Revolutionary web can end emigration

Last week, I sat on a panel organised by the London Irish Business Society, a forum established in 2009 to facilitate networking among Irish people working primarily in financial services across the UK capital.

The 200 guests talked about how doing business in Ireland and the UK compares and contrasts.

The energy and dynamism of the mostly first-generation emigrants from Ireland were impressive.

As the Republic transitions through a momentous year in its history, the fate of emigrants has to be high on our minds, even if their ability to influence policy and politics in Ireland is limited.

Unlike many other countries, Ireland is remarkably open, insofar as emigration is a structural component of its fabric.

I recently had a group of Japanese investors in Dublin, and we were discussing our respective countries.

They could not comprehend the idea of a large number of citizens emigrating each and every year. It seems neither widespread immigration nor emigration occurs in Japan, which probably influences its culture.

For Irish people, emigration is a tap that flows strongly when the domestic economy weakens, and continues to flow, albeit at a slower pace, when the economy picks up.

Today, emigrants have a far greater opportunity to communicate and engage with their families than used to be the case.

Social media, low-cost air travel, and the web provide immediate contact with home.

I’d like to think that is positive, but wonder, sometimes, if it makes it more emotionally jarring.

Is it better to have an instant communication loop with your local GAA clubmates when in the US, or does it inflate the nostalgia?

Economically, emigration provides a relief valve for a country that struggles to generate enough vibrancy to keep our young people at home.

It is too easy to conclude that emigration is positive, because it helps those who leave to learn and to broaden their minds, through greater exposure to other cultures.

That can be true, but it should be a choice, to travel for work or leisure purposes. Too often, it is an unequivocal necessity for a man or woman who wants to create enough income and resources to build an independent life for themselves, and for their future families.

Ranting on about the negatives of emigration is, ultimately, unhelpful. It is far better to open a debate about why we collectively tolerate structural emigration, and what can be done to change it fundamentally.

I no longer buy the notion that Ireland cannot employ everyone who wants to work here. It might have been a fact, in the past, that the domestic economy was narrow and offered limited opportunity for school-leavers and college graduates.

That narrative has been blown away by clouds; iclouds to be precise.

The rapid and sustained development of an entire economy on the web has transformed Ireland’s position in the global marketplace.

With an ability to communicate instantly via voice mail and, increasingly, video, our small nation now resides in a mammoth market, where competitive advantage centres around knowledge and cost.

The physical limitations that used to apply to residing in rural areas, or, indeed, in cities on an island off the west coast of Europe, increasingly do not apply.

Instead, a savvy, multilingual, well-educated workforce that is plugged into the web, with first-class mobile and fibre infrastructure, can leverage their cost advantages to full effect. There are thousands of jobs in that universe and we need to pursue them with even greater vigour.

Joe Gill is director of corporate broking with Goodbody Stockbrokers. His views are personal.


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