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Saturday, 12 March 2011

Irish Emigration Exaggerated?

Expert says Irish emigration wildly exaggerated...

IRELAND IS in the grip of a “media, moral and public panic” about emigration that is not justified by the number of Irish people leaving the country, a migration expert has said.

Prof James Wickham, director of the Employment Research Centre at Trinity College, told a conference yesterday that during the general election campaign politicians and the media wildly exaggerated emigration rates.

“During the election we were told every day how 1,000 Irish people were leaving the country every week. The only problem with that is that a substantial number of them are returning immigrants,” said Prof Wickham.

The most recent estimates published by the Central Statistics Office indicated 27,700 of 65,300 emigrants recorded in the year to the end of April 2010 were Irish.

Prof Wickham said there is a very real danger that the “media, moral and public panic” surrounding emigration could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“The rhetoric that is being used in the current discussion of this in the media is that of the emigrant wake like the 1950s.The emigration we are experiencing is much more like the emigration of the 1980s rather than the 1950s. The 1980s represented a turning point for Ireland, and many of these educated people returned in the 1990s bringing new skills and money,” he said.

He said Irish emigration was not yet at the mass emigration levels seen recently among young people in Poland and Spain.

The test of whether Irish migration would become mass emigration would occur this summer, when a new generation of students will leave university, he said.

“We should learn lessons from the recent mass emigration from Poland, when people were treated as traitors for leaving. This created dissatisfaction. But I’ve seen no sign of that in Ireland, which has a good record of welcoming back emigrants,” he said.

Prof Wickham said the concept of a “brain drain” caused by emigration is giving way to a more modern concept called “brain circulation”, whereby people tend to move countries more often before returning to their home state.

He said migration is now a fact of life for different generations, including retirees living in the south of Spain and young people who form relationships with people from different countries.

“There has been a huge growth in so-called love miles, people following their girlfriend or boyfriend and living in their country,” he said.

He said emigration should not be treated as an “unmitigated disaster” but effort should be put in to encouraging educated people to return with skills later.

Prof Wickham was speaking at a research symposium at Trinity College, “Employment and the Crisis: Work, Migration, Unemployment”.


Report by JAMIE SMYTH - Irish Times

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