Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

The lights can be turned back on for emigrants

The government must focus more of its energy into cultivating job creation to keep emerging graduates in Ireland and entice recent emigrants back home, writes Paul Bradfield from The Hague.

Tue, Jan 3, 2012, 10:00


The government must focus more of its energy into cultivating job creation to keep emerging graduates in Ireland and entice recent emigrants back home, writes Paul Bradfield from The Hague.

Paul outside the International Criminal Court

Almost two years ago, as a young, Irish graduate emigrating to continental Europe, I felt compelled to transcribe my feelings of anger and frustration into words, which subsequently appeared in the Opinion pages of The Irish Times. I was angry at the government’s fiscal recklessness, frustrated by their inability to recognise and proactively combat the worsening plight of the country’s youth. I wrote how the executive decision to prioritise monetary capital over human capital was, and always will be, anathema to the foundational social democratic values of this Republic.

Since leaving Ireland for The Hague, I have closely followed the historic, seismic political events that dramatically unfolded – the deterioration of the public finances culminating in the EU/IMF bailout, the subsequent election to Dail Eireann of a new government through to the recent Presidential election. I can confidently speak on behalf of the vast majority of Irish emigrants abroad when I say: Thank God for the Internet, but more importantly, thank God for RTE Player!

Recently, an Taoiseach Enda Kenny told the nation that the Irish people were not responsible for what has happened, but inevitably said that is the Irish people who must embrace the financial consequences in this ‘exceptional’ situation.

But as many a lonesome parent will testify up and down the country, the human consequences can hurt much, much more. To rear a child through to adulthood, to lovingly care for them, to strive to ensure they receive the best education possible, only to see them forced to leave through no fault of their own, is a deeply profound pain to bear. Just pay a visit to any one of the ubiquitous ‘leaving parties’ occurring every weekend in towns and villages across the country.

As documented by the ongoing ‘Generation Emigration’ series, the cyclical safety valve of emigration has been released once again. In February 2010, I came to The Hague for a 3 month internship at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and almost two years later I am still here, having spent time in between working at the Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania, and presently at the International Criminal Court. It has been both personally and professionally an extremely rewarding experience for me, and I have made many friends from all around the world.

The Hague Gaelic Football team which Paul (fourth from right with no. 7 on his jersey) lined out in the 2011 European Championships. The team were runners-up.

Naturally, as a GAA fanatic, I immediately joined the local GAA club in the Hague when I arrived and have played in tournaments in cities such as Budapest, Munich and Brussels. Winning the European Championship with the Hague last year will always be a special memory. There are now so many young Irish arriving on the continent that European GAA is rapidly expanding and thriving with new recruits. The GAA plays such a vital social and cultural role for young Irish abroad and the way it brings the émigré community together is incredibly important.

At home, the new administration has much transformative potential, and has made numerous pledges to engage in meaningful structural and political reform. While largely strait-jacketed by the parameters of EU/IMF deal and the necessary goal of fiscal consolidation, if Ireland is to truly renew itself, it is imperative the new government make a concerted effort to stop the haemorrhaging of the most highly skilled and qualified emigrants ever to leave the country. They are the future.

Since the beginning of Ireland’s existential socio-political and fiscal crisis, the nation has been stuck in a seemingly endless and counterproductive blame game. While visible accountability is an undoubtedly necessary transitional step, the new administration must focus more of its energy into cultivating job creation to keep emerging graduates in Ireland and entice recent emigrants back home. This is key. However, if this imperative continues to be subordinated to the ongoing protection of faceless senior bondholders, then Ireland’s recovery will be painfully longer then it needs to be.

In 2010, I concluded my previous article by metaphorically asking Brian Cowen to turn off the light after the departing emigrants. It will take time, but the lights most certainly can be turned back on. This issue must be tackled by the State, for its very future is dependent on it. Many young Irish recently emigrated will say that if given the choice, they would ultimately like to return to the country of their birth, if the conditions make it possible to do so.

Until the valve can be tightened again, the lonesome parents around Ireland can be reassured in the knowledge their progeny will continue to make their way confidently in the world, as Irish emigrants have always done. We are skilfully adept in creating and fostering networks and we instinctively look out for our fellow émigrés. We revere our cultural heritage, proudly playing our beloved Gaelic Games in places like The Hague to Melbourne to Boston and beyond. Whenever pangs of homesickness inevitably occur, they may be tempered by the imported bliss of Irish tea, butter, biscuits and the magical, magical wonder of Skype.