The reality of emigration


Since 2008, more than 200,000 Irish nationals have emigrated. That amounts to more than four out of every 100 people in a population of 4.6 million. Many have left by choice, as polls have indicated, and others have gone through economic necessity to seek employment abroad. But the latest figures from the Central Statistics Office show that many have also returned home. More than half the number of Irish nationals who emigrated in the 2008/2013 period have come back. More recently, however, the balance has shifted sharply as far fewer have returned.

Years of austerity, low growth and high unemployment have taken an increasing toll, as reflected in the steep increase in net outward emigration by Irish nationals. They accounted for more than half of the total number of emigrants (89,000) in the 12 months to last April. By contrast, in that time more non-Irish nationals came to Ireland than left.

Undoubtedly, public attitudes to emigration have changed over time. In the contemporary world of globalisation, where mobility of labour is greater, travel is faster and cheaper, and communication is easier – via the internet and Skype – the barriers of time and distance have been greatly reduced. For some, absence still means pain but for many other Irish emigrants or their family members at home, the sense of loss is less keenly felt.

In 1954, Alexis FitzGerald, later a distinguished Senator, wrote a memorable minority report to the Commission on Emigration in which he argued for a more realistic appreciation of the advantages of emigration, in helping to release social tensions that, he feared, would otherwise explode. Emigration today has shed many of its former negative overtones. And for many – as Minister of Finance Michael Noonan has acknowledged – the decision to work abroad reflects a lifestyle choice. Emigration is a reality and one for which the State could better prepare its citizens, not least by ensuring the education system places a greater emphasis on foreign languages.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Screen Name Selection


Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.