor at Trinity College Dublin, believes there's at least one more tough government budget to come, but there are positive signs. SOUNDBITE: Philip Lane, Whately Professor of Political Economy, Trinity College Dublin, saying (English): "Maybe unlike Greece and Portugal the core real economy was always in ok shape. The move towards services, the move towards internet-based activity, that suits Ireland. On top of that sector, for the last 5 years, Irish households have been saving a lot to reduce their debt burdens, also because of uncertainly." It's not long to go until Christmas, and Dublin's central Grafton Street is busy with shoppers. But by exiting its bailout programme on time, it's hoped it'll give the country a confidence boost and make people more willing to spend for the rest of the year too. Not all customers at the Rathmines Inn feel they've more money in their pockets than a year ago. And the country still has to reduce its budget deficit once it's returned to market funding. Ireland's just been voted the best country for business by Forbes - something at last to drink to.