President Higgins says ghost estates could house returning emigrants
Says there is a need to help forgotten generations of Irish migrants
I also think we need to look at ways to stay in touch with the recently emigrated. It is something to discuss (at Constitutional Convention).
Is it an unreasonable expectation, in light of the fact that Irish people are trying to manage their own lives, to expect them to feed back into Ireland for the greater good?
President Higgins: It’s a very good question.
I think a person might become so depressed that they might withdraw. It might be one of the risk factors of very very elderly so it’s important to stay in touch. It’s important with emigration coming back, we don’t have people leaving embittered.
I think there is a natural generous human instinct there among the Irish. I think there is a sense of respect for each other and a great solidarity. We must do as much as we can to keep in touch and keep that dialogue going (because) the world we are living in now is a world that’s bigger than Britain or Ireland.
If you were 30-years-old living in Britain and trying to survive, what would you do following your call for Irish people everywhere to rebuild Irish society?
President Higgins: It depends on the materials and the tools that are available to you. One of the encouraging things is the number of older people who are going back into third level education and bringing their experience of life back into third level institutions. There are people who are taking part in community activities who are empowering themselves in different ways, some through skills that are personal and others through skills that are being shared.
Practically, people just have to build step by step their own inclusion back into society and manage the transformation I spoke about in my inaugural address.
What was the toughest experience of being an emigrant when you lived here?
President Higgins: The very first letter I wrote to a newspaper was to the the London Evening Standard in reply to an anti-Irish article about us being lazy. I was working as a waiter in Sussex at the time. From 1962 to 66 worked every summer in England. I put the address of my hotel on the letter and that caused some difficulties for me. It would have been a letter very much against the old (Irish) stereotypes. Later, I did two papers on racist stereotypes in which I went through that. But I had hoped all of that had moved on. It was there that time in the 60s; there was no point in pretending that it wasn’t.
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