Saturday 1 October 2016

Kenny's emigrant pledge to drive up rent and risks sparking resentment

The State wants 70,000 to come home but what about those who stayed for the hard times, asks Claire Mc Cormack

Claire McCormack

Published 31/01/2016 | 02:30

The State wants 70,000 to come home but what about those who stayed for the hard times?
The State wants 70,000 to come home but what about those who stayed for the hard times?

Taoiseach Enda Kenny wants 70,000 emigrants to come back home by 2020 but wild geese may meet resentment from those who stayed behind to deal with the crash, as employers favour candidates with foreign experience.

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And the sudden influx of professionals, by necessity targeting Dublin for jobs, will heap unbearable pressure on a rental market already creaking at the seams, a leading academic has warned.

Concerns have also emerged that the next government will "cherry pick" young, educated returnees, over older vulnerable members of the diaspora who've been struggling to come home for decades.

Over the last 12 months, there has been a steady increase in numbers of expats returning home.

Approximately 250,000 left during the downturn but around 120,000 have already come back.

Some are coming from the UK and Canada but the majority are leaving Australia.

Marriage, a desire to raise their families in Ireland, and the responsibility of caring for ageing parents are among the main reasons for their return. Australia's economy has also dipped.

Industries benefiting most from the arrival of highly- skilled, internationally seasoned workers include banking, financial services, IT, law and engineering.

According to Brightwater Recruitment Specialists, Irish expats are taking advantage of the economic upturn.

Michael Minogue, senior consultant, said those opting for legal jobs are primarily coming back from the UK.

"Those with London experience may have the edge in interviews. We keep in touch with these professionals through LinkedIn and through their professional bodies," he said.

Cathal O'Donnell, manager, said Irish engineers, a profession laid low by the recession, are also capitalising on new opportunities at home.

"We're definitely seeing a sharp upturn in the numbers of Irish professionals coming home. We have a skills shortage in the high-end engineering and the industry itself and Engineers Ireland are doing their best to advertise the fact that the industry is improving here," he said.

Although most employers have embraced Skype and digital marketing, others still prefer to do interviews in person and would ideally prefer the person to be home in Ireland before offering the role.

However, recruiters say this trend is changing where necessary.

Dr David Ralph, professor of sociology at Trinity College Dublin, says the overseas experience and wealth of international contacts gained by return migrants will give them an edge over job-seeking peers who remained in Ireland.

"If a returned migrant has a record of continuous full-time employment and they are up against an Irish peer who has been unemployed for one, two, three years, then yes, certainly, the returned migrant is at an advantage when it comes to the interview," he said.

"Work cultures are different in every country, so if someone can bring a different perspective to a problem, then this is valuable," he said.

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, also says returnees "may well be more attractive" to Irish employers.

"Return emigrants with relevant international expertise are attractive to employers in Ireland, particularly larger employers. They may well be more attractive than graduates with limited experience who have remained in Ireland," she said.

Those targeting Dublin, will also stack more pressure on the housing market.

"The Government hope 2016 will be the 'year of family reunification' for Ireland's emigrants, but imagine the scale of the housing crisis if 70,000 extra people arrived in the city over a short space of time. Would they find a roof to put over their heads?" said Dr Ralph.

Other barriers of return include schooling and child care costs.

Although most people will be delighted to see loved ones return, the looming influx could ruffle feathers.

Some who struggled through the recession at home will be angered at special treatment of prodigal sons and daughters.

Dr Mary Gilmartin said: "We know from previous experiences of returning Irish that, while they often get work based on that experience, many of their colleagues may not welcome their perspective or may undermine the validity of their experience".

Previous research of returnees during the boom revealed some had difficulties re-connecting on a social level.

Assimilation of their children with their American, Australian or British accents may also be an issue.

Accusations from peers that they abandoned their country at a time of distress will also rankle.

Dr Ralph, author of Will this generation of emigrants be welcomed back with open arms?, says "it's possible" similar issues will arise for the incoming cohort.

"There will be a minority who will cast aspersions on motives for return - that they couldn't stick it out with us while the ship was sinking, but now that things are a little rosier they're back," he said.

Dr Katy Hayward, lecturer in sociology at Queen's University Belfast said the Government may "cherry-pick" from the diaspora - a trend that emerged during the boom.

"We will see cherry picking again so it's important for the national discourse to be able to say this is a positive thing and that our emigrants will come back and benefit Ireland," she said.

Safe Home, a charity supporting older emigrants to return home, says those struggling to return for up to 40 years, feel "neglected" by the Government.

Karen McHugh, CEO of Safe Home said: "the older group of emigrants have definitely been forgotten, any diaspora policy is all about getting the upwardly mobile, educated and qualified back. Even though there might be some mention of this group, in practice we're finding it very difficult".

Barriers this group face include: qualifying for housing needs, applying for pensions and accessing entitlements.

Experts are increasingly concerned the Government is luring emigrants back under false pretences.

"Like all election strategies and promises, I would be worried but I doubt many returned migrants will be turned home by the Government's idle talk," said Dr Ralph.

"Irish emigrants are remarkably well-attuned to the goings-on of the country - they know there are still major problems with the economy," he said.

Some describe Mr Kenny's projections of returnees as "wildly over-optimistic".

Piaras Mac Éinrí, lecturer in migration studies at University College Cork believes return rates of emigration will probably be lower than the 1980s generation.

"Our traditional rates of return are among the lowest in Europe. I would say a reasonable figure is that about 50pc are likely to return at most," he said.

"The Government keeps going on about how they are going to encourage return migration but there are no real concrete measures, it's a lot of soft policy," he said.

"They are not just going to come back for nostalgia, the present generation have raised the bar and have higher expectations.

"There is not a shred of evidence to support claims that 70,000 will come back when there is still a net figure of people leaving. It's blue sky thinking," he said.

Although experts say emigrants must be aware of tensions they may encounter, petty jealousies and begrudgery will fade with time.

Trish Murphy, psychotherapist and member of the Irish Council of Psychotherapy: "begrudgery is in the Irish nature a bit and for people coming home it seems unfair but those attitudes won't last, it's a big transition and things will settle down. Generally people will be welcomed back with open arms," she said.

Sunday Independent

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