A new way back for Irish emigrants
It is gratifying to see tangible upturns in the activity of native Irish industry, notably among smaller manufacturing enterprises that form part of the essential fabric of many thousands of our local communities. The latest unemployment figures reflect this, while the ESRI has noted it is also beginning to have a positive impact on emigration.
The backdrop is stark. As a letter writer to The Irish Times noted earlier this month, of the past 10 decades of our independence, “eight have been marked by mass unemployment and mass emigration”. Almost 400,000 have left since 2008.
The latest ESRI estimate underlines this too; some 78,000 people are predicted to leave the country in the year to April 2014. While it is a significant decline compared to recent years, that statistic alone encapsulates the scale of departure; a mass social wrenching from the State - and separate to associated personal traumas for those who felt they had no option but to go, and for their extended families and friends at home for whom January is a quiet, sad month.
A great many were the natural “replenishers” of the economy but felt there was no other option but to leave if meaningful employment and a quality of life were to be found. And yet it has been a hugely empowering experience for tens of thousands of people once “the shock of the new” was overcome as reflected in words of those who contribute to the Generation Emigration section on the irishtimes.com website.
The reality nonetheless is that leaving for most people was prompted in all probability by uncompromising economic duress, and they wish to return home as soon as is practicable - though their lives and skills in a great many instances are being enriched by working abroad. If we are moving into the “recovery phase”, post deep recession and bailout, now is the time for not only the Government, but also cities, towns, business groups and community organisations to plan for the return over the next decade of those who wish to be part of their own place; on Irish soil.
The Clare priest and community activist Fr Harry Bohan in a recent interview with the Irish Examiner suggested “the kind of things that brought us into the era of the Celtic Tiger will not work into the future” if communities are to be re-built and made sustainable. In that vein, the Irish economy needs to reverse the flow with radicalism that is opposite to the free-marketing thinking of the boom that fostered “an economy of exclusion and inequality” to borrow the words of Pope Francis.
This approach should encapsulate the provision of supports that enhance employment - especially jobs that sustain families - a favourable tax regime for those returning home, and incentives that fire-up local enterprise. And this must happen not just in obvious urban centres but also in the smallest villages across the island of Ireland that are now better positioned to counter remoteness through broadband and better roads; one good legacy from our recent traumatic past.