Emigration in Ireland - Leaving need not be the final break

This society has always regarded emigration as a consequence of economic or political failure, but this may not be entirely accurate.

The scores of millions who make up the Irish diaspora are testimony to the draining reality that has been a part of Irish life for centuries. One current estimate suggests 80m people — about 13 times the population of the island — can be so defined. This worldwide resource has been targeted and made many valuable contributions to Irish life.

The depth of our current malaise is such that emigration rates have, dishearteningly, returned to Great Famine levels. Recent CSO figures reveal more than 3,000 people are leaving the country each month, the highest number since the 1844-1849 catastrophe. Up to 76,000 people left Ireland in the year to April, including an estimated 40,000 Irish nationals.

It is of little consolation that the manner of their leaving is not as brutal as a landlord-sponsored passage on a coffin ship to Canada or America once was. It is however a considerable consolation that emigration is not the absolute wrench it once was as communications technology and modern travel may take some of the sting out of the process.

The heartbreak however, remains for many, especially for aging parents.

But emigration is a reality for all struggling societies, a fact confirmed recently by America’s Census Bureau. For the first time more babies — 50.4% — were born to minority community parents than to white parents. US officials expect that by 2042, non-Hispanic whites will be outnumbered in America. Minorities accounted for 92% of US population growth in the decade ended in 2010, so Ireland’s situation is not unique.

Today we report that just one company is helping four families a week to leave this island with all their worldly goods packed in a shipping container suggesting the family has booked a one-way ticket. The image of a family filling a container with everything from the family car to Aunt Olive’s silver teaspoons is chastening but maybe not chastening enough to make us acknowledge that not all emigration is because of the absence of economic opportunity.

Why else would some people emigrate to countries like America where the domestic economy is almost as challenged as our own?

Of course the great majority of it is forced, but it is hard not to imagine that some of these people would prefer to live in a different kind of society.

Maybe one where, say, the fate of some of Europe’s last raised bogs is not in jeopardy because some blinkered people put their sense of entitlement before their responsibilities to society and the future. There are far too many hooks to hang this argument on in this society just as there are in others, but this seems a real recurring tragedy of emigration in Ireland.

Too many of the best and brightest leave as soon as they can, because of cultural, or in extreme cases, ethical reasons.

The people so motivated would have a great contribution to make in this country, but they have decided to move abroad. Some may put down roots and break all practical links with Ireland, but others might, in time, like to return and bring the benefits of their experiences with them.

If there was some sort of incentives package, maybe even tax breaks, in these circumstances it might be a decisive factor.

This could be a win-win situation, reuniting families and greatly enhancing society’s knowledge bank.


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