Emigration: We can’t force people to stay, but we can build a country they want to come back to.Posted by in Campaign Diary
Terminal 2 of Dublin airport was supposed to be a tangible symbol of Ireland’s powerful economy, but rather than being the arrival point for the citizens of the world to a new life in Ireland, it has become the gathering place for new generation of emigrants and their families.
From Terminal 2, thousands of Irish people are leaving to start a new life elsewhere because they see no future for them in this country. Over the three weeks of this election campaign, three thousand people have left Ireland because they saw no reason to stay, and unless we change our politics, they won’t come back. The challenge for this election is to elect people who are committed to making Ireland into a place where there are opportunities; where people want to live, work and invest their future. A place where there are reasons to stay. If we are to begin to grow our economy, we need to do this, and we need to bring the Irish back home.
During the election campaign, I’ve increasingly been able to guess the issues people will want to discuss with me, and too often when a mother or father, or a grandparent opens the door to me, they want to talk about emigration. They want to talk about their son, the engineer, who spent four years studying in college and who now works in Canada. They want to tell me about their daughter, a chemist, hard at work filling in Visa forms to start a new life in Sydney. I’ve seen it with my friends too. The question about life post-college has changed from “what are you going to do?” to “where are you going to go?”. I don’t want to get more and more text messages about ‘going away’ parties every weekend.
We are seeing the disappearance of a generation, just as the generation before me saw in the 1980s, and as a society that is a tragedy. In purely economic terms alone, it’s a disaster. We, as a country, have invested in training and educating Ireland’s young people to a global standard. We have some of the best schools in Europe and some of the best universities in the world, but rather than educating a generation of people to stay and work in Ireland, they are taking their skills and education with them because we have no need for them at home.
So while the UK, Canada, Australia and the USA benefit from the influx of world-class young people, Ireland suffers. Whenever any young person leaves Ireland to work overseas, they leave a gap in the Irish economy, as more and more leave over 2011, that gap is getting bigger.
The exodus of Ireland’s young people – the trauma it causes families, the hardness it adds to our lives – is the result of a political failure. A failure of imagination, and of misguided priorities. Governments risked Ireland’s wealth on developers and speculators, and lost. They prioritised low taxes for some and piled the new generation with student fees and debt. They didn’t see the inevitable social and economic consequence of such a misguided approach. They failed our young people. They failed all of us. And now, we’re leaving.
We can’t force people to stay in Ireland, but we can build an Ireland that people will want to live in. We can support employment in small businesses, we can create a new, proper system of internships, so that graduates can begin their careers without being exploited. We can facilitate a creative city where opportunities, not obstacles greet imagination. We can change our priorities so that the young graduate, rather than the developer or speculator, becomes the focus of our taxation, social and political system. And that starts with a vote for a real change of direction on Friday.
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