Though its legacy has not been entirely negative, it is the constant, corrosive undercurrent that recognised, for too many, opportunity lay elsewhere. It has divided parents from children, brothers from sisters and forced millions of Irish people to accept that their country could not offer them economic opportunity much less security.
As Tuesday’s day of reckoning approaches, today’s Irish Examiner/Lansdowne Millward Brown poll shows that we are at that sorry, draining point once again. Nearly one-in-three of those aged between 18 and 24 intend to leave Ireland in the next year. Across all age groups one-in-10 people are planning to leave. If you confine that question to men, that increases to a harrowing 12%.
Even if you try to sweeten the statistics by accepting that emigration is a fact of life for millions around the world, it remains a terrible indictment of a society that has enjoyed political independence for almost a century and considerable economic support from Europe.
Today’s American or, more likely, Australian wakes may not be as poignant or as final as they were in earlier times but it is still a wrenching realisation for anyone who has worked hard to raise a family and made many sacrifices to educate their children that this country cannot offer them a future.
It is also a terrible blow to the country’s confidence when so many of our brightest young people vote with their feet. Unemployment is usually the reason but this time around the air of pessimism hanging over the country has been the deciding factor for some.
The news has been so relentlessly depressing that people have opted out and decided not to listen any more. Though utterly understandable this detachment, this kind of denial contributed to getting us into this mess. As we try to remake this misused country, that denial is not an option. We will have to uncover the layers of privilege, the self-centred hypocrisy that have contributed to our downfall. We cannot do that without involvement that can sometimes be depressing.
We all know who played the leading roles but if we are to be as honest as we must be, we will all have to recognise that some the things that we once considered normal are no longer appropriate.
Just yesterday the Oireachtas Education Committee heard accusations of below par performance by third-level lecturers. Last week the Department of Education published a report that uncovered unacceptable indifference or incompetence amongst national school-teachers. Neither of these are acceptable anymore.
This week we are told the ESB workers get a 55% reduction in their domestic electricity bills. We heard too, for the umpteenth time, a hospital consultant complaining about a threat to patient services as if his extraordinary pay levels had nothing to do with the situation. All of these are unacceptable and there are very many more examples that will have to be confronted if we are to end emigration and make this a country we might be proud of. Tuesday will tell us what we have lost but if we do these things without fear or favour we can recover even more.