Noonan criticised for remarks about young emigrants

 

MINISTER FOR Finance Michael Noonan has sought to clarify a remark on emigration being a lifestyle choice after a torrent of criticism from Opposition parties.

Mr Noonan, speaking at the press conference on the troika’s latest review of the bailout programme, described emigration as “a free choice of lifestyle” and said there were young people constantly leaving and returning to Ireland.

He gave the example of three of his grown-up children, all of whom were living outside Ireland by choice. “It’s not being driven by unemployment at home, it’s being driven by a desire to see another part of the world and live there,” he said.

The comments received heavy criticism from Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin. Both parties described them as insensitive and an insult to the thousands of young people who had been forced to leave.

The remarks were compared to those made by former Fianna Fáil tánaiste Mary Coughlan, who was lambasted in 2008 for describing emigration as “not a bad thing” for some young people.

Mr Noonan later told RTÉ that the quotes that were reported had been taken out of context and he had merely said it was a lifestyle choice “for some people”.

Fianna Fáil TD Willie O’Dea demanded an immediate apology for what he said were insulting remarks. “I was disgusted to hear Michael Noonan describe emigration as a ‘free choice of lifestyle’ and adding insult to injury by adding ‘it’s a small island, a lot of people want to get off the island’,” he said.

He said that 40,000 of the 76,000 who emigrated last year were Irish nationals and said Mr Noonan’s dismissive and flippant tone had caused hurt to thousands of families.

Pádraig Mac Lochlainn of Sinn Féin said it was outrageous that Mr Noonan had even mentioned lifestyle choice while talking about emigration.

“My own constituency in Donegal has been destroyed by emigration. There was a reunion of 40 people from Inishowen in their 20s at Christmas and only four of them were living there. The vast majority were living overseas,” he said.

Mr Noonan told RTÉ that for most emigrants it was forced emigration, but for some it was a lifestyle choice.

“I drew attention to the 100,000 who lost jobs in the building industry who were forced to work abroad,” he said.