Friday 30 September 2016

Delivering on promise to 'bring them home'

Published 24/08/2016 | 02:30

Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photo: Collins
Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photo: Collins

On St Patrick's Day 2015, Taoiseach Enda Kenny told the world - or at least that section of it that had a sentimental ear cocked towards the 'Old Sod' on our National Day - that he wanted to bring Irish emigrants home by 2018. Amid the green beer, wilting shamrocks and ticker tape, few paid much heed.

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He was adamant, though, that the Government's plan was to bring home those who had been forced to emigrate. They were, he insisted, the "new wave of entrepreneurs, of innovators and job creators" and the next leaders of Irish society.

Earlier that year, Mr Kenny had told a gathering of the world's elite in Davos that his government had managed to create stability despite the "unprecedented" problems it had inherited.

"That means, in terms of politics, being about people. That young people who left Ireland as emigrants will be able to come home and work in their own country, if that's their choice, with new experiences and new skills." Then, too, he was derided for getting ahead of himself.

Mr Kenny's belief was not entirely misplaced. The latest figures show a welcome return to net inward migration for the first time since 2009. Some 79,300 people came into the country to live in the year to April 2016.

Having reached out to the Diaspora, which has so much to offer, the onus is on the State to make good on its promise. And there is promise. Yesterday, it was also revealed that the number of people at work has now broken through the two million mark for the first time since 2008.

In total, an extra 56,200 jobs were created in the year to the end of June, according to the Central Statistics Office.

Mr Kenny was certainly premature in launching his re-election campaign with a victory roll, based on a story of recovery, back in February. All the same, six months down the line, these are significant economic milestones. But there are also significant challenges on the road ahead. On the plus side, Ibec's Fergal O'Brien said: "Today's numbers provide clear evidence of further strong domestic growth."

This is not leprechaun economics. The figures point to a solid expanding economy, based on growth of around 5pc. Economist Alan McQuaid was also upbeat, saying: "The labour market data was better than expected. There was an average increase in the number at work last year of 50,100, up from 32,800 in 2014, and employment prospects look very good again in 2016, due to the strong recovery."

All this is extremely positive, but we ought not to be getting ahead of ourselves. Those returning will find that there is an acute shortage of housing. Getting a deposit together for a home is a formidable challenge, providing one can even find a home. Meanwhile, other figures released yesterday illustrate that the number of properties available to rent is at an all-time low. One has to conclude that, if anything, the rental crisis is actually worsening.

Then there is the onerous tax regime and punitive levies to contend with. Finance Minister Michael Noonan is happy that the economy will continue to generate significant jobs growth. He believes that 200,000 new vacancies can be created by 2020, 135,000 of which will be outside Dublin. Making good on this first requires the provision of homes, adequate healthcare, transport, schools and fairer taxes. The challenges are formidable, but not insurmountable. For too many generations, the emigrant's ticket has been one-way. Having driven them away, there is now an unprecedented opportunity to show that we can keep our brightest and best at home.

This will require real intent, rather than mere words; yet surely this is a challenge worth rising to.

Irish Independent

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