Colette Browne: It should trouble us that so many still wish to emigrate
Published 11/11/2013 | 02:00
In his resignation speech in April 2008, former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said he was “proud to have brought an end to the days of forced emigration.
One wonders if Ahern would revise that claim today, given that the numbers emigrating have increased by nearly 400pc since he delivered his self-serving swansong.
While emigration levels have not yet reached the epidemic levels of the 1980s, today's Behaviour and Attitudes (B&A) opinion poll reveals that there is no imminent chance of a staunch in the flow of Irish people fleeing these shores.
In fact, recent figures from the CSO have revealed that more people emigrated in the past year than at the start of the economic crisis.
The problem, if anything, is getting worse.
According to our B&A survey, young people in their 20s are most likely to emigrate – with 37pc indicating they are likely to leave over the next five years – while nearly one-quarter of people in their 30s also envisage emigration.
For those in their 30s, men are marginally more likely than women to emigrate – with 24pc of men compared to 21pc of women giving serious consideration to leaving.
However, a closer examination of the figures reveals that the proportion of men who are "very likely" to emigrate is twice that of women, 10pc versus 5pc.
Interestingly, our survey has revealed that people in their 30s living in the Dublin region are twice as likely to emigrate as those in rural areas, 35pc compared to just 17pc.
Although opportunities in the sprawling Dublin region are greater than elsewhere, for people in their 30s, costs – house prices, rent and childcare to name just a few – are also significantly higher. With earnings falling since 2009, this could be feeding into people's decisions about whether they want to remain in situ and ride out the rest of the recessionary storm here.
Which brings us to the two main reasons that so many people in their 30s are seriously thinking about emigration – exile and escape.
For some, unemployment and economic necessity mean they have no other choice but to go into exile.
For others, a lack of promotional opportunity at work, wage stagnation and a desire to escape the stultifying atmosphere of depression at home means they are willing to consider a move.
Significantly, our poll has revealed that there is parity between middle class and working-class people on the issue of emigration – with both groups equally likely to emigrate.
Of the ABC1 demographic, which can be generally categorised as relatively high-earning professional workers, 22pc say they are likely to emigrate; while 24pc of C2DE workers, encompassing skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workers, say they will emigrate.
This supports a major finding of a recent landmark UCC study, the Emigre project, which found that 47pc of those emigrating were in full-time employment, "often with sought-after qualifications that other countries covet – like valuable IT skills or health professionals". The upwardly mobile middle class, concerned at the prospect of a lost decade as the country tries to again find its economic feet, are willing to move to fill gaps in labour markets in other countries where they will be better rewarded with higher salaries and more opportunities for promotion.
Whatever the reason, the willingness of so many highly qualified young people to leave Ireland should be hugely concerning for the Government. This brain drain, unless staunched, will stymie economic growth and the chances for recovery long into the future.
A further consequence, which has been little discussed to date, is that the so-called "safety-valve" of emigration will save the skin of the political class.
The likelihood of much-needed political and institutional reform will be greatly reduced because those most affected by the economic crisis are no longer here to agitate for change and demand accountability.
Meanwhile, as nearly 250 young people continue to emigrate every day, those most to blame for the crash – the bankers, developers and politicians – are all sitting pretty, waiting for the next boom to begin.