Aug 2010

Exodus. Movement of da people

Back in April I predicted that the collapse of the Irish economy would lead to a new wave of Irish emigration. Figures published a few days ago confirm that this is now underway.

In fact, in a survey of EU members, outward migration from Ireland is already almost double that of Lithuania — the country with the second-highest rate. The Irish per annum emigration rate currently stands at 9 per thousand people. That’s almost 1%. Which is very high indeed. What makes it even more startling is the contrast with a decade ago when Ireland’s inward migration was the second highest in the EU (at 8.4 per thousand).

Of course, this fact suggests that much of the current exodus is a result of our immigrant population returning home. The people who came to Ireland to meet the massive demand for labour have seen that demand dry up, and those who didn’t put down roots are now moving on to pastures new. It’s a strategy that served the Irish well for almost 200 years.

Destination Unknown

But according to the Economic Social Research Institute, while returning foreign nationals do make up the largest percentage of the current emigration, young Irish males also account for a very large proportion. Of course, it’s hardly a coincidence that this particular demographic would usually form the bulk of the workers in the construction sector. When the choice is between an ever-decreasing dole cheque or a job in exotic climes, a lot of young men find themselves choosing a one-way ticket to Melbourne.

And even the fact that an increasing number (albeit still a very small number) have chosen to join the British army and seek their action in Helmand province rather than the nightclubs and beaches of Australia doesn’t surprise me. Personally I don’t ever get bored, but I’m told it can be a powerful motivator*. After all, what other explanation can there be? I can get my head around young British men signing up to be shot at, half a planet away from home. Misguided though they are, I assume they believe that at some level they are protecting British interests, and that’s important to them.

Presumably though, that can’t be the motivation for the average Irish lad who signs up. So it must be boredom. Either that, or they just want to do violence to strangers.

I dunno, maybe I’m being harsh. Maybe they seek a kind of nobility… the life of The Warrior. Honour in duty and all that stuff. Frankly I think it’s all a big con. Defending your home from attack… yes, there’s an honour in that. But flying to Central Asia to kill people who pose no real threat to you or those you love? There are vested interests who want young people to do that, and they’ve fed them a bunch of lies to get them to willingly comply.

It’s been the same for millennia.

Of course, the youngsters getting shot at beneath a British flag in Afghanistan don’t exactly form a significant proportion of the new wave of Irish emigration. They are merely a dramatic example of the desperation that faces many, now that the corpse of Celtic Tiger has finally begun to stink. For me, growing up in Dublin in the 1970s, Ireland was a place that promised little and delievered even less. The generation born in 1990 were raised in a completely different Ireland. One that offered excitement, prosperity and fulfillment. Leastways, that’s how it seemed.

The reality, of course, wasn’t like that at all. Built on debt and absurd claims of everlasting growth, it was the hollow promise of consumerism. A dark, gaping emptiness that gnawed away at the soul of Irish society. Better to be promised nothing and take delivery of it, than be promised happiness and fulfillment only to take delivery of alienation and neurosis. The Celtic Tiger was a hoax from the start. Even the good days weren’t all that good. Yeah, we’ve got plasma screen televisions and BMWs but we’ll be paying for them long after they’re landfill.

Trouble is, the generation leaving their teens now have been raised on those promises. Indoctrinated — like so many others, the world over — by celebrity culture and advertising. Genuine fulfillment in family, friends and community becomes almost impossible to achieve when you’ve been raised in a culture that savagely undermines them. From infants they’ve been shown a world where wealth equates with happiness. And denied the opportunity to test it for themselves, they simply don’t understand it’s a lie.

* In an interview he gave in 1980, JG Ballard said “everywhere is infinitely exciting, given the transforming power of the imagination”. I recall reading that and nodding vigorously; it’s something I’ve felt my whole life.

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Posted in: Opinion