HOPE springs eternal. And with figures last week showing 88,770 people under the age of 25 on the unemployment Live Register, that is just as well. Many other young people have already left Ireland, with some phone, airline and other companies exploiting them as they go.
Taking a boat or plane instead of taking to the streets has long been the Irish response to hard times. But bitterness abroad is bad for Irish business as well as for the heart, so we need policies that equip people to prosper when they leave and that make them relish the thought of returning some day to work in Ireland. The nation has reasons to support its new and future emigrants.
The political poison at the heart of emigration is that a citizen gone is a vote that threatens nobody. For all of the palaver about our diaspora and how we value it, (not least when emigrants or their children return as tourists or become millionaires and invest in the old sod), we have never given them a vote. So there is no political payback possible for those who must go whether they like it or not.
The sudden closure last month of The Irish Post newspaper in Britain is a sad reminder of one particular way in which we officially neglected emigrants for years, and that was by not even supporting media for them so that they could express themselves and be part of a diaspora that meant more than just sentimental songs and remittances.
Some people want to emigrate and many can benefit from a spell abroad. But today, as young people are forced to depart from Ireland, some commercial practices are leaving them with an even more sour taste in their mouths.
Take a young person who has to go but who has signed a mobile phone contract. In theory, such contracts are a matter of choice. In practice, many young people are pushed by social circumstances and a hard sell into feeling they need a smartphone and so sign up for 12 or 18 months.
Part of their bundle is for call and text charges. But neither O2 nor Meteor, for example, allows them a single cent of credit against roaming calls when they leave Ireland to work aboard. They are stuck paying their monthly minimum charge which can run to a total of almost €500 during the first year abroad when they most need money, including money to call home. Breaking the contract can have long-term consequences in terms of credit rating and communications.
Phone companies make some minor concessions, perhaps reducing a package to a lower band if most of the period has run on it, but their refusal to credit any of the entirely unused bundle charges against roaming calls seems simply mean and nasty.
And then there are the airlines, which screw every cent they can out in baggage charges. Every extra kilo over very basic allowances costs a departing young person at least €9, meaning that for a modest bundle of things to take with them, they quickly end up paying more for their bag than for their flight.
It would not break the airlines to make a gesture that distinguishes young people who are leaving to work or study abroad from holiday-makers. Last week, within a short period at Dublin Airport, I saw a number of young people being caught out and charged still more again because they had not paid for those surplus kilos in advance. They were forced to hand over significant sums at the check-in desk.
If we care about the rising generation then we must address their real needs now by adopting integrated policies and practices that equip them well to cope with new realities. The days of job security and permanence are gone and are not about to return any time in the foreseeable future.
Is our education system in touch with what is happening? Much and all as France is a lovely country, for example, is it right that French is overwhelmingly the language taught at school? What of Arabic or Chinese or even the seldom taught German?
The Higher Education Authority has been making an effort to connect its available courses with people on the Live Register who are thinking of going in a new direction. Springboard is a programme that attempts to remedy the shortfall in some skills areas, a bizarre shortfall when Ireland has over 14 per cent unemployment, and one that speaks eloquently of the breakdown in proper social planning in recent years. We even have to import doctors.
Not everyone will have enough basic educational qualifications to avail of Springboard grants but, for those who do, it can open new doors in science, engineering and information technology.
The Government itself needs to see Springboard as the jumping-off point to an urgent, coherent policy on equipping Irish youth for a changed world. That policy requires radical action and reformed systems now, and an engagement with young people that is a lot more than the standard political spin and public relations gloss paid for by public monies. The modest National Internship Scheme was merely a first step, and critics say that even it is seriously flawed.
Young people leaving Ireland in growing numbers also deserve support. Emigrants should be given a vote abroad, as US citizens are by their government, and there should be a range of incentives to entice them to return to Ireland to use at home the life experience and work skills that they have gained while away.