At the Other Voices music festival this weekend, a conference will explore how arts and culture can drive Ireland's competitiveness. A special Generation Emigration panel will bring together some of Ireland's "creative diaspora" to find out how Ireland can encourage people like them working abroad to return home to Ireland.
Here, Dave Tynan, who made the extraordinarily popular Just Saying short film about emigration in 2012, Joey Kavanagh, who was behind the Get the Boat 2 Vote campaign in May, and Nicky Gogan, one of Ireland's leading film producers, share their own migration journey, and the push and pull factors behind their own decisions to move abroad and return home.
Dave Tynan: ‘For Irish emigrants, having their mother as a babysitter might bring more people home than any government incentive could.’
We’re told Ireland is desperate to encourage her emigrants back. I want to believe that’s true, because it certainly felt like we were encouraged to leave.
I’ve been an emigrant and I’m home now and I’m comfortable with that. I’ve a lot of friends who will never live here again. They’ve had lives and experiences they wouldn’t have had at home. You’re still learning in your 20s; Irish people are growing up in other countries. While they’ve grown up, has Ireland grown up enough to entice them back? Are we also going to support creative people who didn’t leave, who kept the fires lit in Ireland? Not everyone who left won and not everyone who stayed lost.
A few years ago I made a film called Just Saying about everybody leaving. Weirdly, it made it easier for me to come home. I came back because I want to make Irish films so living here makes sense. I don’t think that’s necessarily true of other creative fields. Writers have always left, but they keep writing about Ireland. They keep writing home.
I think if you want to come home, you’ll come home, just as if you want to make a living in the arts, you’ll either commit to that or you won’t. Tenacity means more than talent. It’ll always be harder here; there’ll never be enough work. For Irish emigrants, having their mother as a babysitter might bring more people home than any government incentive could.
Hopefully our emigrants come back. Hopefully they’re grand with getting back on a plane again if they ever needed an abortion. Hopefully they’re grand with having to baptise their children as Catholic just to get them into a school that’s near their home. Creative people are usually fairly liberal. If you want them back, these issues need to be addressed.
We've compared Ireland to a young woman in drama before. So if you tell a girl you don't want her, can you turn around seven years later and tell her that you want her back? You can try. But maybe she's got better things on now. Maybe she's in Australia and the sun's on her face and she's happy. Maybe she's not listening.
Dave Tynan is a writer and director from Dublin. His short film Just Saying was watched more than 250,000 times in the first week it was online. His most recent short Rockmount has won six awards including an Ifta for Best Short Film.
Joey Kavanagh: ‘If Ireland is serious about encouraging return migration, they should give emigrants a vote’
This time two years ago, I decided I wanted to go on an adventure overseas. I’d been working and studying in Dublin for the best part of ten years and, apart from one summer spent working at the Edinburgh Fringe, I’d never lived outside of Ireland.
When an opportunity to move to London came up, I abandoned plans for a Canadian working holiday visa and, in June 2014, I boarded the ferry to Holyhead, lugging the biggest suitcase I could find in Dunnes Stores, with little or no idea how my "adventure"' would play out.
If my employment prospects at home had been more robust, I’d have been less eager to move away. I was fortunate to get a reasonably steady trickle of freelance journalism work after graduating from DCU, but in the 18 months before I left, the stress of chasing payment for work I had done began to take its toll. Frustratingly, some of my invoices from this time remain unpaid.
In a piece for Vice earlier this year, Roisin Kiberd wrote that "you only get a full picture of your home town from the window of a departing plane", and my experience certainly lines up with this. There's so much about Ireland I miss but, if anything, I think being in London has helped to crystallise my "Irishness".
A lot of the people I meet here aren’t originally from the UK, and even native Londoners tend to view Irish people as country cousins from across the pond, so I haven’t often felt my emigrant/immigrant status very acutely.
