Monday, 30 April 2012

On the road again, naturally

Ireland’s been on our minds here recently. Not in a fond way, but in that typical lamentable style that as a tribe we seem to have perfected. Distance and personal distractions had kept the homeland’s myriad of problems more-or-less out of our immediate thoughts. That changed though after a Skype-chat with an old friend – another of the many Irish abroad – who informed us of an excellent article, Off to New York with the iPaddies on the Irish Times ‘Generation Emigration’ blog. 

Wrong Way, the Irish flag & 'Nick the Abo' on Australia's Frasier Island
'Taking flight' - The Irish on the move 'en masse' once more
Of course the picture painted in that particular piece isn’t something that will shock many Irish people – considering what’s happened in the last few years, we’re pretty much shock-proof these days. What is worrying though, particularly for us, the younger generation, is the way that people who experienced the pre-Celtic Tiger lean years, see the current situation as much, much worse. 

When you look at the context, though, the widely accepted fact that things will be as bad as ever for the ‘Free State’ is pretty logical really. Before we look at that ‘context’, it must be said that politicians and others who were quick to take credit for our economic expansion cannot simply shun culpability for their part in aiding our dramatic collapse. In any case, their role in both events was superficial.

In simplified summation, the Republic’s ‘rise’ was an inevitable consequence of its largely unavoidable decision to open its doors to the free market. Had the state not done so, we risked becoming the Western equivalent of North Korea. So after years of economic isolation, we went from a subsistence existence to a country that could, relatively speaking, compete on the world stage. And we were, up until the late 1990s, an attractive place to do business for money-spinning multi-nationals. 

Wage demands were relatively low compared to other Western countries. We had agreeable tax rates and a laissez-faire political attitude to big business. Coupled with this, the availability of cheap money (at the time) from our European neighbours – a result of our decision to join the EU and later the European Monetary Union – meant we could push ahead with much needed infrastructural development which thus provided massive employment in the construction sector, a natural phase for an emerging country to go through. Inevitably, though, with so much money flying about the country, everybody wanted a greater slice of the cake. So wage and welfare demands increased and we gradually became a less attractive place for outsiders to do business in.

Now if you happen to be a country with vast natural resources that can survive without huge outside investment in a free-market world, then that’s fine. But we’re not. Thus by becoming a more expensive place to do business, our clients looked elsewhere. And with the massive advancement in technology in the last thirty years, the strategic importance that we once had as a ‘smart economy’, English-speaking nation on the threshold of the European market for US and other multi-national companies became less relevant. Throw into the mix a global recession and the result is what we have today. All unavoidable really.

So what can be done? Well as much as our ‘esteemed’ leaders try to tell us differently, emigration is one solution. It was said, apparently, that in the 1980s Ireland could only sustain one-in-every-two people born on the island. So if things are far worse now than compared to 30 years ago, as most say they are, then the current rapid flow of emigration must continue.

That aside, there are obviously still ‘cosy’ jobs for some people in Ireland. It’s not all doom and gloom for a number who stay put. However, as a country where emigration is in our blood, many compatriots through the ages who had any ‘get up and go’ did just that and left. And for plenty of these they realised potential in another land that they perhaps never would have if they had remained at home. 
A homeless person 'resting' in broad daylight Bogotá's La Candelaria district
While many Irish may be 'struggling', it's all relative
On a slightly less serious note, alongside the suggestions we had in ‘South American Solutions to Irish Problems' another in the same category was given to us by a good friend. His ‘solution’ is to give those that remain in the state about €1million to leave and when they have, plant the whole country. A cheaper option he reckons than trying to pay back our debts. And a ‘greener’ one at that. 

One thing worth remembering, though, is this. No matter how bad we think things are, there are people in other parts of the world that have it far worse. These are people who, if they manage to wake up in the morning, are not sure if they will survive the day. 

For the majority of Irish people, struggling as we may be, such a life-or-death scenario is something we don’t have to face.


  1. Found your website reading today's Irish Times. Nice find. Enjoy your commentary. Gregory Corrigan (another 'Wrong Way') from Delaware in the United States. peace.

  2. Hi Gregory. Thanks for taking the time to read & comment -- do feel free to spread the 'Wrong Way' word!

    Have you any Irish blood in you? Perhaps we're related!

  3. It’s a great blog Brendan!
    I only have to say that here in Colombia the situation is not very different from the one in Ireland. As you mention, there are people who don't know if they will be able to make it until the end of the day; here, we have lots of homeless people trying to survive every day. I’m pretty sure there are not people living in the Irish streets as we have in this country, am I right? BTW, where did you take the second picture?

    1. Hi Lorena,
      Well in Ireland there are people living on the streets, but not in the same kind of numbers (obviously the population of Colombia is much greater than Ireland, so that has to be factored in. But the state tends to provide a bit more help than appears to be the case in Colombia.)
      Also, the indifference towards the homeless here is something that stands out -- it's like the government and authorities don't care that they live this way.

      As for the photo, that was taken in La Candelaría -- there's no shortage of homeless there as you well know!

      Thanks for reading and commenting :-)