Ireland’s Celtic Tiger Rising From the Ashes
Ireland deserves the mantle of the euro zone's poster child for its remarkable economic recovery via austerity, CEOs told CNBC at the Irish Business and Employers Confederation.
Following its sovereign debt crisis and eventual bailout by international creditors, the Irish government has been at pains to mark itself out as distinct from other troubled European states within the bailout program insisting austerity measures have helped Ireland inch slowly towards exiting the bailout program completely.
"There is a great story here and austerity is a stabilization policy and Ireland needed to stabilize public finances. But growth comes from the business community and there is a strong business story here from foreign direct investment and large scale indigenous multi-nationals," Danny McCoy, CEO at IBEC said.
Earlier this month Finance Minister Michael Noonan said the country was almost 60 to 70 percent towards reaching its target of exiting the program by the end of the year.
Ireland has set a budget deficit target of 3 percent of gross domestic product by 2015 which McCoy said it was on track to achieve.
(Read more: ECB Nowhere Near Exit From Crisis Measures)
"Austerity is 85 percent true for Ireland but it's clearly back in growth mode and the buoyancy is back. We believe that we will make the target of 3 percent by 2015 but that's still a deficit and we need to get back to balancing the books so there is still a lot of discipline required here," he added.
The country still faces considerable domestic hurdles with subdued consumer confidence and a sluggish housing market. And while job creation appears to have increased, unemployment still remained at 14.6 percent for January 2013 compared to the euro zone as a whole which had a rate of 11.7 percent for December.
(Read More: Ireland Prime Minister: Pain Not Over Yet)
McCoy admitted resolving these challenges was key to lifting domestic demand and said the proliferation of the euro zone debt crisis had held the country back from recovering sooner.
"It's important for domestic demand, which is still flat,that confidence comes back into the households and they can start spending again and then we can see a full completion of our recovery story," he said.
"We are such an export-orientated economy that what's happening in our main markets is crucial for us but the exchange rate is moving against Europe and that's one of the main concerns, it's a real problem," McCoy said.
However, Gary McGann, CEO at Smurfit Kappa warned the country could not be expected to continue unlimited austerity and measures were needed to get employment back up.
"In this case austerity has had to have its place in the recovery but people can't deal with austerity forever. They can't really work hard, dig deep with no vision or hope or expectation of bright lights in the future. People need to be given some sense of vision of what's going to be the payback for this," McGann said.
He added that stimulus was now needed and it was crucial that the "wheels of commerce be oiled."
"We need to get employment going and without that people have no spending power. It's about money in people's pockets. People don't have money to spend," he said.
He added that there was a dichotomy in Ireland. While exporters were doing quite well, Ireland still faced significant problems at home.
"The challenge is to get the real domestic economy, SMEs, to get them back active and taking on employment again. They have to re-employ to get the economy moving and that's what will get the optimism moving further," McGann said.
Ireland's financial crisis was triggered by a major property collapse, with home prices falling around 57 percent between 2007 and 2012.
But Myles Lee, CEO of CRH, Ireland's largest company and the second-largest producer of building materials globally, told CNBC that lessons had been learnt. "When we see rapid growth and rapid price growth it is not something that can continue unchecked. We have to be more cautious and conservative in our approach when economies grow strongly in the future," he said.
However, he said reports of further dramatic falls in house prices were "alarmist." "Property prices do seem to be finding their bottom, particularly in the bigger population areas. So much depends on the external environment in the euro zone, there's some nervousness on the back of the Italian elections but hopefully things stabilize from here," he added.