The Irish Times has carried a number of articles in the last week highlighting the perspectives of emigrants.
On Friday, two young, recent emigrants wrote of their experiences. Paul Bradfield wrote that he is moving for an unpaid internship in The Hague, and hopes that employment will follow.
Here are a few excerpts:
I went not for the want of pleasure or enjoyment, nor to seek a ‚Äúgap‚Ä? year full of congenial experiences. The very term ‚Äúgap‚Ä? year implies that there is a distinct point in the future upon which the ‚Äúgap‚Ä? will be filled, whereupon one returns home to fulfil the innately human desire of carving out a career for oneself, or to simply settle into an agreeable existence in the place of one‚Äôs birth. Provided of course, you are able to return. Like many young Irish men and women who have gone before and will go after me, I go because I must.
Witness the exodus. The lost generation is leaving. Moreover, judging by the demographic of attendees of recent emigration seminars held around the country, married couples with young children are also embarking upon the uncertain but now necessary voyage of emigration, to make a better life for themselves and their progeny. To Australia, Canada, the UK and Europe they are heading.
A second young person, Sarah Moore, wrote that she was “disgusted at the recent comments on emigration by the Tanaiste Mary Coughlan”. Sarah is a university graduate with a higher diploma in nursing who reports that she has had several job offers from English hospitals. She says:
I, a young person of 23, have recently moved to London to take up a job. And despite Ms Coughlan‚Äôs assertions about my generation, I did not move to enjoy myself. I left my family, my friends and all that I hold dear behind because I had to.
I moved because my native country has nothing to offer me because of the self-interest, the naked greed, the croneyism of those in positions of power in Government and in financial institutions. These are the people who robbed a whole generation of a future in Ireland and they are still making the decisions about our country.
Are we the most compliant nation on Earth, or what?
And on Tuesday, a letter from an older emigrant echoed the themes of the two younger emigrants. ¬†Tom Healy of Plymouth, England, emigrated in 1962 “not to enjoy myself but. . . to avoid a life of poverty in Ireland”. He says her comments “led me to reflect on how little the situation has changed since I boarded a flight at Dublin for Bristol.”
I had left school two years before; my parents could not afford to put me through higher education. My future, for what it was worth, lay in a succession of low-paid, insecure jobs with plenty of bouts of unemployment in between. I wasted reams of paper and expended a small fortune on postage to make job applications that seldom elicited an acknowledgment, let alone an interview.
In despair, I left for England, where I have lived and worked since. The leaving was difficult and painful. Fitting in took much effort, but eventually I adjusted to life here. For a few years I entertained the hope that I might be able to return and tried to do so, only to run up against the barriers which made people like me in the Ireland of the time unable to find work. I refer to the croneyism and insider relationships which plagued the Ireland of the time and appear never to have gone away. Those who achieved their place in the sun post-Independence had no time for those caught on the outside, for that would have required changes which might have reduced their influence and status and upset their cosy world.
Emigration, I must tell Ms Moore, is as much an instrument of Government policy now as then, and as in the 19th century. Those of us who leave provide the safety- valve that allows the rotten shower in power to avoid having to create a more just and fair society.
It might well be better to stay at home and raise hell to change the odiously corrupt system which existed when I was young and which seems to have changed but little in the almost 50 years since I left.
This makes for bleak reading. It was only two years ago that Bertie Ahern was being lauded for putting an end to involuntary emigration. He himself regarded it as one of the key achievements of his administration, saying in his resignation speech:
In looking back on all the things I wanted to achieve in politics, I am proud that as Taoiseach I have:
- delivered on my objective to bring the peace process to fruition;
- delivered on my objective to see a stable administration based on the power-sharing model take root in Northern Ireland;
- delivered successive social partnership agreements which underpin our social and economic progress;
- delivered a modern economy with sustainable growth in employment and brought an end to the days of forced emigration;
- delivered on my objective to improve and to secure Ireland’s position as a modern, dynamic and integral part of the European Union.
What a difference two years makes.
An analysis from Davy has gotten a lot of news attention today. ¬†The research report into the Irish economy says that we wasted the boom, and issues a damning verdict on how Ireland misallocated its investment from 2000 to ¬†2008, resulting in poor infrastructure with inadequate roads, rail, schools, hospitals and telecoms.
One area where the report is suprisingly reassuring, however, is in the analysis of emigration.
This analysis of our capital stock has one glaring omission: human capital. Looking to the medium term, this is Ireland’s greatest strength. The economy has the highest number of graduates in the 25-34 population in the EU-27, with the exception of Cyprus. That proportion (and its average quality) may depreciate somewhat if recovery does not take hold and emigration accelerates. But so far the outflow through emigration has been hyped while ignoring the mix.
First, net inward migration has turned negative mainly because immigration (people coming to Ireland) has collapsed rather than due to a surge in emigration (people leaving).
Second, a high proportion of those who have left are low-skilled and worked in construction where employment has more than halved. Construction, by its very nature, is a highly labour-intensive and low-productivity industry. Workers tend to be mobile, and emigration from this sector will not particularly dilute the quality of human capital in Ireland.
