That was because we had the youngest average population in the EU. This was a decade or more before the height of the Celtic Tiger and it was a proud boast. It gave us hope as a people, lifted the spirit of the nation and heralded a bright future for us all.
Soon we could become “The Old Europeans”, primarily because our young people are not hanging around for the Government’s promise that austerity today will bring jobs tomorrow. They are leaving in their thousands a country that has neglected them and, many feel, rejected them.
The most in-depth study ever undertaken of Irish emigration has found clear evidence that a disproportionate number of well-educated young people are leaving the country, with rural Ireland affected most.
These are not just our youngest but also our brightest. In the region of 62% of recent emigrants have a third-level qualification of three years or more. While the taxpayers of Ireland have helped fund their education, it is other countries that will benefit for years — perhaps decades — to come. If something is not done to arrest this brain drain, Ireland will become a nursing home for a zimmerframe nation.
The year-long study was conducted by researchers from UCC’s Institute for Social Science in the 21st Century and the college’s department of geography. The researchers found that rural Ireland is worst affected by emigration, with one in four households seeing at least one family member leave since 2006.
Emigration levels are now four times as high as they were seven years ago and it is not just the unemployed who are leaving. Less than a quarter were unemployed before leaving and around half of those emigrating left full-time jobs behind.
The truly horrifying reality is that other bailout countries are not seeing anything like these levels of emigration. The Spanish and Greeks, who are experiencing the same and in some cases even worse levels of austerity, are not emigrating in anything like the numbers of the Irish. That seems to suggest that, despite their troubles, their youth have a greater sense of hope than ours.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said he is “very concerned” about the figures but he doesn’t seem to be joining the dots: taking money out of the economy means taking people out of the economy. One follows the other. Jobs Minister Richard Bruton has also expressed concerns about the levels of emigration and insists that the Government is pursuing an “enterprise strategy”.
But the real enterprise is at the boarding gate. Ireland’s future wealth generators have lost faith not just in the economy but in the ability of our politicians to deliver jobs that will provide them with a decent standard of living.
Edwina Shanahan, manager of the visa processing company visafirst.com, has noticed a marked increase in the skill levels of those applying for visas overseas — including social workers, teachers, civil servants and IT developers.
“Even in sectors experiencing little or no job shortages such as software developers, we are still seeing quite a number of people leaving in search of a better way of life and lower taxes,” she says.
Ms Shanahan knows what she is talking about. Sadly, it appears that our political elite do not.