Ireland's economic growth earned it the title of the Celtic Tiger and as a result it was seen as an exemplar for the smaller, newer members of the EU. And this was reflected in migration patterns. Long a country of emigrants, recent years saw an influx of returnees and a substantial number of immigrants from the new EU.
This turnaround was also reflected in institutional investing and asset management. Having long been overlooked as a poor and remote backwater, Ireland attracted the attention of international asset managers. That they failed to push the local players aside is both a testament to the pension funds' domestic bias and the local stock exchange's outperformance, which was supported by financial and construction shares.
All of that came to an abrupt end last year and current estimates see some 90% of DB plans under water.
The collapse coincided with the consultation phase of a government Green Paper intended to lay the basis for fundamental reforms of the Irish pensions system. It looks as if the changes will have to be deeper than anticipated.
The market collapse has left an unprecedented number of DB schemes needing refinancing, presumably from the sponsor. But the economic crisis has heightened the risk of corporate insolvency. This will intensify the flight from DB, but may also see the collapse of many schemes rather than their replacement with DC, with members losing their entitlements.
Regulations have been relaxed to ease the pressure but such a basic threat to the whole system will increase calls for a wider examination of the funding standard.
It has also sharpened debates about the creation of a pension protection fund and a state annuity fund. And the economic downturn has reversed the immigration trend, leaving pension plans to respond to the return home of transient workers who have paid contributions to them.
But the main challenge facing trustees will be to find new investment strategies, while for the asset managers it will be finding the products to meet their needs. The Pensions Ombudsman has already underlined that trustees must understand investment risks.
Has the heightening of the crisis through domestic bias signalled the end of the road for local asset managers? They say no, suggesting that in these trying time trustees will want vanilla products from local managers.
The greatest challenge of all may lie with the system as a whole. For years the authorities have been struggling to widen supplementary pension participation as the state first pillar offering is less than generous. Now the crisis has undermined confidence in the funded pension system. And the government's dismantling of the ring fence around the Pension Reserve Fund to refinance Ireland's crippled banking system has left a question over the ability of the state to meet its pension commitments when the demographic balance tilts.