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The new survey on the Irish Diaspora reveals the many difficulties emigrants face after leaving home.

It is time for Irish to confront emigration warts and all

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The new survey on the Irish Diaspora reveals the many difficulties emigrants face after leaving home.

The new survey on the Irish Diaspora by University College Dublin Clinton school reveals the extent to which many emigrants are still struggling with issues related to dislocation.

That should be no surprise.

The act of leaving home and hearth and starting a new life in a foreign land is a complex and difficult experience, often misunderstood.

There is a view in some quarters that emigration is easy, and certainly voluntary emigration opens new vistas and opportunities, especially for the better educated.

But the Clinton Institute report was clear that huge issues remain for those who, if left to their own devices, would never emigrate but who are faced with no choice.

Often times such young men and women are ill prepared for the buffeting that emigration brings, the need to start over, create employment for yourself, exist as a stranger in a strange land. There can be huge added stress in the US if the emigrant is also undocumented.

Too often such emigrants will have few ties to the new country. It is why organizations such as the GAA play an outsize role in providing a network for young emigrants.

Despite all the access to Skyping and Facebooking the reality of being removed from the supportive circles of families and friends can be overwhelming.

When I came to America in 1979 my modest skill as a Gaelic footballer and hurler allowed me to gain an immediate network first in Chicago, later in San Francisco. Looking back on it I’m not sure I would have survived long in America without the friends and connections I made.

I was lucky - many emigrate with no ready-made network, skill or family links. They are the ones especially to be concerned about.

Emigration is not going away. I was a forerunner of the early 80s wave of emigration before me were the wave from the 1920s and 50s and now  there is the millennial wave. Plus ca change, every thirty years or so.

There is a humanitarian as well as a political need to address this issue of ill prepared emigrants head on. 

Support needs to be far more visible. When you depart Dublin Airport for the US at present Connect Ireland, the job networking for Ireland site, has a prominent kiosk advertising its mission. It is a very effective and visible promotion.

Emigration Ireland should have a similar high profile service at all departure points with leaflets, email addresses and outlines of where Irish community centers are, where to call if in trouble, list of Irish organizations such as the GAA and what to expect in the country you are heading to as an emigrant.

Sure there could be criticism that such an information desk  is too accepting of emigration but the reality needs to be dealt with. Emigration is not stopping anytime soon if ever.

If this or future governments wanted to really grasp the nettle emigration studies tracing the history and dealing with the present day realities should be part of the school curriculum which would at least give the next generation an important context and working knowledge if they do decide to leave.

Emigration is Ireland’s safety valve and has been since Famine times. It  is remarkable how little that reality has changed as the 200,000 who have left since the crash of the Celtic Tiger bears ample evidence to.

The notion of emigration as normal has buried itself so deep in the Irish psyche that any discussion of it tends to take it for granted.

Why? Surely it should be the core mission of a nation wherever in the world to offer its citizens the opportunity to work and live in their own country?

The loss of brainpower, job skills (see young doctors), intellectual energy and capacity is astonishing, especially when you see what they go on to accomplish in other countries.

The cost to the Irish taxpayer of educating these bright young minds only to see other countries prosper from their work is never entered into political calculations – but it should.

The appointment of an Irish Diaspora Minister is a great first step in recognizing the realities behind Irish emigration.

Practical measures  of benefit to emigrants such as suggested here and those described in the UCD study for those who run into difficulty should be a priority.  

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