Moreover, the nascent recovery of the international-traded sectors will keep many of our graduates at home. Longer-term, investment in education must remain the salient priority.
I would dispute the assertion that there has been no surge in emigration. The emigration figures from Ireland were up 43% between 2008 and 2009, and up 145% between 2004 and 2009. ¬†The new phenomenon, of course, is that the majority of emigrants were going to the newer countries of the EU, and were thus presumably immigrants returning home. ¬†This is obviously not the same thing as suggesting there has been no upsurge in emigration.
The characterisation of the current emigrant outflow being comprised mostly of construction workers and therefore not “diluting the quality of human capital” rests uneasily with me.¬†First, I’m not aware of recent studies that break down emigration by occupational sector (please let me know if you know of any), so I’m presuming this is based on anecdotal evidence. ¬†There appears to be plenty of anecdotal evidence asserting, however, that it is not just manual labourers but also third-level graduates who are leaving. (In today’s Irish Times alone, for example, two graduates tell their emigration tales.)
It’s also at odds with the Tanaiste’s recent comments that emigration today is comprised of those Irish young people who are emigrating “to gain experience” and “want to enjoy themselves’ and ¬†are leaving “with degrees, PhDs. They are people who have a greater acumen academically and they have found work in other parts of the world.”
So on the one hand, we are reassured that we need not trouble ourselves with the upsurge in emigration because (a) it’s really not happening and (b) it’s not going to lower the quality of our labour force, and on the other hand, we need not trouble ourselves with the upsurge in emigration because these are highly educated people “who want to enjoy themselves”.
Obviously, this is a complex issue. We’ve heard very little of ‘brain drain’ with this upsurge of emigration, because the model of “brain circulation” has largely displaced the concept of permanent loss in migration thinking. We know from the boom that networks of well-educated Irish people can be an asset for our economy, no matter where they live, and many of them may eventually return if there is a return to substantial growth.
In terms of economic costs, emigration’s toll may not be all that harsh. Obviously, in the short term, emigration is a tried-and-true safety valve; sending off surplus labour will save social welfare money, and relieving the pressure on the unemployment rate will certainly make our economic performance look better on paper. And each unemployed person who leaves is one fewer potentially angry voter when it comes to election time.
But involuntary emigration carries very high potential human costs, and any analysis that does not take those into account is not looking at the full picture. ¬†Davy might call it ¬†“hype”, but the concern over rising emigration rates reflects Ireland’s long experience with a phenomenon many of us thought was gone forever.
Tanaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Mary Coughlan was questioned about emigration in a wide-ranging interview aired last night by BBC’s Hardtalk programme. Here is what she had to say:
Questioner: For the first time in 15 or more years, there is net emigration in Ireland. Once again we see Irish people leaving this country leaving this country looking for work. How long? How long is that going to last?
You have two things happening. We have had over ‚Äď in the80s we had about a million people working. Two years ago, two and a half years ago, over 2.1 million people working. We have 1.8 million still working in this country.
We did have a lot of people who came from the new member states to come here. Many of them have returned home because the employment opportunities have not been afforded to them.
Equally we have a lot of people – young people- who have decided they will go to other parts of the world to gain experience and I think the type of emigration that we have -
Questioner: But your government was supposed to have ended that, the whole cycle of Irish having to leave Ireland.
It‚Äôs the type of people that have left have gone on the basis that – some of them, fine, they want to enjoy themselves. That‚Äôs what young people are entitled to do.
But moreover, they are coming with a different talent. They are coming with degrees, PhDs.¬† They are people who have a greater acumen academically and they have found work in other parts of the world.
And that‚Äôs not a bad thing. Because equally we still continue to have very many people who are working here from other member states, the EU and Northern Ireland.
Related web pages:
- See the full interview on thestory.ie (Emigration comments begin in the sixth minute of part 3)
- Hardtalk website
- Mary Coughlan’s website
Irish emigrants who keep a home in Ireland are subject to the taxation on non-principal homes. The tax of ‚ā¨200 is levied on most houses that are not occupied by their owners, although there are a number of exemptions. The charge does apply to overseas owners.
The fact that emigrants must pay the tax was raised in the Dail today by Frank Feighan, Fine Gael’s TD from Roscommon South-Leitrim. In a debate over the Finance Bill, he said,
I agree the non-principal residence tax is a good idea for raising moneys for local authorities. However, having visited the Roscommon Associations in Manchester, Birmingham and London, I know many emigrants feel let down that the little house they have back in Ireland, some without even electricity or running water, will be charged this tax. They want to be good citizens but the local authorities are insisting they pay the ‚ā¨200 tax. That is an insult to the Irish diaspora which actually helped rebuild this country by sending money back from abroad.
The Government must apologise to those emigrants in the United States and the United Kingdom who have tried to keep a link with this country by keeping a small house, sometimes just a pile of stones, for not considering them when introducing this tax. It must be amended because the local authorities have not considered all factors involved.
