If you could start a new life, where would you choose?

Opinion: Just 19 per cent of Irish people would choose Ireland

Thirty-nine per of  Irish people would choose other  European countries in which to start a new life. Photographer: Dara MacDonaill

Thirty-nine per of Irish people would choose other European countries in which to start a new life. Photographer: Dara MacDonaill


Asked in an autumn 2012 opinion survey: “If you could start a new life, in which country of the world would you start it?” only 19 per cent of Irish people said Ireland.

Their preferences were 39 per cent for other European countries (Italy, France, Spain mainly and the UK 0.8 per cent). Some 21 per cent chose the Americas, and 16 per cent Australasia. Only 13 per cent of those aged 15-29 nominated Ireland. The survey was conducted by Gallup for the Anna Lindh Foundation in its work on intercultural trends and social change in the Euro-Mediterranean region.

It selected Albania, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Poland and Spain in Europe; and Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia and Turkey in the southern and eastern Mediterranean.

Germany and Spain as well as Egypt, Morocco and Turkey were included in this and the first poll in 2009, allowing for a comparison of changing attitudes over the period of the Arab uprisings and reforms. It deals with mutual representations, interest, interactions, perceptions, values, expectations, democratic challenges and civic engagement.

The results show there is less a clash of civilisations than of ignorances, though people on both sides of that sea report greater levels of interest in the others. Although Ireland is not geographically a Mediterranean country, it is a member of the EuroMed institutions, including Anna Lindh.

Common experience

Most associate the Mediterranean with its European states such as Italy, Spain, Greece, France and Portugal (with whom we have common experience of recent economic crisis) rather than Egypt, Morocco or Turkey. The same pattern occurs in the south and east, with most respondents mentioning their neighbours and only 7 per cent Greece.

Overall the survey reveals common feelings of cultural heritage and ways of life north and south of the Mediterranean. Food and lifestyle are emphasised more by Europeans, while southerners prioritise hospitality and culture.

Europeans stress resistance to change, turmoil, insecurity and source of conflict as characteristics of the region rather more than the southerners. But there are significant diversities among each group, so that Ireland exhibits a more balanced set of attitudes than Germany, Spain or Belgium, which have greater neighbouring or immigrant entanglements with the south.

Ireland has relatively few immigrants from the south and east Mediterranean among the 12 per cent of the population here that is foreign born, according to the 2011 census. Most are from Poland, the UK, Lithuania, Latvia and there are about as many Nigerians as north Africans.

But OECD studies show all these people and their children could be 25-30 per cent of the Irish population by 2021, 33-38 per cent by 2041 and 36-45 per cent by 2061, based on various assumptions about fertility and demographic change. So attitudes to diversity and respect for difference are really important for our own changing society.

Rapid transition

Ireland does not have a hard- right party resisting immigration, and despite evidence of growing racist incidents in the more deprived areas where most immigrants live, the rapid transition to a multicultural society has been surprisingly positive.

This survey shows 50 per cent of Irish people have met someone from the southern Mediterranean in the last year, that most are interested in news from there, have an optimistic expectation of its political change, and that respect for cultural diversity and acknowledgment of equality for people of different backgrounds are high on their lists of educational and social rights. Religion is a key differentiating factor between the two regions and peoples.

The survey asks whether there are absolute guidelines on what is good and bad and truthful, or whether these are relative and circumstantial. Poland tops the European list at 38-58 per cent absolute versus relative, and Albania is bottom at 11-79 per cent (Ireland 30-65 per cent), whereas Morocco is at 80-19 per cent and Egypt 44-34 per cent with a high 22 per cent don’t knows. The average figures are 26-70 per cent in Europe and 53-37 per cent in south and east Mediterranean.

But there are many differences too within the regions and notable shifts over the three years, including on the role of religious values in education, which is more valued in the south (a priority for just 17 per cent here).

Ann Luttrell of Irish Anna Lindh points out that Ireland’s model of interculturalism – seeing integration as a two-way process involving consultation with minority ethnic groups and their representatives – is upheld by these findings. The rank order of efficiently solving problems in society here emphasises individual action over joining social movements or political parties, another example of our comparatively distinctive diminished political trust.


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