Wicklow is haemorrhaging people, particularly young people, because they can't get jobs at home.
Can there be a greater barometer to the failure of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour than the spectre of renewed mass emigration? Forced emigration sees sons and daughters, nephews and nieces, grandsons and granddaughters and even parents leaving their home to seek work abroad.
In the 26 Counties, there are now more than 460,000 people out of work and the unemployment rate has reached 14.8%. In Wicklow there are 12,164 people currently unemployed. The collapse of the building industry has left more than 100,000 construction workers jobless. Youth unemployment has trebled since 2008. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions recently stated that one in three men under the age of 25 are unable to find work.
Unfortunately as shocking as these figures are, they don’t reflect the true picture of unemployment. Forced emigration has become accepted as part of what it means to be Irish. For too long emigration has been dismissed as a necessary evil; a stop-gap solution to our unemployment problem. It reduced dole queues, removed the disaffected, and quelled the potential for public unrest.
Over 87,100 people left this state last year, an increase of 6,500 over the previous year. To put that in perspective, that’s more than the combined population of Bray, Greystones, Wicklow Town and Arklow. That breaks down at a daily average of 238, or one person every 303 seconds, which is just over five minutes. More people left the state, than sat the leaving cert last year. A generation is being lost to emigration as our skilled young people are forced to leave the country.
An entire generation of young people have been driven overseas in scenes reminiscent of the 1950s and 1980s. In County Leitrim, half of those between the ages of 22 and 26 have left. Here in Wicklow unfortunately we are no different to Counties such as Leitrim. Behind the statistics there are communities and families that are torn apart. Once again people from every town and village and from almost every family, people are being forced into involuntary exile. My family is no different to the thousands of other families that have been torn apart; I have lost 2 brothers to emigration, one to Australia and the other to South East Asia.
The 'brain drain' sucked the marrow out of Ireland's social and economic development in the last recession and we are again seeing history repeat itself with some of our brightest and best making what Finance Minister Michael Noonan disgracefully called a “lifestyle choice” and leave their friends and families behind in the hope of a brighter future on foreign shores. There is a wealth of knowledge and skills that should be Irelands and Wicklow’s, but is, instead, distributed around the world.
The impact emigration is having on families and communities is devastating. Once again GAA clubs and sporting organisations up and down Wicklow are being stripped of their very lifeblood as younger members leave by boat and plane in search of work and hope and a future. In one small Wicklow village, Kilmacanogue 15 young men under the age of 30 have recently packed up and gone, this is an entire GAA team and these have been joined by 2 entire families who have sold up everything and left the village and County they loved, unfortunately probably never to return.
The overall point is that we are losing a significant slice of the present generation of young people. What is perfectly clear is that we need a change of direction. It may be too late for some but with a real economic alternative as laid out by Sinn Fein we can give our young people a life, a career and a sense of place in a modern Ireland. We have tried the alternative and South East Asia, Toronto and Melbourne are reaping the benefits. As a parent of a young family I fear what the future holds for my children, I am a proud Irishman like many others who have had their families ripped apart but unless there is a change of direction I will find it very difficult to stop my children moving Down Under to find employment and a better life, and who knows they might even get to meet their dear cousin they have never had the joy of meeting.