False dawn beckons for returning emigrants
Experts criticise Coalition's 'rhetoric'
Published 03/05/2015 | 02:30
The Government is overestimating how quickly Irish emigrants will return home and the boost they will bring to the economy, experts have warned.
Specialists say an influx of emigrant couples, individuals and families over the next couple of years will put increasing pressure on the housing and rental market.
Previous homeward migration trends also suggest that returning emigrants will face many psychological challenges upon their return.
Dr Mary Gilmartin, who specialises in migration research at Maynooth University and is the author of a new book, Ireland and Migration in the 21st Century, said she is not seeing any pragmatic evidence that the Government is prepared for return migration.
She told the Sunday Independent: "I see rhetoric about wanting to get people to return, but I don't see any evidence of any practical things that are directed towards making it easier for people to return."
Dr Gilmartin says she believes emigrants will have difficulties accessing mortgages and other loans without a credit history. "I don't think the rate of return will be as high as predicted and I don't think the economic situation is as positive as Government suggestions indicate."
Last week, as part of the Government's Spring Statement, Finance Minister Michael Noonan pledged to lure tens of thousands of emigrants home with more favourable tax measures.
A spokeswoman from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the new proposals are "an important step" in returning to net inward migration by 2017. However, Dr Gilmartin argues a lot more must be done before emigrants living in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States book flights home.
"It's a very patchy recovery. Some areas are doing well, but other areas are still struggling. The upheaval of moving a family is such that I can't see people engaging in that kind of upheaval to move a family back again quite so quickly," she said.
Dr David Ralph, assistant professor of sociology at Trinity College Dublin, warned many emigrants may be attracted back under false pretences. "They wouldn't want to be luring people home with various false guns that there has been this sort of major upswing in the economy," he said. "The reality can be quite different and I think people are more realistic about the slow nature of the recovery."
Last month, as part of his St Patrick's Day address, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said 2016 will be the year where the number of our people coming home "will be greater than the number of people who leave".
However, Dr Ralph, who did extensive research on Irish returning from the US during the Celtic Tiger, contests this prediction. "Will there be a rush? I don't think so, I don't think the economy is necessarily buoyant enough to create the return seen during the boom years," he said.
Dr Ralph also anticipates problems with welfare entitlements as access to certain social assistance payments, including Jobseeker's Allowance, partly depends on length and purpose of any absence from Ireland.
He believes slower, organised return is more sustainable. "If we have a housing crisis in Dublin as it stands and up to 50,000 Irish people return, then we are going to have an even bigger housing crisis because they will move to urban areas," he said, adding that part of the over-heating of the economy from 1996 to 2006 was due to the rush of return migrants.
"The rate of return migration during the boom further fuelled the property frenzy, so if it does happen, we need to keep an eye on the property market."