July 31st, 1967
FROM THE ARCHIVES:In this “Social Sort of Column”, Eileen O’Brien talked to the people at the Marian Employment Agency in London’s Kilburn about the plight of teenage Irish emigrants in the mid-1960s.
THE AGENCY was started in 1963. Its main aim is to discourage irresponsible emigration: if people must emigrate, let them at least come with the prospect of a job and lodgings.
Its manager, Mr. Jim Casey from Ennis, told me that three out of five Irish children will probably emigrate. There are half-a-million unemployed in Britain and as employers must pay a tax of 25s. [shillings] for every man and 12/6 for every woman who works for them, they are not likely to take on anyone superfluous.
So for the unskilled particularly, the outlook is not good. It is not good in Ireland either: Mr Casey lately went the rounds of the factories at Shannon, for instance, and found that only people with qualifications need apply. “There are a million Irish in Britain who would like to go home, but because they have not the qualifications they can’t,” he said.
The agency’s biggest problem is the under-18s, and Mr. Casey believes that its most valuable work is preventing young people from coming to England.
When they get applications from adolescents they write first to them; if this fails, they write to their parents, but find all too often that mothers and fathers in Ireland are willing that their children should go; then they write to the local curate who goes round and tries to discourage all concerned. The agency has written to some 3,500 curates in Ireland informing them of conditions in England.
“Young Irish boys and girls in London are undoubtedly suffering from under- nourishment,” declared Mr. Casey, “because the wages they earn are not enough to live on.”
Because the Irish in Britain feel their stay is only temporary they leave jobs with gay abandon, and because they are consequently regarded as footloose and irresponsible there are many firms which refuse to employ any Irish at all. [. . .]
An important part of the agency’s work is to keep whole families from emigrating without prospects. They warn them that family housing is virtually impossible to find in London or Birmingham and advise them, if they must emigrate, to let the father come first and find a job before bringing the children.
“The Irish imagine that Britain is Utopia,” declared Mr. Casey. “Unskilled boys of 19 expect £20 to £30 a week, but the British worker is paid less than his counterpart in almost every country in Europe.”
He said many Irish in Britain had an inferiority complex because they had never been taught to speak clearly and could not make themselves understood, and this quickly turned to an aggressive, anti-social attitude. The girls, too, “stuck out like a sore thumb.” They needed some advice before leaving home on how to dress and use cosmetics.