DUBLIN - I spent the last morning of the old year at the Museum of Natural History here in Dublin. There are lots of extinct species replicated and some that are endangered too.
Coincidentally, it is next door to government buildings and the back entrance to the Irish parliament.
Successive policies there have made many Irish-born an endangered species too, as far as living in their own country.
Fintan O’Toole caught it beautifully in his year-end column in the Irish Times, noting that Ireland can be neatly summarized under headings of Plan A and Plan B.
He writes: “Plan A for Ireland is the same as for any state that emerged from the turmoil of the breakup of empires after the first World War. It is what those who participated in the nationalist revolt a century ago imagined they were creating: a stable democratic state with a reasonably prosperous economy and an independent place in the world.”
We all know that was the aspiration, but as he points out Plan B is much more the reality.
“Plan B is fecking off [Irish slang for leaving]. Sometimes it’s an active strategy: 200,000 people have left during the present crisis. But it goes much deeper than that. Even if you don’t actually leave, the possibility occupies a part of your brain. Consider the extraordinary figure that emerged last week from a survey of Irish workers by the recruitment firm Hays. It found that 67.4 percent of those surveyed would consider leaving Ireland if their career prospects do not improve over the next three years.”
He is right. It is amazing that that 67 percent of the people of the island have a mind to leave if things don’t improve.
Migration is so deeply embedded in the Irish psyche that it is almost not remarked on, it has become such a part of the scenery.
Yet Ireland’s tenuous awakening from the economic nightmare in recent months is heavily dependent on enough Irish leaving so that those left behind can prosper and real unemployment numbers can be fudged.
It was so in the 1920s, 1950s 1980s and is so again now – a thirty-year cycle of leavetaking that takes hold when times go bad.
Sure it is dressed up these days in fancy words about opportunity overseas etc., but there is no disguising the old failings, that a country that cannot gainfully employ its own people has failed in some deep and fundamental way.
As O’Toole wrote:
“The big problem for Ireland is that Plan B has worked better than Plan A. Plan A has been fitful and inconsistent. It has had some real success but too many failures. The State hasn’t managed to create political, legal and regulatory institutions that work effectively, coherently and fairly. It hasn’t managed to establish an ethic of equal citizenship. It hasn’t managed to convince citizens that the State really does belong to them all.
“But we’re brilliant at Plan B. We do emigration better than we do anything else. We are the world champions at fecking off. ..”
Can Ireland ever deliver on Plan A? Gazing at the endangered species in the Natural Museum of History and those already extinct I have to say I have grave doubts. Human nature and failings appears to run its course in every generation.
Some things it seems never change.