Everyone with an interest in Ireland and/or the Irish should read Niall O'Dowd's column on the Working Abroad Expo, better known here as the Emigration Expo, held in Dublin over the weekend. O'Dowd describes a scene that is incredibly sad, thousands of people hoping to find an opportunity to work in Australia or Canada or just about anywhere.
If you worry that O'Dowd's description is a bit overdone, you can find similar descriptions of the Expo in today's Irish Times. According to Twitter posts I read, people were lined up for more than 100 yards in wind and rain just waiting for the chance to pay their €10 ($13.70) to talk to people who might have some insight on possible leads on jobs outside Ireland.
While these scenes are not surprising given the state of the economy here, what has really surprised me recently is the flippant, disdainful responses of some people in the media when the discussion turns emigration. Some talk about emigration as if it's not much of an issue, that the whole experience will do the emigrants the world of good. "I went to London for two years when I graduated." That sort of thing.
That kind of thing gets my goat. First of all it's not that straight-forward. As O'Dowd's and the Irish Times' reports make clear, many of those who are looking to leave are not young, recent graduates. Many at the Expo were in their 30s, some even in their late 40s. A large percentage of the would be graduates have families.
Even among the young and single, not all have been prepared for this step. They came of age in an era when they were promised that emigration was at an and. They bought into the proposition that you could go abroad for a year or two and return if you so desired. They expected that when they left it would be temporary, just to get experience. And those who never wanted to leave, felt no need to get that experience outside Ireland, would be able to stay and work here forever.
That belief is gone now as many of those who are looking to leave don't want to go and don't expect to return. They're emigrating, not going abroad temporarily. Glib descriptions of the benefits of emigration to Ireland or suggestions that we need to "redefine emigration" and claims that emigration is "not really a problem" reek of indifference and arrogance. Such talk is insensitive in the extreme to those whose lives have been turned upside down, who feel they must leave to avoid unemployment, bankruptcy and despondency.
Sure going abroad for a year when you are 22 can be a big adventure, but leaving your homeland to seek work elsewhere because you were laid off and have no hope of being hired anytime soon is nothing less than traumatic. I can accept that many people feel helpless to do anything about the political or economic situation that's forcing people to leave. That's understandable, but it's unfathomable that even a minority of Irish people can be so dismissive of the difficulties that face these latest emigrants.
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