I am in regular contact with a number of the people with whom I was in school during the 1950s. All were born and brought up in England but a significant number of them have made their careers and still live in various "foreign parts." One runs a small mineral exploration business in central Africa, a couple live in the Philippines, another in Thailand. At least one is in Canada and another runs a website dedicated to the Norton motorcycle owners club in France. Yet another has lived in Johannesburg for many years.
Of the young men who served their apprenticeship alongside me in a small engineering company in the early 1960s, three emigrated to Canada as soon as they qualified. At that time it was possible to migrate to Australia for £10 and many did. Of my close relatives, a nephew moved his small business to Australia several years ago and has gone from strength to strength.
So there can be nothing intrinsically wrong with Minister Noonan's statement that "emigration is a lifestyle choice," for that is plainly the case in every one of the examples I have just enumerated. On the other hand, when unemployment is running at 14.3%, it is at best stupid and at worst insensitive to suggest that the recent increase in migration from Ireland is not fuelled by the lack of opportunities here. That fact was confirmed in Will Faulkner's interview with a representative from the Australian immigration service on Thursday morning's Midlands Today programme.
Not a Choice, a Necessity
A young person seeking work in Australia recently had this to say in an anonymous article in the Kerryman: "I wish I could have stayed in Ireland. I wish that I had another option other than to leave, but I didn't." So no, Minister, these days emigration is not so much a lifestyle choice as a regrettable necessity for too many of your citizens.
The Minister is also showing a degree of stupidity when he asserts that Ireland needs to ensure that it is providing the best possible education and training for its young people so that they can take advantage of opportunities overseas. This, it seems to me, is the opposite of what is required. Whilst it is true that the only people able to take advantage of overseas employment opportunities are those with marketable skills, it must also be the case that those are the very people the nation needs to retain if it is to regenerate its failed economy.
What is needed is for the banks to start lending again so that young ambitious entrepreneurial people can start new businesses and generate the jobs the country so desperately needs.