Ireland: Emigration back with a vengeance – Interview

By any standards a country whose young people are forced to leave for want of a future can’t be healthy. The Troika and the European Bond Markets speculators judge the health of nations by the “success” of their austerity measures in slashing public spending and attacking services. Most working people would consider how the old, children and women are supported. Economists look at the statistics for trade, earnings and GDP. One measure looks at the scale of inequality within society.

Emigration acts like a barometer of the state of Ireland. If the young people leave then things are bad. If they come home as many did during the Celtic Tiger years, then things must be looking up. But when everyone from a university class or the majority of the young people in a village or an extended family are leaving then it’s clear that the country is on the road to ruin. The Central Statistical Office (CSO) data for May this year shows that unemployment in the state now stands at 14.7%, up from 14.3% in May last year.

There were 436,700 on the Live Register in May 2012 (seasonally adjusted of course). This is some 8,000 less than last year, but this disguises the real picture. There was a net migration from Ireland of over 70,000in 2010 and 2011. In 2011 76,400 people emigrated in total.

The grim nature of these statistics is reinforced by the fact that unemployment among the under 25’s fell by 8.5% in 2011 while for the over 25’s it rose slightly. Long term unemployment increased by 83,000 in 2011 and the rate of unemployment remains stubbornly above 14%. In other words, the bulk of the emigration is among the youth.

The curse of emigration has returned to Ireland with a vengeance. Thousands of young people leave home every month looking for a way out of unemployment in the hope of a brighter future. There are many anecdotes of whole groups of young people from all over the state forced out in the hope that they can find a better life somewhere else. Many more have considered emigration as an option.

Fightback interviewed Robert from Tralee about his experience, which we believe echoes that of thousands across the state.

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FB: Thanks for agreeing to do the interview, how long have you lived in Tralee?

I've lived in Tralee for about 3 years now, I was born here but grew up in another town, I moved back to Tralee in 2009.

FB: How has the town changed over the last few years?

The Celtic Tiger, like everywhere else in the country, brought development to the town, commercial development and housing estates, but of course since the downturn the town has been left with businesses that couldn't cope and ghost estates. The ghost estates are the real joke of it, thousands of labourers, carpenters and block layers, etc., all looking for work and housing estates that are only half finished standing idle! It's absolutely ridiculous and it’s the same up and down the country.

FB: Have there been any major businesses shut down?

One of the biggest blows to the town was with the closure of a textiles company Amann, a loss of 330 jobs. Beru, another large company which manufactures electronic components for car manufacturers moved its main production lines to Germany. Both closures made the national headlines. And there was also the shutting down of a whole host of shops and pubs and other small businesses.

FB: What chance do young people have now to find a job?

There's always some bit of work around but of course there's a lot more people going for any job that becomes available so your chances are fairly slim. And as you know in times of scarcity it's not what you know but who you know!

FB: How many people are unemployed in Tralee?

As far as I know there's about 3600 on the dole in Tralee which is pretty high.

FB: Have many of your friends emigrated?

I'm not sure, I've lost count, there's more leaving every day. About half the people that I went to school with have either emigrated or are planning to go. Some of them want to travel but for most it's because there's nothing here for them except the dole queue.

FB: Where did they go?

Mostly to Australia, but a good few went to London where they already had family to help them get set.

FB: What reasons did they give?

They were tired of spending their life waiting for the dole. They wanted to work, they wanted to do the jobs they trained and studied to do but of course couldn't so they left.

FB: What would bring them back to Ireland?

JOBS!!! Many of them want to come home, I know this because I've spoken to some of them and they've said they would rather be at home but there's no work here for them. A holiday is fine but most people don't enjoy being away from family and friends for extended periods, it's a tragedy in itself.

FB: Thank You.

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We believe that emigration is symptomatic of the impasse of capitalism in Ireland. Capitalism represents a huge break on the development of society. The prognosis for Irish and European capitalism is years of austerity and economic misery.

The economic and political instability in the world isn’t easily going to go away. There has never been a better time to argue for a socialist alternative. The events in Greece today are merely the first act in the European wide response of working people.