Leaving Ireland: a question of lifestyle or necessity?

Wed, Mar 21, 2012, 00:00

Sir, – The survey on emigration (Weekend Review, March 17th Home News, March 19th) focuses, quite rightly, on those who are leaving Ireland, whether by choice or otherwise. What is perhaps overlooked is another tragedy of emigration. What about the parents who are left behind? Many are elderly and are left facing into old age with no family in this country. Perhaps they should be surveyed? – Yours, etc,



Co Longford.

Sir, – As someone who left Ireland voluntarily in 2005 at the height of the so-called Celtic Tiger I take a dim view of the idea that people are leaving voluntarily. I left partly because I couldn’t stick the Celtic Tiger and all that went with it, the crazy buying into the belief that we were rich rather than in debt and the constant conversations about house prices and the latest item bought in some overpriced store.

Many of the current batch of emigrants would have bought into that and I doubt very much they would be leaving if the economy hadn’t crashed. Subjective views on why people emigrate in the midst of crisis are no real measure of why they do so.

Their feelings are mixed with ideas of failure and also that the country they thought would give them future won’t do so ever again. It is easier to say that they leave by choice than to recognise the reality that they are being expelled by circumstances beyond their control and are unlikely to have the opportunity to return to a job in the future, a predicament I now face myself. – Yours, etc,




South America.

Sir, – Congratulations to The Irish Times for your excellent and insightful research and article on the reality of the emigrant experience (Weekend Review, March 17th).

Much as I hate to use what is most often a negatively-loaded and pejorative term, I too am an “emigrant”. As such I find that most, if not all, of the recent debate in the Irish media has ignored the fact that leaving your home country to live and work abroad can be an extremely fulfilling experience and one that provides great scope and opportunity for both personal and professional development. None of this has been mentioned until now, which perhaps says more about the overly emotive nature of the debate than it does about the reality of life as an “emigrant”.

Perhaps it also says something about what distinguishes me as an “emigrant”: I am an Australian who has lived and worked in Denmark, Latvia and Russia, and now proudly carries an Irish passport and calls Ireland home.

The “emigrant” experience is not as black and white as the doomsayers would have us believe and you have done this country a service by recognising this. – Yours, etc,


Auburn Road,

Dún Laoghaire,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – The Irish Times deserves much credit for its major new poll on emigrants and it makes fascinating reading, the more so as hard evidence about the decisions and experiences of emigrants is still in short supply (Weekend Review, March 17th Home News, March 19th). I have just a few comments and queries.

At the risk of boring readers with apparently technical arguments, it is impossible to know, from the information provided, whether the sampling method used really gives us a reasonably representative picture.

For instance, for Kathy Sheridan to write that “crucially and surprisingly, for six out of 10 of them, their departure was voluntary” loses its force (as does your main headline) if we cannot be convinced that the results of this poll can be said to represent the experiences of current Irish emigrants in general. I have every respect for Ipsos/MRBI, but you do not tell us enough to enable a judgment to be made on this point. When you say “migrants were identified by Ipsos/MRBI through its network of contacts” I would call that snowballing. This is the term used to describe any sample built up by contacting people you know, who then contact their contacts. Sometimes it’s the only way of building a sample, but it can seriously distort the nature of that sample.

“Purposive sampling” does indeed enable a corrective to be applied to an approach based only on snowballing, but insufficient information is provided about how it was done in this case.

For instance, the most striking statistic offered is that 85 per cent of those sampled had a post-Leaving Certificate qualification of some kind. If that really is true of the current generation of emigrants from Ireland, fair enough; I would like to see the evidence though. Moreover, if it is true, it’s absolutely extraordinary and stands in contrast to all previous waves of Irish emigration. Alternatively, it is possible, with the greatest of respect, that Ipsos/MRBI’s “network of contacts” was biased towards people with third-level qualifications. The emigrant experience might look quite different and a lot less positive to an unemployed construction worker, or someone without a trade or qualification. I accept that it is possible that most of these people are staying at home because competition at the unskilled end of the labour market is now far more intensive than it used to be.

My second point concerns your big headline on your front page (March 17th) – “Emigrants leaving by choice, not necessity”. Some emigrants have always left by choice, not necessity. Even in the Celtic Tiger days there were 16,000-20,000 people emigrating every year.

But such headlines tend to mask more subtle and complex realities. If 40 per cent felt they left involuntarily, as your survey suggests, and especially if they left an employment sector, construction, which will never recover to pre-crisis levels, it’s little consolation to them to be told that the other 60 per cent left by choice.

Politicians should not use such figures either, as they have always done, to present a blithely insouciant, upbeat picture of emigration which ignores the more complex realities and their own responsibility, and accountability, for the situation in which we find ourselves and the measures which must be taken to address it.

