Full transcript of Noonan’s controversial emigration remarks

Finance Minister Michael Noonan made his comments on emigration last Thursday at a press conference to discuss the troika quarterly review of Ireland’s progress under the bailout programme.

The comments were in response to a question from a BBC reporter, who asked if the Government had factored in emigration projections to their economic predictions.

The reporter also picked up on comments made by Eamon Gilmore earlier that morning in which the Tánaiste had encouraged Sinn Féin to pull on the “green jersey” and support Government negotiations with the troika. The reporter suggested that Irish people were being forced to put on the Australian jersey because of the unemployment and emigration crisis.

This is the full transcript of Mr Noonan’s response.

“Well, the Central Statistics Office will, you know, monitor these issues and they come up with statistics. They’re not specifically factored into the budgetary process. What’s factored in is the level of employment and unemployment. Now, employment has stayed quite high — we still have more than 1.8 million people working in Ireland. Now, I remember in the back end of the ’80s when times were quite bad, employment dropped down to about 940 [940,000], you know? Almost half, so the situation is quite different.

“In December unemployment steadied, and actually for the first time in three years, the Live Register went down. It went down by about 3,000; the last time that happened I think was in 2007, and we hope it wasn’t just a one-month event, and that there’s a stabilisation.

“There are always young people coming and going from Ireland. And some of them are emigrants in the traditional sense, others simply — it’s a small island — other people want to get off the island for a while.

“And, you know, a lot of the people who go to Australia, it’s not being driven by unemployment at home, it’s driven by a desire to see another part of the world and live there, you know?

“I have — of my five adult children, there are three of them living and working abroad. I don’t think any of the three could be described as an emigrant: it was a free choice of lifestyle and what they wanted to do with their lives, you know? And there are a lot of families like that.

“Now, there are other people being driven abroad all right. By and large what happened, the collapse of the building industry has driven a lot of forced emigration. The immediate effect of that was over about a 15-month period, 100,000 people with building skills lost their jobs. And they’ve lost their jobs with absolutely no hope for the bulk of them of being re-employed in the building industry again in Ireland, because we’re not going to go back to a building and construction industry that was 20% of GDP. So we can’t hold out that hope. So in Ireland, we’re trying to re-skill them so that they go into different activities. But quite a number of them have emigrated, and there are quite a lot of them in Australia, some of them are in the UK, some are in Germany. So young men in particular, with the skills of the building industry, is a very identifiable tranche of people who’ve emigrated.

“And it’s not about putting on the green jersey or taking off the green jersey. It’s just that, you know, that’s life in modern Ireland and they have to do their best, and I hope they’re successful abroad.

“What we have to make sure is that our young people have the best possible education right up to third level so that when they go, they’re employed as young professionals in their country of destination rather than the kind of traditional image of Irish emigrants in the 1950s.”

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