Family fury as Noonan says young emigrate for lifestyle
Published 20/01/2012 | 05:00
FINANCE Minister Michael Noonan faces the wrath of thousands of families blighted by emigration after claiming that young people were leaving for "lifestyle reasons".
In an extraordinary claim, he denied that the exodus of tens of thousands of people was purely down to our economy and unemployment levels.
Instead, he asserted that some people merely wanted to "see another part of the world".
His comments sparked fury among families whose loved ones had to leave to find work -- or face life here on the dole.
Mr Noonan also appeared to accept that emigration was here to stay, after saying that the Government should ensure that young people get the best education so they can get a good job when they emigrate.
"That's life in modern Ireland and they have to do their best. I hope they are successful abroad," he said.
The minister's gaffe came after Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore called on critics of the Government's policies to "pull on the green jersey" -- a phrase infamously linked with covering up losses in Anglo Irish Bank.
And last year Social Protection Minister Joan Burton claimed that going on the dole was a "lifestyle choice".
The Irish Independent recently revealed that about 70,000 people, mostly in their 20s, emigrated last year to the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the USA and Germany.
A recent decline in the Live Register was blamed on emigration levels and another 40,000 Irish citizens are expected to emigrate in 2012.
Mr Noonan's insensitive comments struck a raw nerve with families who just weeks ago waved emigrants off to foreign climes following Christmas reunions.
The minister claimed last night that he was "being quoted out of context" and he had pointed out that most emigration was forced.
The Limerick TD also said that of his five adult children, three of them are living and working abroad.
"I don't think any of the three can be described as an emigrant," he said. "It was a free choice of lifestyle and what they wanted to do with their lives. And there are a lot of families like that."
But his implication that many young people had a choice about whether to stay or to leave sparked most anger.
Mr Noonan said: "There are always young people coming and going from Ireland and some of them are emigrants in the traditional sense. Others simply want to get off the island for a while. You know, a lot of the people who go to Australia... it's not being driven by unemployment at home, it's driven by a desire to see another part of the world and live there."
However, Fianna Fail jobs spokesman Willie O'Dea said Mr Noonan should "immediately apologise" for his remarks.
He said: "Of course there are many young people who, after college, travel abroad. But there is an undeniable link between the high rate of unemployment and the number of people seeking work abroad."
Mr Noonan said giving a good education would ensure emigrants get professional jobs.
"It's not about putting on the green jersey or taking off the green jersey, it's just that's life in modern Ireland, and they have to do their best," he said.
"I hope they are successful abroad. What we have to make sure is our young people have the best possible education, so that when they go, they are employed as young professionals in their country of destination."
Elsewhere, Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore courted more controversy when he called on the opposition to support the Government in negotiating aspects of the bailout.
"It would be helpful if on this occasion you were to pull on the green jersey and assist the Government of this country," said Mr Gilmore.