EMIGRATION is tempting these days, especially as I’ve struggled to get by working in the community sector, which has been hit by 20%-50% funding cuts.
During a recent trip to Australia it was easy to see why so many people are flocking there in such numbers. A strong economy, decent health, education, and social services, and a sunny outdoor lifestyle all contrast favourably with the mood in Ireland at the moment.
Two recent reports show how younger people in Ireland are disproportionately affected by austerity. Issues like unemployment, personal debt, negative equity, and suicide are hitting the under-40s harder and it’s understandable that many are leaving our shores to seek a better life abroad.
Australia is no utopia though. It has its fair share of problems, and is dependent on a mining boom driven by Chinese economic growth. Inevitably, many emigrants settle there, growing old away from friends and family, something that breaks the hearts of so many Irish parents.
The prospect of emigration has raised interesting questions for me. When I was 12 my family emigrated to Australia during the recession of the late ’80s. My parents were my age at the time and wanted to build a better life for their family. They were inspired by my uncle, Jim McKiernan, who left difficult times in ’60s Ireland and later became a member of the Australian parliament for 18 years.
After a while though, they decided on returning to Ireland, preferring to be close to relations and to try and make a go of it at home.
Two decades on, Ireland is in recession again. I’m preparing to get married and, like my parents before me, I’m contemplating the future. I have been considering future prospects for work, housing, healthcare, and the conditions for raising a family in a country that seems to stumble from one crisis to another.
Increasingly I’ve been wondering about what kind of future is in store for us and what role I want to play in that. Much of it boils down to having hope in the future and, sadly, hope is in short supply these days.
Ireland is a struggle at times but ultimately I love it. I’m proud of our rich heritage, our culture, music, and sport. I love the wild beauty of our land and the spirit, warmth, and wit of our people.
I value my friends and my family and can see how difficult it would be to leave them. Like most people, I want to see things change for the better and I’m impatient with the pace of change.
I am fed up waiting and I’m not prepared to be a spectator watching the unfolding litany of hypocrisies, calamities, corruption, and incompetence.
I don’t underestimate the challenges ahead. While our biggest priority might be economic in nature, I believe the underlying issue is one of national confidence and self-belief, belief that we can really and truly transform things.
Throughout history and against all the odds, Irish people have transcended fear and dared to dream that a different reality was possible. We let the world know that Ireland was a place that valued truth, justice, democracy, and the dream of freedom.
We could do well now to invoke that same spirit of freedom and reclaim our country from rogues and profiteers, and the despair that is holding us back.
It can be hard to be positive at times but it is often during the most painful times that the conditions for breakthroughs and true transformation are most ripe. The best antidote for despair is action, and it is time for us to rise together and become the leaders we are waiting for. What role we each take will be different, but together we have the skills, talent, and heart to bring hope back to Ireland.
A new Ireland is possible, one that takes risks to create a bold new vision. We have the perfect opportunity to put new systems in place, transform our politics to give people a real say, and overhaul our economy to promote green energy and social innovation.
We can rethink education, health, transport, and our relationship with the natural environment. If we want a new, vibrant, and equal republic then we can have one. First we need to get active, vocal, and organised, and demand better from ourselves, each other, and from those that claim to serve us.
I don’t want to have to leave my country and I am prepared to fight for a bright future here. As tempting as the Australian dream might be right now, for me the dream of co-creating this new Ireland is much greater.
nRuairí McKiernan is an award-winning social innovator, campaigner, and a member of the Council of State. Follow him on Twitter: @ruairimckiernan