Current Generation is Gone -Act Now to Save the Next
I write neither in anger nor remorse but in petition shrouded by frustration. On Friday I graduate, the following Saturday I emigrate. I tell myself it is in pursuit of postgraduate study and adventure but that is mere a guise; in truth, I am about to become an economic emigrant. This is accepted as a fait accompli for my generation like an inordinate, unconscionable many before us. The option to remain in Ireland, living amongst family and friends successfully pursuing a career, is a choice I would like to have been able to consider but alas it was not to be so. I emigrate as someone desiring to climb Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, something not possible for most in this country, I leave in search of a life not a mere social welfare dependant existence.
Emigration is one of the central pillars of our society, an unbending absolute like the weather, the GAA, and the four points of the compass. Since independence, this country has trundled along in a predictable cyclical way: economic growth in the 1920s followed by economic decline and a wave of emigration in the 1930s; growth again in the 1940s followed by economic stagnation and mass departure in the 1950s; again we experienced economic growth in the 1960s, followed by economic contraction in the 1970s and disastrous recession in the 1980s, again accompanied by emigration. The pattern repeated itself again in the 1990s with growth spilling over into the 2000s and was followed inevitably by economic collapse and yet again mass emigration. In less than a century, we have, as a society and political entity, developed a recurrent, calculable and predestined sequence of events comprising economic growth, collapse and emigration. The three are as inseparable in Ireland as the trinity or the leaves of a shamrock.
I remember vividly speaking to a Polish friend when on Erasmus. Discussing migration over lunch one day he recounted to me the story of two of his friends who had come to Ireland, settled, had children, integrated fully into the local community. When the downturn started they lost their jobs and decided to return home, they were taken aback with the distinct lack of remorse or sadness at their departure on the part of their Irish friends. When asked to comment on this, a friend replied “that’s just the way it is -I’ll probably have to leave soon myself”
The fulsome acceptance of emigration by Irish society as natural (almost expected) progression not merely an option is dégutant. To anyone capable of logic or reason, it points to a bizarre malaise at the very heart of Irish society. A desire appears to exist to cut the social umbilical cord early in an act of total abdication of responsibility by a society that is more comfortable with an image of itself as a victim rather than fulfil the promise and obligations it bears for its own people.
The very incredulity of this position is disturbing in its own right, but Irish society drifts further into the absurd by expecting to live in a European-style social model where social service provision and pension security are practically the raisons d’etre of the state. These are laudable aspirations but who, when we the educated youth are gone, is going to adequately fund them? The refusal to address a frustratingly excessive focus on the short term should make anyone who has a stake in this country despair. How is Ireland to ever seek to fashion a sustainable economic and social model when those of us most capable and best able to support it are given no real choice except to emigrate.
As someone born in the great year of hope that was 1989, when the Fall of the Berlin Wall marked one of the most seminal events in European history. An event all the more poignant for a continent consumed through the ages with conflict and war -it was a seismic moment that occurred in the spirit of peace –hope sprung eternal for the post-wall generation. Yet now our hope has been crushed, not least in Ireland but across the continent. Anger is not the proper reaction, given the scale of the loss, mourning and lamentation are far more apt but those who now leave are not interested in such introspective, self-absorbed enterprise.
This is the point at which the patriots are usually invoked to pour scorn on the body politick from on high. We cannot be as naive as to purport to articulate what they may have thought, to paraphrase former New York Governor Mario Cuomo: one rebels in poetry but governs in prose. There never was a realistically, articulated Irish dream that can be pointed to as the achievable promise of the nation, the Easter Proclamation being more poetic than pragmatically attainable to satisfy this role. Nevertheless, it would be more than reasonable to suggest that repeated waves of mass emigration of the young, the educated and the frustrated could not conceivably form part of anyone’s image of Ireland.
However, I do feel there is one request, which this current Flight of Earls/Wild Geese/Brain Drain (take your pick of depressingly, long-existent terms), would ask from those who remain: try to build an Ireland that we can one day hope to return to. A very discernable pattern of the phases the Irish economy and society go through exists –this economic emigré merely petitions those who remain to strive to break the bond between economic decline and mass emigration from this country. It is not for the current generation that I ask for this link to be broken but for those who will form the next wave of emigration who, if given the pattern of the last century, will probably be the youth of the 2030s. No one expects the cyclical pattern of boom and bust to be ended but we should be able to divorce the union of economic decline and emigration that has plagued generations of Irish families for generations.
In short, it is incumbent upon not only the body politick but Irish society as a whole to start planning now to ensure that emigration is not the natural corollary of the next recession that Ireland will face.