Once again, Ireland is unable to provide work for its young people, forcing thousands to emigrate. Dara McHugh reports.
In the first six weeks of 2013 over 60 young people emigrated from the small town of Kells, Co. Meath, and its hinterlands. In such areas the loss of its youth to Britain, the United States, Australia and beyond cuts into the morale of the local community. As local Workers’ Party representative, Seamus McDonagh, attests, “Everyone knows some young person who has left or is planning to leave. It affects whole families and the demoralisation encourages other young people to go.”
“I emigrated myself to England as a teenager. It’s a heart-rending experience and anyone who tells you that young people would still leave if there were opportunities for them here, is either a fool or trying to fool you.”
The exodus from Kells is a story repeated in towns, villages and city neighbourhoods across the Republic, as economic stagnation once again leads to the exodus of the country’s greatest asset – its youth.
Over 183,000 people between 15 and 29 have emigrated from Ireland since the onset of the current economic crisis in 2008. With youth unemployment nationally standing at over 20% and little State emphasis on decent job creation the cyclical pattern of emigration and defined the 1980s, 1950s and many decades before has returned.
Why has this pattern persisted? Director of the Nevin Economic Research Institute, Dr. Tom Healy, is direct in his analysis of the underlying economic causes.
In his view “there has been systematic underinvestment by indigenous enterprise” coupled with “a lack of domestic enterprise.” Instead of building a sustainable domestic economy successive governments have opted for enticing foreign business and speculative capital into the State, - the most dramatic effect of the latter being the fueling of the Celtic Tiger property bubble. The jobs created by this policy are easily lost in the face of an international economic downturn.
However, over the generations the character of emigration has changed. In previous waves, unskilled and semi-skilled workers from rural areas had made up the majority of those leaving. Now, with a global depression and stringent visa requirements in traditional destinations such as the United States and Canada, the young people with qualifications and skills are leaving to take advantage of better opportunities abroad.
In 2007, construction sector employment accounted for 270,000 jobs, almost 13% of the workforce. Now it stands at 5%, and the sharp decrease in craft workers signing on since 2008 indicates that many have headed abroad to countries such as Australia or Canada, where construction work is still available.