Debate: are emigrants abandoning Ireland, or has it abandoned them?

A Facebook page, now removed, accused Irish emigrants of abandoning their country in its time of need, and has met with a volatile reaction online. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

A Facebook page, now removed, accused Irish emigrants of abandoning their country in its time of need, and has met with a volatile reaction online. Photograph: Cyril Byrne


GENERATION EMIGRATION:A Facebook page has accused emigrants of being ‘Ireland Abandoners’. Here, two Irish people, homeand abroad, weigh up the debate

A Facebook page called “Ireland Abandoners” appeared online last month, taking aim at emigrants who were “jumping ship” when Ireland needed them most.

“Basically you have all left now,” it said. “Many of you hope to return one day when things pick up, when the economic climate changes to suit you, well, guess who is changing it? The people that stayed behind. We will not allow you to reap the benefit of the crops that we are sowing now!”

The page attracted more than a thousand “Likes” and numerous comments from people who agreed with the anonymous account holder, and thousands of replies from emigrants who were offended by the remarks.

A counter page set up by a group of emigrants in Australia lobbied for the original page to be removed from Facebook, which it subsequently was.

Here, two people give their reaction to the debate.

KATIE HARRINGTON (24), now lives in Dubai

I was surprised about how strongly I felt on reading the recent Facebook Ireland Abandoners page, which attacked young people who have emigrated from Ireland. The page derided those of us who have left the country recently, arguing that we had abandoned Ireland and would not be welcome back when the recession ended.

To abandon something is to walk away from it and to never look back. None of my Irish friends who left Ireland in search of work has done that. The page also criticised those of us who fly the tricolour abroad (“Take down your tricolours, you are not worthy of flying them and are not welcome back”). Who is anyone to tell us we don’t have that right? Should we stop listening to Irish music, too? I’m going to a GAA tournament outside Dubai next week; should I tell the organisers to cancel it, that Irish people can celebrate their cultural heritage only in Ireland?

Irish people are known for our gregarious nature, it’s a trait we like to promote. But the debate on the Ireland Abandoners page displayed another attribute we’re famous for – begrudgery.

I’m 24, and August will mark my fourth year living outside Ireland. In the past 12 months, I have left a teaching job in Abu Dhabi to pursue a media career in Bristol, a move that was ultimately unsuccessful and led to me taking a post in recruitment to pay the bills. Six months later, I was offered a journalism job in Dubai, so I returned to the Middle East.

Dubai is the fifth city I’ve lived in since graduating from the University of Limerick in 2009. I’ve worked long hours and for free, and I’ve worked in countries I would rather not have worked in. I’m not complaining, because after all that, I feel things are going my way now. I’m on the career path I want to be on, I’m saving money, and I shouldn’t have to apologise for that.

What the person behind this page – and others who posted comments supporting them – seem to ignore is that many of us did our utmost to stay. We still watch when the Budget is announced, to see if it contains anything that might allow us to come home in the next few years. We have brothers, sisters, parents and friends who are struggling with cutbacks.

We are not immune to this recession. We may not be struggling as badly financially, but we are making sacrifices.

I miss seeing the younger members of my family grow up. I’m at the age where friends are getting married and having children, and I’m missing all of that, too. It feels lonely sometimes, but I know I have made my choice.

One thing is for sure: Dubai might be where I live now but it will never be home. I will fly the tricolour anywhere I please because being Irish is who I am and I’m fiercely proud of it. Just like generations before me who flocked to Liverpool, Boston, Sydney and elsewhere in search of better opportunities during tough times in Ireland, I will hold dear the culture I love.

CLARE HERBERT (25), now lives in Dublin

Forced emigration is always a tragedy. The thousands of Irish mothers and fathers who’ve waved off their offspring at our airports can attest to that. I frequently joke that I’d love one night out in Sydney, since I have more friends there than here.

The narrow-minded perspective of the recent Ireland Abandoners Facebook page proved surprisingly popular before it was taken down last week. It is wrong to criticise our emigrants, many of whom were forced to leave due to economic necessity. I would certainly never consider an emigrant as an Ireland abandoner. Indeed, I’ve spent about a year working on various short-term contracts overseas.

There is a group of young people who are choosing to stay in Ireland and embrace the challenge and responsibility of building a better future for the country. In many cases, it would be wiser for us to go. If I emigrated, I would earn more, have better opportunities for career development, better health, education and social systems for my future children, and nicer weather.

But, as it has been through the generations, the emotional pull to Ireland remains profound. I want to be at home, to live in the country that educated me, and to be a very small part of the solution to our national problems.

There’s little value in re-hashing the argument that older generations have lived at our expense. Although I think many objective commentator will agree that the under-30s will work harder and longer for less money than our parents.

Despite or perhaps because of this, social innovation, young engagement and entrepreneurship is flourishing among the under-30s.

Generation Y live in a world that our grandparents couldn’t have imagined. Consequently, we have a sense of personal and societal confidence, unlike our predecessors. The vibrant entrepreneurial community is testament to the number of young people willing to take a punt on their own idea.

Not everyone has the opportunity to stay. Writing this, I’m conscious that I may have to emigrate some day. No one is immune from emigration. I want to build my life here and am committed to working hard to make it happen. But, I might fail.

Each individual must try to strike a balance between one’s patriotic duty and one’s personal desires to live a full and happy life.

Indeed, it could be argued that under-employed Irish young people could become a better asset to Ireland’s recovery if they emigrated with the intention of up-skilling and returning home. As globalisation continues, Ireland’s diaspora is becoming increasingly relevant.

Criticising emigrants is both small-minded and unfair, but emigration is not the only story. Many Irish young people choose to stay in Ireland and form part of a new generation of Irish entrepreneurs and innovators who have already begun to change the kind of Ireland we live in.

What you said on our Generation Emigration blog


As an emigrant, you encounter people who accuse you of being a traitor for leaving, and others who want to send you back where you came from.

This kind of ignorance is so commonplace it’s not even worth a shrug. Fortunately, there are plenty of people all over who don’t think that way.


Their anger should be directed at the society that encourages our youth to go, painting a “gold is there for digging in the streets” mentality, or that we have some piece of DNA that makes us more inclined to emigrate.

We don’t. What we do have is an economic model that has exported labour to English-speaking countries in nearly every decade since the Famine.


Offer the bitter little (wo)man who put up the page a visa to the US, Canada or Australia and (s)he’ll change his or her tune pretty quickly. I suspect (s)he is just a frustrated person to be pitied and who envies us for surviving the sinking ship and making it.

Loyalty to a country whose rulers haven’t been so loyal to its citizens doesn’t pay the bills, especially not if you’re on the dole.


What about free speech? I didn’t agree with the page, I’m living in Australia, but what I find more troubling is the demand that the page be removed. Demanding that people who have a different point of view be shut down is not very tolerant.


If I stayed in Ireland I would just be another person on the dole, taking money from the shrinking tax take. Those in Ireland should be delighted we struck out to make a living in far -away places, where we get a good pay cheque to support our children.

Now that we are gone we do not take children’s allowance or dole. The working taxpayers left behind have enough to support in old-age pensioners, single mothers, children’s allowance, politicians’ fat pensions, and so on.

As a nurse I was worn out from working to pay all these people.

Adrian Lawler

I didn’t abandon Ireland, Ireland abandoned me, and I took control of my destiny and put my life back on track.

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