All that said, well done on a fascinating snapshot. – Yours, etc,


Lecturer in Migration Studies,

Department of Geography,


A chara, – Your current Government journalistic cheerleader, Stephen Collins, fails to spot a fatal flaw in reporting a recent survey on emigration; (“Emigrants leaving by choice, not necessity”, Front page, March 17th) The survey, we are told, was conducted with a cross-section of emigrants in terms of gender, age, place of origin, etc. The fact that the issue of “class” was not a factor in the survey diminishes its impact completely and must be taken with a political grain of salt. – Is mise,


Montpelier Gardens,

Dublin 7.

Sir, – Kathy Sheridan’s article “The new diaspora speaks” (Weekend Review, March 17th) is as poignant and infuriating as it should be, although I did wonder about the accuracy of the distributional map accompanying it.

It appears that 101 per cent of 302 people polled by Ipsos MRBI relocated across the globe. I cannot understand how this can be – are there 3.02 Irish persons currently lost in the Amazon Basin? Or, were the people polled somehow bigger than the rest of us? This is worrying.

While it is true that the Department of Finance has often been shown to have difficulties with its sums, one would expect that in a country which produced the likes of William Rowan Hamilton somebody might be up to checking percentages.

As for Ipsos MRBI, “Quis custodiet Ipsos custodes?” – Yours, etc,


South Hill,

Dartry, Dublin 6.

Sir, – I was infuriated by The Irish Times headline (“Quality of life better abroad than home, say most emigrants”, March 19th), after the full broadside of Saturday’s edition (Home News Weekend Review, March 17th) telling us about all those happy, adventurous, successful emigrants. The small sample and the method of interviewing ensured that only those with telephone accounts were surveyed – that is, the successful emigrants. What about the homeless, those without mobile or land-line accounts or those who cannot afford credit for a mobile phone?

It is hugely disrespectful to those who are struggling with the enormous upheaval of leaving Ireland, to base such sweepingly upbeat assumptions about so many people on so little evidence. The questioning, apparently designed to elicit restricted responses, seemed lazy research on which to base so many happy column inches.

A longitudinal study on children and young teenagers who have been uprooted from school and close friends would provide much more useful information for those considering emigration in the future. Kathy Sheridan’s article (March 19th) notes that 72 per cent of emigrants want to return home to live. This suggests that many children and young people may experience double disruption in their lives.

A study of the age profile of those who remain in this country, after all the tens of thousands of young people have left, would be useful information towards redesigning economic strategy for the future. However, neither this nor a study of the effects of disconnections in the lives of young people would make us feel that warm glow that was, one supposes, meant to suffuse us by looking through the rose-tinted lens of The Irish Times at what is currently happening to so many Irish people. – Yours, etc,



Co Cork.

Sir, – It saddens me greatly to hear of so much forced emigration from our country. It would be interesting to know just how many sons and daughters of the last government’s TDs and Cabinet members, and indeed of our present government, have had to leave our shores to seek employment abroad. – Yours, etc,


Monastery Drive,


Dublin 22.

Sir, – In an article dealing with the results of an Ipsos/MRBI survey (Weekend Review, March 17th), Dr Marc Scully discusses the issue of whether the Irish in Britain can be really considered as emigrants.

Obviously not, according to the map of the globe on the previous page showing the distribution of the Irish abroad. Every land-border on the planet seems to feature on it, except of course the only land-border we in this country share with anyone. The Irish therefore, on both islands, are presented as living in some sort of hybrid, nameless country.

Is this going to be editorial policy in future – now that we have lost a huge chunk of our sovereignty to Europe? More interestingly, did The Irish Times create this map, or did you perhaps get it from the Troika? – Yours, etc,


Ros Aitinn,



Sir, – Last January, the Minister for Finance Michael Noonan said that many young people were emigrating as “a free choice of lifestyle”. Fianna Fáil (obviously without realising the irony) said that Mr Noonan owed an apology to thousands of emigrants for his comments. Sinn Féin said the sentiments were “a disgrace”. Scores of people took to the airwaves to denounce the comment, telling tales of the coffin-ship style exodus of young people from the country to new lives of hardship and loneliness.

In view of the findings of the excellent research conducted for your newspaper recently (March 17th) which showed that the overwhelming majority of emigrants leave by choice, I take it that quite a few apologies are due to Mr Noonan? Once again, he has been shown to be one of the sharpest politicians we have, and far more in tune with reality than either the opposition, the media, or the chattering classes. – Yours, etc,


Mount Tallant Avenue,

Harold’s Cross,

Dublin 6W.