He said he is embarrassed over the arrogance of many who made their fortunes during the bubble.
“I think it’s probably fair to say that during the period of the Celtic Tiger, there was a certain amount of boastfulness by some of the Irish about our economy.
“They were inclined to give lectures about how others could be as good as the Irish. I’ve always felt very unhappy about all of that. It’s quite embarrassing really, and that was picked up on abroad,” he said.
The father-of-four also told of his heartache over the thousands of young people who have been forced to emigrate and stressed he looks forward to the day when they’ll have jobs to return to.
“People realise now that Ireland is very resilient. We got over the Famine, with its huge out-migration.
“Now our young people are better educated than most of the same age in any European country. But in a way, our highly educated young people are subsidising everyone else’s economy now. Hopefully we’ll not lose contact with those who emigrated in recent years, and in time they will return and be able to apply their intelligence here.”
In an interview in Ireland’s Own Christmas Annual, the former arts minister also stressed that arts and culture were now more important than ever.
“If, through no fault of their own, a person loses their job and therefore their spending power, because of the turn of the economy, are you then to say to them that they have lost their right to go to a museum, or an art gallery, or to a play?
“In times of recession and high unemployment, you need expenditure on the arts and culture more than at any other time.”
He also reiterated his commitment to making Ireland more inclusive. “I have a very busy time just now. I took a policy decision that I would go to places where the visit of the President made a difference.
“So in this first year I’ve been visiting community groups, Travellers, prisons, psychiatric hospitals, and groups who are recovering from addiction,” he said.
“I’ve met thousands of people already.”