Ciara Kenny

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

Won’t someone think of… the parents?

Emigrants face tough decisions when older family members need care, writes Terence Dunne

Thu, Oct 24, 2013, 16:46


Terence Dunne

That year working abroad whizzed by so quickly that it turned into two years. You built up experience and worked your way up the career ladder. Things moved so swiftly. Now you’re married and have set up your own family in your adopted homeland. You might not have planned this, but it happened. Everything is going well, then you get that phone call. One of your parents has become ill. Suddenly there are many options racing through your mind.

With the huge wave of emigration that Ireland is experiencing such scenarios may become increasingly common. This raises complex question for our migrant generation. How would one cope in such a situation? Is there currently enough access to the appropriate level of care for the older generation? Are there any siblings based in Ireland who can take on the level of responsibility required to look after a parent? Do you move back? In the wake of protests by senior citizens against cuts to medical cards for the over-70s, these questions have gained even more relevance.

In the UK the health secretary Jeremy Hunt has recently called for families to espouse a notion of “reverence and respect” for parents and grandparents. He mentions examples from Asian cultures where parents will often live with their children rather than in retirement homes. While no one would argue that what he has called for is not without merit, the situation for the migrant is far less clear-cut. One could imagine instances of Irish migrants who have lived in Australia for many years who may think that it is very impractical to leave their own family and move back to Ireland to take care of their parents. On the other hand, others will see it as their duty to look after their parents and make the move at the drop of a hat. The decision is of course deeply personal, but one that many migrants may well have to face in the future.

There is, however, another option: Why can’t the parents move to their child’s new homeland? There are visa schemes that allow elderly parents leave to remain in certain countries on the condition that their child is either a citizen of that country or has permanent residency. There may be a financial obstacle to such a solution as these visas can often be expensive. For example, an Australian Aged Parent (subclass 804) visa can cost up to €2950 per applicant. Parents would also need to be in good health to make the journey. Therefore, this option is not without its issues and raises further questions. Is it really right to make your parents leave their country and social circle? How will they adapt to the new culture? Indeed, each option becomes increasingly complex the deeper one examines it.

What is clear is that Ireland needs to wake up the needs of its citizens whether or not they are resident in the state, whether they are young or old. Due to the large emigration figures, which the CSO estimates at 89,000 to April 2013, measures need to be taken in order to ensure our aging population receives high-quality health, both physical and mental, and social care in the future. Even if such policies are in place the emigrant’s difficulties will not be alleviated. If it comes to the point that a parent needs a high level of care, migrants will continue to face tough decisions regarding the provision of this care.

Born in Louth, Terence became interested in migrant issues after living and studying in Germany and Belgium. He has written for Generation Emigration about why so many Irish move to countries outside Europe, and for The Irish Post. He recently completed an MA at the University of Sheffield, UK where he teaches English as a second language.