One of the more heartening aspects of the coronavirus crisis has been the willingness of around 70,000 mostly young health care professionals to travel from the four corners of the world to answer Ireland's call. In large part, these were the young people, now in their late 20s and 30s, who left Ireland in the years after the most recent economic crash to find their way in the world.
Such a pattern of emigration has become a time-honoured but an always unacceptable tradition, described as a pressure release valve in a country which, through the generations, seems to be routinely unable to meet the requirements of its younger people. A few always leave through a commendable spirit of adventure, of course, but they are a minority. Indeed, many of the grandparents of those who answered Ireland's call, and who now populate our nursing homes, also departed these shores in the 1950s as did another generation in the 1980s and to a lesser extent, at all points in between.
Those who have answered Ireland's call felt they had no choice but to emigrate in the first place, and did so with no little resentment towards the people and circumstances which forced them to do so. They went on to carve out promising lives and careers in the US, Australia and elsewhere, and showed remarkable enthusiasm to return to the country of their birth which had let them down so grievously throughout the first half of the last decade. Others stayed and contributed to the rebuilding of the country. Many must have their regrets, in terms of the housing shortage and cost crisis, and in relation to insecurity of employment. They remain the victims of bad economic management and poor political leadership.
In this crisis, as we rightly focus by necessity on our older generations, the 'cocooners', and those sitting prey in nursing homes, it is easy to forget the generation who most recently left and have now returned, hopefully for good - as they did intermittently and to great effect through the 'Home to Vote' movement in recent ground-breaking referenda. Nor should we forget the generation currently coming of age and facing in to a fresh economic crisis which is bound to limit their prospects and opportunity in the short term. Such is the global nature of the current crisis that this generation will be unable to avail of that pressure valve release to emigrate. Then there are the school children one step behind again, in secondary schools, who have had to contend with enormous pressure in the considerations around the Leaving Certificate. At least a decision has been made on that issue, whether for the better remains to be seen. And as we credit our children, we should not forget the primary school children and toddlers who bring such joy to us all, whose little lives have been marked forever by the Covid-19 pandemic.
There is opportunity here too. Ireland has one of the youngest populations in Europe, and this will be one of our great advantages as we head into the task of rebuilding the country again. These young people are no longer just home to vote, or home to answer a call, or home and about to leave. They are the future of the country. The political and institutional authorities should take note. This generation will make its presence felt. Ireland is about to change, but more than that, and for this we should be grateful, Ireland's future is in good hands.