Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

The latest lost generation

Many of you will have already read Shane Fitzgerald’s opinion piece about increasing numbers of Irish folks, like himself, who are leaving Ireland for better prospects abroad. To be honest, you probably didn’t need his article to know that emigration …

Tue, Nov 3, 2009, 15:30


Many of you will have already read Shane Fitzgerald’s opinion piece about increasing numbers of Irish folks, like himself, who are leaving Ireland for better prospects abroad. To be honest, you probably didn’t need his article to know that emigration is back with a vengeance.

Fitzgerald said he felt “cheated” after spending three years studying for an economics and sociology degree and not finding a job at the end of his studies. “I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I was on a promise with the Government”, he wrote, “but I was led to believe I would be getting more action than this once I graduated. I realised I wasn’t going to get a decent job anytime soon and it became clear that the only boom taking place was in my overdraft account.”

A lot of people agreed with his point of view and the article received a good slew of comments – yesterday’s paper had a selection of them. Most readers echoed Fitzgerald’s point of view and said they too were forced to move away or were planning a move abroad. Nearly to a man and woman, everything was blamed on the current Fianna Fail/Green Party government (one poster went to far as to blame it on “the Government, banks, business, police, law, and even the Catholic Church” to make sure all corners were covered).

There will always be people willing to compile a blame report of this sort because emigration remains a hugely emotive subject in the Irish psyche. There can’t be a household in the land which hasn’t had some family members going abroad to find work or, in recent years, advance their career.

Even after the huge emigration surge of 1980s (which reminded older folks of the one in the 1950s), there were still thousands of Irish people taking the boat or plane out of here for a myriad of reasons. Many of the people I know who’ve left in the last 12 months did so because they wanted to work in areas or at a level in their industry which was just not possible in Ireland. They wanted to avail of opportunities to live and work elsewhere and have a range of experiences which they just couldn’t get in Ireland. Staying here, regardless of the economic situation, was not going to keep their brains and enthusiasm levels engaged. They were always going to go. They wanted to go. I know myself that I headed to London in the 1990s because I wanted the kind of music and media industry experience I just couldn’t get here at that time.

However, Fitzgerald is really writing for and about the new wave of emigrants who are leaving here because they just can’t find any work. They’re different to those who were happy to go of their own volition. These involuntary emigrants wanted to stay in Ireland, work in Ireland and live in Ireland, but found that they couldn’t do any of the above due to the current economic shit-storm. Sure, there’s economic doom and gloom elsewhere, but it doesn’t seem as bad, prolonged or unyielding as the Irish mess so they’ll take their chances elsewhere.

For more on why this is happening, see a report in today’s paper from a meeting of the Dublin Economic Workshop. David Blanchflower, a professor of economics at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, focused on how “those who have really been hurt in this recession have turned out to be the young”. With youth unemployment currently standing at 27.6 per cent in Ireland, it’s no wonder so many are heading away.

If you needed even more reasons for the exodus, Elaine Byrne paints a fairly depressing picture of the auld sod in her column today: “this is an Ireland that gathers in her thousands to the shrine church in Knock on the say-so of a clairvoyant, in the desperate hope of a miracle, of anything. An Ireland that worships tree-stumps in Rathkeale. An Ireland that has had a 43 per cent increase in the numbers taking their own lives during the first three months of this year. An Ireland that is preparing to strike and polarise itself even further. An Ireland that seeks to abolish democratic institutions.”

But, as Byrne notes, “negativity will not save us”. Repeating over and over again that things are bad is not going to solve anything. Yes, emigration has many ramifications for both the individual and the society which remains behind, but there are also positives as well as the over-riding negatives.

As happened in the 1950s and 1980s, there will be just as many bright sparks who will stay here, stick it out and put their own projects into play despite “the Government, banks, business, police, law, and even the Catholic Church”. They will persevere with their plans because they have the ideas, the determination and the ambition to do so. Over the last few months, I’ve met a huge range of people who’re very happy to stay here and make the most of every opportunity this recession brings. And, as before, some of those who left will come back with new ideas, fresh thinking and a desire to contribute.

It’s really up to the latest lost generation to decide if they want in or if they want out. Either way, dropping that sense of entitlement would be a good start.

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