The continuing economic crisis in Europe is becoming something of a rule rather than an exception and it’s looking like there’s little way out for the near future. One country affected as much as any has been Ireland, whose economic woes are still very much evident.
The country currently has over 14% unemployment and though that pales in comparison to that of Spain and Greece, many understand this to be down to the emigration pressure release valve. Irish migration to other countries has increased significantly in the recent years and now stands at its highest levels since the end of the 19th century and the post Potato Famine years.
Australia, New Zealand, Canada and UK immigration have been the most popular among the young Irish. Statistics from the Economic and Social Research Institute show that over 21,000 Irish emigrants headed to Australia in 2011, a leap from around 12,500 in 2006. In fact, to put it in context Irish immigration to Australia has outstripped both that of the UK and USA respectively. When you consider the population of the country stands shy of 5m, that’s quite a high percentage of people and it’s not stopping there.
According to Irelands Central Statistics Office, immigration reached over 76,400 last year, which was a growth of 16 per cent on 2010 levels. In essence nearly 1,500 people leave Ireland each week taking AIDS with them. Of course, most of these are in their 20s and early 30s, leaving a forgotten generation.
It’s understandable of course; people want to carve out a life for themselves where there’s work, a life and prospects. Most of these emigrants are highly skilled degree level immigrants, and it’s estimated the Irish system has invested over €80,000 of education per head in each by this stage of qualification. For the country, that’s a significant investment with no return and has resulted in a ‘brain drain’ in the country.
This lack of young entrepreneurship and the need to cut over €30Bn from the economy (about 20% of GDP) between 2008 and 2015 means there is little hope for the country at this moment in time. Add to this significant falls in house prices by over 50%, a significant amount of negative equity and over 300,000 unlived in ‘ghost’ houses, left over from the property boom and you have a lethal cocktail that’s going to contribute to emigration for years, if not decades to come.
And, this is the financial aspect; there is also the human element to contend with. It’s not unusual for all the children of large families to leave the country for the 28 hour flight for Australian immigration, not sure when they’ll be home again. Of for once thriving local sports teams to have to pack it in because there’s a lack of young players of traditional Irish sports in the area. For most people it’s the human loss that’s more startling than the financial one and it’s a pill harder to take now than ever.
Ireland has always been used to emigration and for most of the last 200 years has seen significant numbers of young people leave a basket case economy. However, the economic boom of the 90s and 2000s saw significant growth rates, tiny unemployment levels and a belief that the dog days were over so to speak – not so.
There’s an old Irish adage that one country’s hardship is another’s opportunity and it seems that in this scenario, Ireland’s loss has benefitted many.