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It seems as if the bad old days have returned with a vengeance in Ireland.

Emigration is back — and it looks like it could be official government policy.

A report in today's Sunday Independent says the Irish government expects the economy to recover in 2011 as long as 150,000 people emigrate.

That's right; 150,000 people. Over the next 12 months.

The paper quotes "senior figures" in the Department of Finance who have said they are "expecting and hoping" that as many as 150,000 people will emigrate.

The story relies on anonymous sourcing for this information which makes me worry about the veracity of the report.

But then, on the other hand, who's going to stick their head above the parapet in the Department and admit they blew the whistle.

The paper doesn't say where the workers are expected to emigrate to.

America is pretty much closed to the Irish because of the state of the immigration system. Australia is reducing its worker visas. In England, tradespeople are competing with workers from Eastern Europe who can charge less for their work.

But Irish workers, with mortgages of €2,000 a month, need to earn more or they will have to walk away from their homes.

The specter of emigration was the main topic on Marian Finucane's show this morning.

But nobody is answering the big question. Given that this is a global meltdown; and not confined to Ireland, where does the Irish Government expect everyone to go?

The report comes in the wake of new figures which show that immigrants account for 20 percent of people receiving unemployment benefits in Ireland.

The total "signing-on" in Ireland stands at about 400,000 (up from about 200,000 last year) with most economists expecting it to rise to about 500,000.

About 80,000 of those in receipt of benefits are immigrants and that number will presumably rise along with the total number. Most of these, some 45,000, are from Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, three of the 10 accession states which joined the EU in May 2004.

It's a far cry from 2005 when immigration into Ireland reached a record high of 53,000 and construction, industry and the hospitality industries welcomed the immigrants with open arms.

The same immigrants are now being somehow smeared for collecting benefits they are entitled to after working in Ireland for the past five years and paying for their social welfare.

I'd like to see a report which shows how much the immigrants contributed to the Irish coffers before they get scapegoated for collecting social welfare.

Construction workers like Joe Callan, 23, have seen their hopes and dreams crushed in the downturn.

Callan studied to be a surveyor and while he was in school he worked hard at making sure he was well qualified.

Now, he's living in in a flat with London with four other Irish emigrants, and tries to come home every month.

"I've heard all the stories from the old guys in Kilburn," he says, referring to immigrants in the traditional Irish haunt in London.

"The only difference these days is that I am flying back to Dublin whereas they could only afford the boat from Holyhead."

"We were all forced to leave."