Generation Emigration

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

The frustration and guilt of watching Ireland’s struggle from afar

The worst part about emigration is not about missing family and friends, but the frustration of watching crippling austerity measures from afar and being unable to contribute to Irish political life, writes Orla Hennessy in The Hague.

Mon, Feb 27, 2012, 01:00

   

The worst part about emigration is not about missing family and friends, but the frustration of watching crippling austerity measures from afar and being unable to contribute to Irish political life, writes Orla Hennessy in The Hague.

Orla Hennessy in Amsterdam

My emigration story began as not one of emigration at all. In 2006, at 19, UCD awarded me an Erasmus study abroad year at the University of Amsterdam. Voluntarily packing my bags and marching off to what would be a life changing experience, I have lived abroad intermittently ever since.

I moved back to Amsterdam in April 2010 for love more so than work, and didn’t particularly consider myself an emigrant until about the time of the Irish bailout in November 2010 – when suddenly the narrative turned historical and we were once again a nation without sovereignty whose population were queuing at the ports.

Having now accepted my “Irish Emigrant” badge my nagging feeling is one of frustration and guilt. I should preface this statement by saying I love where I live and I recently started my dream job at a politics/academic research centre in The Hague. I am happy, incredibly lucky and otherwise have little complaint. I am frustrated however, because having had the privilege of receiving free higher education in history and politics in Ireland, I am now completely unable to have any impact on Irish politics at, arguably, the Republic’s lowest ebb.

And this is not an article about an emigrant’s right to vote – although I believe emigrants should be permitted this right.  It’s about the lack of young, highly skilled minds who are now putting their talent to use in foreign countries. The reason Ireland is in its current economic mess is that many of our politicians have sat in Leinster House too long, on the coat-tails of their brothers and grandfathers, having cavorted with their banking and property development equivalents. In Irish politics we desperately need an influx of fresh faces – to rid ourselves of the old corrupt guard. Many of the naysayers will laugh at “youth” involvement in politics, but what harm could it do? Considerably less than the last government, I would wager. What the country needs is its young highly skilled population to get involved in politics, to put their tax paid university education to use and to help build tomorrow’s Ireland.

But rather than this article being some kind of attempt at my own dodgy campaign slogan – that is the catch. Many of the young people I speak of are now emigrants who are unable to vote and who don’t know when they will return.

And so I am left with my hypocritical bleating about the state of Irish politics, the frustration about my disenfranchisement and the guilt of putting my skills to use abroad and reaping the rewards of emigration.

I have followed the various emigration stories on the Irish Times and was surprised at one which received a lot of negative feedback: a young guy in London who was living it up. The main source of discontent was his use of free higher education in Ireland without ever paying taxes there. In the six years since I first left Ireland, I have paid the majority of my taxes in the Netherlands and so I am in the same boat. But considering a portion of my Dutch taxes are in some way contributing to the bailouts of Greece, Ireland and Portugal, isn’t this particular gripe null and void? My Dutch and German friends are quick to point out this fact.

I am lucky because the Netherlands is not too far from home and I try to go back as often as I can – I even managed to get back for the presidential election and see my preferred candidate win. I have no idea how long I will remain abroad but at the moment, jobs in political organizations or NGOs in Ireland are few and far between. For me, the worst part about emigration is not about missing family and friends (thank God for Skype and Facebook!) but watching crippling austerity measures from afar and being unable to contribute to Irish political life. I know many other young emigrants probably feel the same.

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