What would the unemployment level be in Ireland if emigration were not, once again, the safety valve it has traditionally been?
The likelihood is that the current unemployment rate of 14.6 percent in December 2012 would be at least three or four points higher.
After all, 87,000 left the country between April 2011 and April 2012, a staggering number. It’s more than the number who sat for the Leaving Certificate, the Irish equivalent of the SATs for that period.
If that keeps up we will be witnessing emigration on a scale not seen since Famine times, surely an incredible scenario in modern Ireland.
It all revolves around the financial crisis of course, and how successive Irish governments have handled the default of the Irish banks.
At the World Economic Conference in Davos last week billionaire businessman George Soros had no doubt that the Irish crisis had been badly mishandled, especially in relation to Iceland which faced a similar trial.
"If you compare the fate of Ireland with the fate of Iceland, Iceland is actually flourishing, although it had a bigger banking crisis than Ireland in relation to its population, because it simply did not accept the liabilities of the banks," he said. "But Ireland was not so lucky."
Not so lucky, or not so smart? Last week also marked the 100th week in a row that the residents of the tiny Cork town of Ballyhea marched against the payoff to bondholders of failed banks.
CNN, Al Jazeera, The Washington Post and many other media outlets have recorded the stand of the tiny village against the European bailout terms,
Protest organizer Diarmuid O’Flynn, (a former sports reporter for the Irish Voice), who is now a sports journalist with the Irish Examiner, told the 200 present in foul weather conditions the march is gaining support every week.
As reported in The Irish Times he said, “We have people from all over the country. And hopefully … people will start to make the link between the austerity … and the bond payments that are continuing to be made … that when people complain about the household charge, stealth taxes and water taxes, they should know that these are a consequence of the austerity measures being forced upon us while the government pays billions to foreign bondholders.”
Read more stories on Irish immigration here
So from the little streets of Ballyhea to the great streets of Davos, there is massive second-guessing going on over what the current and past Irish governments have committed themselves too.
It is beginning to look like that Vietnam analogy where they had to destroy the village to save it.
How much more can the Irish taxpayers take? Yet there was no sign of an easing in the European banks position last week when they simply told the Irish leader Enda Kenny that his proposed plan to extend repayments out over a much longer period would not fly.
The sad part is that Kenny and other leaders for the foreseeable future will be going cap in hand to Europe, the new imperial power in Ireland, seeking relief from the crushing financial burdens.
The harsh reality is that the cure may well be killing the patient in Ireland, or making him even more ill at least.
It will take an uncommon political courage to acknowledge that reality and insist on a new deal with Europe that focuses on fairness and ability to pay.
However, it may well come down to that if the downward spiral of unemployment and emigration continues.
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