Generation Emigration 2012


OVER THE past year, The Irish Times– in print and through its website – has struck up an ongoing conversation with individuals and families who have moved to different parts of the world, many to traditional landing spots, Britain (especially London), the US, Australia and Canada. It has been a remarkable engagement, most notable for the frankness and honesty about the circumstances which prompted departure.

There is the wrench from home, family and friends, and the terrible sadness of leaving – particularly so at this time of year.

Above all they have conveyed feelings of resoluteness, determination and willingness to confront upheaval and getting on with forging a new beginning. Often, especially for new migrants, they are living in difficult circumstances although the local economy may be performing significantly better than our own.

Threaded through all, however, is a sense of opportunity, particularly among younger emigrants. For so many it is a positive part of their lives, while texting, phoning, Skyping, and Facebooking become the mode of communicating with home. The ability to support one another, to network, and to use the benefits of third-level education is the hallmark of Generation Emigration 2012. Our collective history, our diasporic gene, has meant leavetaking is almost the norm – even if it also acts as a valve in a social and economic pressure cooker.

The Guardian’saccount of last summer’s riots in Britain in its Reading the Riots report suggests the equivalent age cohort in the UK is in a much darker place. As Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams noted, “Too many of these young people assume they are not going to have any ordinary, human, respectful relationships with adults – especially those in authority...Too many feel they have nothing to lose because they are told practically from birth that they have no serious career opportunities.”

Young people in Ireland face far higher unemployment than the national average. But they live for the most part in a country where there is arguably a fairer social order, and a stronger sense of family and place. The Government, however, should not bank on calm acceptance as it inflicts on them more years of austerity and provides little real opportunity while, perhaps, quietly expressing relief at high rates of emigration.

Prof Richard Tol, who has left the Economic and Social Research Institute for a new job, was brutally frank this week in The Irish Times: “Ireland is facing ten years of austerity. Leaving Ireland is the best thing you can do at the moment if you are responsible for a young family.” But for many that is not an option. The big question, Archbishop Williams asked, is “whether, in our current fretful stage, with unavoidable austerity ahead, we have the energy to invest what’s needed in family and neighbourhood and school to rescue those who think they have nothing to lose”.

Ireland has to ask a similar question, even if the circumstances are different, to ensure young people are given the sort of stake that a great many don’t have today. If not, society will lose out. And equally for Generation Emigration. Our conversations must be meaningful and sustained to give them every support to continue to be part of Ireland and to return home, if they so wish, to help rebuild our economy when a return to growth and development makes that possible.