Latest wave to leave Ireland have nothing to keep them
'Are emigrants abandoning Ireland or is Ireland abandoning them?"
That was the headline in a recent face-off debate in The Irish Times. The debate was spurred by a new Facebook page called "Ireland Abandoners", which attacked young people for leaving Ireland in the lurch and taking off for better climes.
The Facebook page created a minor sensation, with thousands batting the question back and forth before Facebook took it down at the instigation of a group of Australian emigrants.
Pity really, because it would have exposed the continuing fault line that appears to happen in every generation between those who go and those who stay.
Emigration is so fused into the brain of the Irish as a natural phenomenon that the idea of leaving family, friends and a land you grew up loving seems a normal rather than an utterly abnormal experience.
In fact, there are few more transformative events in anyone's life than leaving his or her native land. It causes massive problems if people are unprepared. Ask any of the Irish outreach centres in the US, Britain or Australia. Which is why, given the option of staying, the vast majority would not "abandon" Ireland at all. This self-evident truth is lost on so many left behind, however.
Those left behind are also usually more prosperous and able to ride out the waves of a difficult recession that washes over and swamps those less well off or less educated. In every generation since the Free State was founded in 1922 there has been massive emigration.
In the 1920s it was Civil War veterans who took the wrong side who fled. Thirty years later it was the dispossessed rural sons and daughters of Ireland, unable to make livings from poor family farms who fled.
In the 1980s it was the newly educated classes with no jobs who found themselves heading to Boston and Berlin. Now, 30 years later, it appears to be everybody, and not those drawn from any specific class.
The numbers leaving reached 87,000 in the 12 months to April 2012, according to the latest statistics.
The underlying reality in the 1920s, 1950s, 1980s and in the present day is the same. The failure of successive Irish governments of whatever background to find enough employment and opportunity for their people speaks to a massive collective failure of the Irish nation.
The major difference between emigration in good times and in bad times is whether it is voluntary or involuntary. In good times obviously it is the former.
Nowadays, however, I meet many of this new crop of emigrants who miss the fields of home as earnestly and obviously as their grandparents did in the 1950s.
This is no high-tech movement of happily displaced upwardly mobile groups, though I'm sure under the term "voluntary emigration" you would find many of them clutching to that banner.
This feels like the 1980s again, even a tinge of the 1950s, with people who have no business emigrating - either because of their lack of skills or their sheer inability to handle the massive emotional and physical disconnect involved - making the trek.
That is a failure that can be squarely laid at the feet of successive administrations who have failed the basic challenge of keeping their people employed.
Ironically, it is those leaving who are keeping the powers-that-be in power. If they stayed unemployment would rocket and social unrest would likely occur.
But as long as there are flights bound for New York or London, the crisis will never truly hit.