Increasing numbers of people are expected to emigrate from Ireland over the next few years. But it will hardly amount to an exodusby Colin Murphy / December 15, 2010 / Leave a comment
Published in January 2011 issue of Prospect Magazine
Taking to the boats: a long Irish tradition, once again on the rise
For more on Ireland in this month’s Prospect click here
“An enormous migration takes place between Britain and Ireland,” said David Cameron on 23rd November. “If the Irish economy collapsed, that would have a huge impact on Irish people coming to the UK for work.” Ireland has a long tradition of doing just this. This time, though, it’s different.
Martyna moved to Dublin in 2005 and found work as an architect, an apartment and a boyfriend. In 2009, the office grew quiet. Last October, she was laid off, along with half the firm. With joblessness nearing 15 per cent, she started to think about leaving the country.
Two things set Martyna’s generation of emigrants apart: first, she is an experienced professional; second, she’s Polish. Some 100,000 residents are expected to leave by 2014. But of the 65,000 who left in 2009, just 28,000 were Irish, and 13,000 Irish returned home. Hardly an exodus.
The type of departure is different, too. Niamh O’Maille, made redundant in 2008, soon followed the time-honoured path from Galway to a friend’s floor in Boston. But she now has a better job than before, and the news from home reminds her she is glad to be away.
Edwina Shanahan of VisaFirst.com runs monthly “migration nights.” They used to attract up to 80 people, mostly young graduates; now around 400 turn up. Attendees are older, often have families, and hope to get employer-sponsored or permanent residence visas.
Yet many who want to leave are unable to. Niall Doyle, an IT entrepreneur, bought a three-bed new build in a suburban estate in February 2007 for €605,000; neighbouring houses now sell for €350,000. He can’t walk away: not only would he be pursued for the debt, but so would his parents, who gave their guarantee for the mortgage. It is this kind of trap, Doyle worries, that will doom the country to a generation of stagnation.
However, there is an upside. In posh Donnybrook, an art gallery has popped up in an ex-car showroom. Curator Katie Tsouros has a cheap, short-term lease in a building due for redevelopment; when they close her down, she’ll re-emerge elsewhere.
Not all emigrants are as empowered as this, but none are as destitute as the Irish navvies who flocked to Britain in the 1950s and 1960s. The country that today’s emigrants are leaving is broke, but better built, more diverse and creative than before; those who leave are better educated and more travelled. Neither needs a wake, just yet.
Irish migration, past and present
• Just three years after “Black ‘47” (1847, the worst year of the potato famine), a US census showed nearly 1m of new US citizens had been born in Ireland.
• After the second world war, protectionism caused mass unemployment, and tens of thousands of Irish took the boat to England.
• In the 1980s, a slump combined with baby-boomers emerging onto the job market saw joblessness and dramatic emigration: in 1988-89 alone, some 2 per cent of adults left.
• Today, monthly emigration is up 81 per cent from 2009.
• In less than a decade, Ireland’s non-indigenous population has shot up from under 1 to 12 per cent.
More on Ireland in this month’s Prospect:
John Murray Brown investigates who is to blame for the Irish financial crisis
Julian Gough on why the Irish should marry their daughters to the IMF