The images in airports these days consist of mothers, fathers and grand-parents saying their tearful good-byes in the departure lounge in Dublin Airport to their loved ones. Irish emigration is back with a vengance.
The figures are stark. In the year to April 2010 65,300 people left the country, about the same number as left in 2009. This is just below the 70,600 people who emigrated in 1989, a year when unemployment stood at almost 18 per cent.
The Eurostat EU statistics agency recently reported Ireland’s emigration rate as the highest in the union, with nine people per 1,000 leaving the State. This is almost double the second-highest, in Lithuania, and a far cry from the halcyon days of the Celtic Tiger when Ireland’s immigration rate was the EU’s second highest.
English-speaking countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US remain favourite destinations with a new generation of Irish emigrants.
Britain, which registers almost 1,000 Irish citizens every month to work in the country, and other EU states are popular because there are no visa restrictions. But people are increasingly following opportunities in states not previously associated with Irish emigration, such as China, eastern Europe and the Middle East.
With unemployment at 13 per cent and further cuts required under the IMF-EU bailout terms, most economists predict the flow of people abroad will continue.
This begs a question: are we back to the bad old days of the 1980s, when 500,000 people left the country to live abroad?
“There is a lot of media hype around emigration, but statistics suggest we aren’t back to the 1980s yet,” says Piaras MacEnri, who lectures on migration at University College Cork. “The 70,000-odd people who left Ireland in 1989 were almost all Irish, whereas the current emigration rate includes many non-nationals – it is a more complex scenario,” says MacEnri.
Of the 65,300 people who left the country in the 12 months to April 2010, 27,700 were Irish citizens. About 19,900 were eastern European; 8,100 were originally from states outside the EU. In the previous 12-month period just 18,400 of the 65,100 emigrants were Irish citizens, while a staggering 30,100 central and eastern Europeans left.
About 15,300 Irish people left the country in the year to April 2006. The big increase in under-31s taking up temporary work visas in Australia, which peaked at 22,786 in the year to June 2009, also pre-dated the worst of the recession. This suggests travelling abroad for a year or two had become an established practice for many young people.
But a lack of jobs, particularly for the younger generation, is causing many people who don’t want to emigrate to leave their families in search of a new start.
Unemployment in Ireland is the third highest in Europe, at 13.5 percent. So why wouldn’t adolescents pack up and leave Ireland. They have nothing holding them here.
Young people are the most affected by high unemployment. The largest age group leaving Ireland are working age people under 25.
“The weakness in the labour market for younger people has given rise to the return of emigration and our forecasts envisage a continuation of this,” ESRI said in the report.
By: Meghan Jackson