This, clearly, is a case of taxation without representation. Is it right to levy taxes on citizens who are entitled to no representation in this State? Two centuries of post-Enlightenment thinking would say no. Is this democratic?
- TD Frank Feighan’s Dail speech on KildareStreet.com
- Factsheet on the Non-Principal Private Residence from the Irish Taxation Institute
- Non-principal private residence – online payment service
The Mayo Advertiser quotes opposition leader Enda Kenny on emigration:
Forced emigration is again a reality in County Mayo for an entire young generation. This spectre, which haunted Mayo for two centuries, is now back as a reality. That‚Äôs why I now receive text messages and emails from Australia, Canada, and the USA enquiring about job prospects. That‚Äôs why six young footballers have left Islandeady for foreign shores. Other clubs around the country have the same problem.
The article notes that live register figures have begun to decline from the 12,000 figure of jobless in Mayo in September 2009, due to the number of people leaving the county. Only 7,000 were unemployed in September 2008.
Economists cite emigration as a major reason why the unemployment figures released today showed a rate of 12.7%; they would be higher were the safety valve of emigration not in effect.
See the entire article:
It was heartbreaking to watch the Twitter feed while listening to last week’s budget speech from Finance Minister Brian Lenihan. In the last decade, the government has done so much to redress the omissions of the past regarding Ireland’s relationship with the diaspora. Since the publication of the Task Force Report on Policy Regarding Emigration in 2002, the government has acknowledged its debt to our emigrants, established the Irish Abroad Unit, initiated a dramatic increase in funding to emigrant services, and has undertaken innovative projects such as the recent Global Irish Economic Forum at Farmleigh. There has been much reason to feel positive about the Irish government’s role in ending the involuntary emigration of years past, and to believe in its sincerity in addressing the many problems that beset Irish communities around the world as they tried to help aging or isolated emigrants and the undocumented in the US.
All of these improvements of recent years, however, appear to be threatened by the current crisis and the recent upsurge of youth emigration. I have resisted believing any of the news reports suggesting that there is any possibility that anyone in any government department could be hoping for an increase in emigration so as to lower the unemployment rates.
As I listened to Minister Lenihan’s speech, however, and read the accompanying Twitter feed, it was deeply unsettling to see how many times the word “emigration” was appearing in the tweets of young people’s responses to the budget. Whatever message was intended, many young people clearly interpreted it as a signal that their generation was to be the sacrificial offering to appease the gods of economic disaster.
I copied as much as I could catch of the relevant postings. Here they are (unedited and uncensored):
On job creation and the future
BreffniOS There is no incentive to create jobs or industry, no long term planning. Prepare for mass graduate¬†emigration.
gavreilly Sparing a thought for UCD students who went into exams at 3pm and come out at 5pm to the prospect of unavoidable¬†emigration.
RachelMorrogh Glad I’ll be in Canada before the influx of unemployed under-22s reaches those shores¬†#budget10
@IMJ_Ireland Young people of Ireland….time for the emigrant boat¬†#budget10
laurak88 he’s not makin it very easy for young people who want to stay in ireland to do so-well done lads *mass exodus to the airport¬†#budget10
tvcritics It takes Brian Lenihan just 1/2 an hour to kick start mass emigration of the young¬†#Budget10¬†fuck you Fianna F√°il
itslauraduggan People get the hell out of Ireland while you can¬†#budget10
activedan I’ve got a plane ticket for Wales leaving first thing in the morning. i may not return!¬†#budget10
nightphaser On people calling for¬†emigration in the face of policy: If the good ones leave, only the bad ones will remain to do as they please.
Belindamckeon so the choice for young people: emigrate or drink yourself into oblivion on cheaper booze. wahey!¬†#budget10
BreffniOS There is no incentive to create jobs or industry, no long term planning. Prepare for mass graduate¬†emigration.
stevedaley #budget10¬†is the most exemplary recipe for returning to the 1980s… Irish political elite have surrendered the goal of job creation. many of my friends are going to leave the country…
Spaghettihoop So we raise our children as ship and plane-fodder. Again?#budget10
Robbiecousins No jobs in this, at least the last Lenihan suggested sponsoring people to leave the country¬†#budget10
@bioniclaura The emigration pressure valve is a tried and tested measure used down the years by our political classes.
The Kennedy centre announcement
thomasbrunkard Inauguration of President Kennedy probably proved that emigration was a great opportunity Brian.¬†#Budget10
cormacflynn Ted Kennedy thing is laughable. We’ll be building monuments to other successful emigrants after this budget¬†#budget10
KatWaters Bet Alistair Darlings wishes he could have announced funding for a new theme park to highlight the opps that come with emigration.¬†#budget10
RealBLenihan He’s really setting up an Emigration Centre? Should come in handy.¬†#budget10
Tax on the tax exiles
CharteredAccIrl #budget10¬†radical new rules for ‘tax exiles’ – being Irish just got expensive!
And the word from abroad…
johnpaulfoxe I am so glad I don’t live in Ireland anymore!¬†#budget10« Previous Entries