That said, I’m always delighted to hear a familiar Irish accent. There’s something very comfortable about interactions with fellow Paddies and, although initially I tried to avoid moving in London Irish circles, I’ve now happily accepted that I will always be drawn to my fellow countrymen and countrywomen.
For this reason, it was such a joy to work on the Get the Boat 2 Vote campaign earlier this year, encouraging vote-eligible Irish citizens abroad to return home to vote yes in the same-sex marriage referendum. It was incredible to hear from the Irish nationals living abroad who come #HomeToVote, determined to play their part in seeing the referendum passed.
Time and time again, we heard how these people saw themselves returning to live in Ireland at some point in the future, and felt a responsibility to help shape the Ireland they want to return home to.
I know that I’ll return to settle in Ireland at some point. There’s never been any question about that. So, it’s incredibly frustrating that this week, having now lived outside of Ireland for 18 months, I’m officially no longer eligible to vote in Irish elections and referendums.
Ireland's voting provisions for citizens abroad are among the most restrictive in the Western world and the Irish government has, so far, ignored calls from both the European Commission and Constitutional Convention to review its "disenfranchising" of emigrant voters.
It’s disappointing that Irish citizens abroad continue to be excluded from casting ballots, even after the collective effort of those who came #HomeToVote demonstrated very clearly that the diaspora feel hugely invested in the future of Irish democracy.
If Ireland is serious about curtailing the so-called brain drain and encouraging return migration, a major step forward would be to afford equal voting rights to all citizens and recognise that, in 2015, the Irish nation extends far beyond the Irish State.
Joey Kavanagh is an arts freelancer and music writer from Co Meath.
Nicky Gogan: ‘We need to be encouraging and supporting young people who want to experiment with their new ideas’
I went to live in San Francisco immediately after graduating in 1993, having spent a year out in the middle of college in London. I got a Morrison visa in a lottery, and ended up living there for three and a half years. I was part of the early 90s wave of migrants. I knew a lot of people in America at that time, and there was a great collaborative scene.
I came back to Ireland for a visit, and Arthouse had just opened in Temple Bar in 1996. It seemed like a lot of really exciting things were starting to happen in Ireland at the time, and I convinced myself to stay. I got accepted to a multimedia course in Arthouse, which opened up a whole new world for me. There was a feeling that anything was possible.
I definitely think you should travel if you get the opportunity to, so we shouldn’t be discouraging Irish people to move abroad for a while. I wouldn’t be the person I am if I hadn’t spent that year in London, or those years in America, when I was young and had no responsibilities. It was the biggest eye-opener, and helped to form my ideas and the people who I’ve stayed friends with. Coming back from London in 1988 I wanted to create a bit of that in Dublin, by starting club nights, putting on raves, beginning a fashion label. If I hadn’t gone, I wouldn’t have had those ideas.
I met many people during my time in the US who are still major influences in my life, including Paul Rowley, who I now run Still Films with. We run the company across the Atlantic. I spend a lot of time in New York and he spends a lot of time here. We write scripts, and produce, direct and edit films and documentaries. Paul is also Irish, part of the diaspora, and is very connected to the Irish film scene in New York. We identify as an Irish company, but it is really important to us that we have that link to the Irish diaspora in the US.
The fact that the conversation is happening about encouraging Irish people home is very positive. There was a "batten down the hatches" vibe among the old guard. Certain elements in the arts world became so powerful during the economic boom and it was very hard for those people to let go. I came back to Ireland before all that, when the money was becoming available and there was a willingness to support arts projects. When I went to the Arts Council with an idea for a festival about digital filmmaking, they had no idea what I was talking about but they gave me the funding anyway.
Now I’m part of the old guard. We need to be encouraging and supporting young people who want to experiment with their new ideas, even if they don’t have a track record. That’s the problem now. We need to loosen the reins a bit and make room for the next generation so they feel there are possibilities open to them. That, I think, would be a real encouragement for Irish people abroad who were looking for opportunities to move back.
Film producer and director Nicky Gogan is co-founder of Still Films, and founder of the Darklight Digital Festival.