Turn off the lights, Brian, the people are leaving


I left Ireland this week. Here’s why . . . writes PAUL BRADFIELD

FLIGHT 608. This is the flight that took me from my native soil on Wednesday. Amsterdam. Then The Hague, and an internship that I hope will lead to employment soon after.

I went not for the want of pleasure or enjoyment, nor to seek a “gap” year full of congenial experiences. The very term “gap” year implies that there is a distinct point in the future upon which the “gap” will be filled, whereupon one returns home to fulfil the innately human desire of carving out a career for oneself, or to simply settle into an agreeable existence in the place of one’s birth. Provided of course, you are able to return. Like many young Irish men and women who have gone before and will go after me, I go because I must.

I am the quintessential Celtic Tiger Cub, or so I’m told. I grew up in a prosperous Ireland, a nation that was breaking free of suffocating socio-cultural shackles and confidently emerging as an economic marvel. Other countries were enamoured, in awe of the slick, neoliberal, capitalist wet dream that we had gratefully become.

Things were never so good for my generation, went the mantra. World-class free education coupled with a surging socio-economic climate that rewarded hard work and honesty of effort. Ireland had become an affluent, democratic meritocracy.

In the background, the seeds of our socio-economic destruction were being sown and voyeuristically cultivated. Grossly irresponsible, incrementally rapacious management of financial institutions was allowed to proceed unrestricted, unregulated and unpunished. As the politicians say, “we are where we are”.

Banal intonations such as this imply that our current situation was unavoidable, and that we somehow all deserve the consequences of the rampant avarice that we “all bought into”. Such logic is dangerously flawed. Indeed, the meritocracy we thought had arrived was as illusive as the asking price for the ubiquitous semi-d’s which the auctioneers demanded we pay to live in the now desolate social wasteland that is the Dublin commuter belt.

Alas, the political events of the last 12 months have now confirmed to me where the priorities of the governing class of this country truly lie.

Billions of euro of borrowed money are being transferred into de facto insolvent banks through State capitalisation. Understandably, the life support machine connected to our financial system cannot be allowed to be turned off.

However, pouring billions down the drain to keep zombie banks alive, while the vulnerable and the blameless bear the brunt of fiscal restructuring, is paradigmatically amoral. We are witnessing a cohort of elites looking out for each other to the last, while the amorphous elephant in the room that is Nama has placed a flagitious, perpetual direct debit upon the Irish taxpayer. Whatever form a putative banking inquiry may take, the word “accountability” has long been removed from the Irish political lexicon.

The poor and socially vulnerable are merely an expensive bill that has to be reduced. Increased registration fees at third level destructively corrodes our idealistic boast of “free” education. The deserved and vital regeneration of Limerick has been shamefully designated as being too costly. The current administration has chosen to take money from the blind so they can reduce the price of alcohol. These are now our existential priorities, because don’t forget, “we are where we are”.

The media has increasingly referred to the fearful prospect of a lost generation. Fear no more, for it is already upon us. A staggering one in three males under 25 is unemployed. The emotional, physical and intellectual effects of long-term unemployment can be truly stultifying, and are becoming all too evident.

The nature of the present credit-constrained labour market means that it seeks only experienced workers to fill vacant positions, which leaves fresh graduates like me in a serious bind. Some of my fellow law graduates offering their services free are being curtly turned away at every door.

Increased immigration in recent years was able to satisfy the needs of the unskilled labour market, meaning new graduates now face the incongruous reality of being “overqualified” for many such posts, or simply not being able to attain any kind of sustained employment. The last budget saw no major initiative to stimulate job creation or, for example, an internship scheme for companies to take on fresh graduates. Slash and burn was the overarching Irish message, while the rest of the western world promulgates stimulus.

Witness the exodus. The lost generation is leaving. Moreover, judging by the demographic of attendees of recent emigration seminars held around the country, married couples with young children are also embarking upon the uncertain but now necessary voyage of emigration, to make a better life for themselves and their progeny. To Australia, Canada, the UK and Europe they are heading.

It is to the latter that I went this week. I want to stay in Ireland, to contribute to the positive, socio-cultural progression that we collectively fostered during the Celtic Tiger, to gratefully reimburse my country for bestowing upon me an exceptional education.

But my hands are tied. I refuse to be a burden to my country, to simply be another statistic on the monthly Live Register figures.

Hey Brian, don’t forget to turn off the light.

Paul Bradfield is in The Hague and was looking for accommodation yesterday. He starts his unpaid internship with the defence unit of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia on Monday

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