Group await a departing flight at Dublin Airport
Are emigrants abandoning Ireland, or is Ireland abandoning them? This was the headline in a recent face-off debate in The Irish Times.

The debate was spurred by a new Facebook page called “Ireland Abandoners” which attacked young people for leaving Ireland in the lurch and taking off for better climes.

The page created a minor sensation, with thousands batting forth the question before Facebook took it down at the instigation of a group of Australian emigrants.

Pity really, because it would have exposed the continuing fault line which appears to happen in every generation between those who go and those who stay.

Emigration is so fused into the brain of the Irish as a natural phenomenon that the idea of leaving family, friends and a land you grew up loving seems a normal rather than an utterly abnormal experience.

In fact there are few more transformative events in any one’s life than leaving their native land.

It causes massive problems if people are unprepared. Ask any of the Irish outreach centers in the U.S., Britain or Australia.

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This is why, given the option of staying, the vast majority would not “abandon” Ireland at all. The self-evident truth is lost on so many left behind however.

Those left behind by definition are usually more prosperous and able to ride out the waves of a difficult recession that washes over and swamps those less well off or less educated.

In every generation of Irish since the Free State was founded in 1922 there has been massive emigration. 
In the 1920s it was Civil War veterans who took the wrong side who fled. Thirty years later it was the dispossessed rural sons and daughters of Ireland unable to make livings from poor family farms.

In the 1980s it was the newly educated class who found themselves heading to Boston and Berlin.

Now 30 years later, it appears to be everybody and not drawn from any specific class -- 87,000 for the year ending April 2012 according to the latest statistics.

The underlying reality in the 1920s, ‘50s, ‘80s and 2010 is the same. The failure of successive Irish governments to find enough employment and opportunity for their people speaks to a massive collective failure of the Irish nation.

The major difference between emigration in good times and in bad times is whether it is voluntary or involuntary. In good times obviously it is the former. Nowadays, however, I meet many of this new crop of emigrants who miss the fields of home as earnestly and obviously as their grandparents did in the 1950s.

This is no hi-tech movement of happily displaced upwardly mobile groups, though I’m sure under the term “voluntary emigration” you would find many of them clutching that banner.

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This feels like the 1980s again, even a tinge of the 1950s, with folks who have no business emigrating either because of lack of skills or sheer inability to handle the massive emotional and physical disconnect making the trek. That is a failure that can be squarely laid at the feet of successive governments which once again have failed the basic challenge keeping their people employed. 

Ironically, it is those leaving who are keeping the powers-that-be in power. If they stayed unemployment would rocket and social unrest would likely occur.

But as long as there is Aer Lingus EI 105 for New York or Ryanair to London to take them away, the crisis will never truly hit.