Again across the oceans

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.