IT was encouraging to note the increase in employment across all the regions in the CSO figures issued for the second quarter of this year, April to June; to see the numbers employed pass the two million mark for the first time since the economic crash of eight years ago and immigration exceeding emigration after seven years the other way.
The Taoiseach and his government spin doctors tell us that the latest nett inward migration flow, albeit a marginal shift in balance, is a sign that there are jobs here for those who emigrated in recent years and may want to come home now. However, it begs the question: how many of them will want to?
While we accept that there is no guarantee anymore in the private sector of a job for life, exiles will not return unless there are jobs with attractive salaries and reasonable career prospects. During the economic downturn, many employers – some cynically – used the opportunity to change the nature of jobs to their advantage with pay cuts, zero-hour contracts and the like, which are benefitting their bottom line even more now that things are improving.
The majority of immigrants to the country now are non-Irish seeking a better life and prepared to do jobs for the minimum wage that a lot of Irish people are not interested in. They are not the type of jobs that would attract Irish emigrants back home, especially those who have a nice lifestyle in sunnier climes.
The higher-end jobs are not all being taken up by Irish people as many others are coming here from abroad to fill positions where gaps in our education system have left relevant skills shortages. These are being addressed now, but it takes time to teach the necessary skills to qualify people to compete for such jobs.
It is said that the faraway fields are greener and this generally seems to be the case, as evidenced by the amount of graduates who cannot wait to travel after college and pursue their chosen careers abroad rather than seek employment here is Ireland, making up about a third of all who emigrate. In spite of the economic upturn, this trend continues and, indeed, the majority of people who emigrate are leaving their jobs here – with only about 10% of those who leave coming from the ranks of the unemployed.
Many people treat the foreign adventure as something they want to do before settling down and only wish to be abroad for a few years. Others get to like their adopted countries and choose to put down roots there as circumstances dictate, however some people never manage to settle abroad and loneliness for family and friends brings them back home to Ireland.
For those lucky enough to have a choice of whether they would like to stay abroad or come home, there are a lot of factors to be weighed up when making the big decision and, in many cases, the faraway fields are still much greener than on our emerald isle when they look at the availability and affordability of housing, healthcare and childcare here. Property prices continue to rise and the cost of renting accommodation in our cities – where most of the good jobs are – has skyrocketed; even to find a place to rent is difficult.
Our public healthcare system is at breaking point with over half a million people on waiting lists for diagnosis and treatment. Childcare costs are also quite prohibitive and would be another deterrent for many people thinking of moving back home.
The fact that there is much greater connectivity nowadays – be it through relatively cheap flights or through phones and computers – means that is is much easier for exiles to keep in contact with the folks back home, so emigration is not as big a deal as it used to be years ago. However, it is depriving communities – especially in rural areas – of young families who would be their future, helping to keep schools, shops and other services open and viable.
It would be wrong of the government to assume that the economic recovery alone will be enough to entice emigrants home. They also need to address the deficiencies in our public services that are putting people off returning.