A couple of weeks ago a BBC journalist, Tom de Castella interviewed me for a piece he was doing on renewed Irish emigration. In the course of the interview I observed that new media technologies would make it easier for present day emigrants to retain ties with home than was the case for previous generations. I pointed out that even in the 1980s in New York City a myriad of resources were available to people to maintain a psychological identification with Ireland. They remained connected to both host society and society of origin. My point was that the capacity for direct and instantaneous identification with home while ensconced in the host society was already discernible twenty-five years ago. It has, if anything, accelerated and intensified since then.
Furthermore, I suggested that Irish people leaving Ireland now would in all likelihood return in time if the economic situation stabilized and improved. This is what happened in the 1990s and early 2000s and there is no reason to assume that it will not happen again. In many respects, those who are leaving now might be better thought of as transnationals– making a temporary commitment to another country while retaining strong emotional and psychological ties with the home country, and highly likely to move in time to either another destination country or back home. Transience rather than permanence is what defines these labour flows.
Tom de Castella quoted me on the point that new technology was making it easier to stay in touch for the new generation of immigrants. He did not however, make the wider contextual point that that capacity to stay in touch with home was already discernible among 1980s emigrants the group with which the current generation are most often compared.
David Stringer of AP picked up on the BBC story and interviewed me a few days later. His piece subsequently appeared in The Globe and Mail on Nov 30, 2010. In his piece he put a completely different spin on what I actually said. According to him I said that new emigrants would be less likely than previous generations to eventually return home, whereas in fact I had said the opposite given my work on return emigrants in the 1990s. Stringer adduced that if people had more technological capacity to retain ties with home while abroad they would not feel the need to return. Whereas I had told him that it was precisely the fact that people missed the visceral, real, organic connections with family and community that drew people back to Ireland, even more so that the opportunities offered during the Celtic Tiger era. Stringer also confused my point about the technological ties, suggesting that satellite screening of important matches is “new” whereas it was an embedded part of emigrant culture since the mid 1980s.
On Friday, December 3rd the Irish Examiner had a front page story reporting on a survey that indicated that one third of 18-24 year olds planned to emigrate in the next 12 months. I was surprised to see myself quoted in the piece though no journalist from the newspaper had contacted me. The quote used had been culled I assume from Stringer’s piece as it said “new emigrants may be less likely that previous generations to return home,” which was not actually what I said, but rather was the erroneous spin put on a more nuanced statement by me to the journalist in question. I have learned to speak in sound bites over the years as I realize that clarity of expression is crucial in getting your point across. Nevertheless, it is impossible to be sure that what one says coincides exactly with what one is reported to have said.