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GAA losing 250 players a month to emigration

A GAA team of 15 young men plus two "subs" gathered at Shannon Airport last month, but it was not an end-of-season football or hurling tour.

Instead, men from a number of different clubs in north Clare were taking flights on the same day to find work, according to veteran campaigner for rural development, Fr Harry Bohan.

And a survey carried out by the National Youth Council of Ireland indicates that 70 per cent of young unemployed Irish people believe that they will emigrate in the next 12 months. The results of the survey of 150 Irish jobseekers aged between 18 and 25 were published in a report, The Forgotten Generation.

The Government's economic think-tank, the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), said that 1,000 people a week were now leaving

The ESRI estimates net outward migration to reach 100,000 over the two-year period April 2010-April 2012. That's far higher than during the recession in the Eighties when net outflow reached a peak of 44,000 in 1989.

Clare GAA has been rocked by the loss of its senior hurling captain, Brian O'Connell, who has decided to emigrate to Australia in search of work.

O'Connell, who is a carpenter, played with the Wolfe Tones club in Shannon and was regarded as one of the county's best hurlers.

The GAA is concerned that emigration is creating a haemorrhage of players, with 250 hurlers and footballers a month leaving Ireland.

Fr Bohan said local communities must act themselves, rather than relying on central government for assistance.

"The mass emigration of the Fifties was about 50,000 people a year leaving in Ireland," he said. "That was regarded then as a total disaster, so much so that people wondered whether Irish independence was worth it at all.

"Now we are losing that number and more -- which means we could be getting closer and closer to a lost generation. I heard a young fella on the radio say that out of 100 in his class who had graduated in 2008, he is one of the last men standing here in Ireland. That is serious stuff.

"If we lose that generation, it is going to have serious implications for the economy in the years to come. And it is also going to have serious implications socially."

Fr Bohan said that rural sporting clubs in all codes would find it difficult to field teams, with disastrous results.

"If you have a vibrant club, you have lads and girls coming down from Dublin for matches at the weekend keeping in touch with where they are from and with their families and their neighbours. You have the social aspect, which keeps shops and pubs open. It is the lifeblood of the community. If a club can't field a team, it has devastating ramifications -- and not just in sporting terms," he said.

Fr Bohan believes that local community spirit must be renewed.

"I am in the parish of Sixmilebridge in Clare, a parish of about 6,000 people. In the last 12 months we have started to get a grip on all these issues ourselves. Across the country, communities became so dependent on big government and big corporations that they began to lose sight of the fact that they should be doing things for themselves. We have tried to reverse that here," he said.

"We begun by buying the local mart, which had closed down. We now have 400 people, farmers and others, now taking shares in the project to develop the mart and then to move on to other things."

He added, "Basically, what we are trying to get across is that people are going to have to shape their own futures. That is going to demand a new spirit. We are going to have to go back to the creativity we have at local level rather than relying on the global."

Sunday Independent