Previously published in the Irish Examiner

AUSTERITY, unemployment, and the recession have affected some groups in our society more than others.

A generation of Irish youth has been, and remains, disproportionally impacted.

Almost 10% of our young people emigrated during the recession. That equates to over 30,000 young people, aged between 15 and 24, leaving each year.

Emigration has steadily worsened the longer the crisis has dragged on. Just under 20,000 Irish emigrated in 2009. This rose to 30,000 in 2010 and then reached over 50,000 in 2013. Some have questioned if this is actually “forced” emigration.

The Higher Education Authority has emphasised that not everybody emigrating is doing so because they have to and, in fact, the increasing employment of graduates overseas shows that the higher education system is producing graduates who are in “high demand” internationally.

Michael Noonan, the finance minister, also captured the views of the so-called insider classes when he glibly remarked that many of those leaving have been doing so as a “lifestyle choice”. This attempted dismissal of “forced” or “economic” emigration downplays the impact of government policies such as austerity and the failure to provide decent employment opportunities here in Ireland.

Last year’s study by the department of geography in University College Cork showed the majority of emigrants were between 20 and 29 and the majority were emigrating in order to find a job. It also found that almost half (47%) were employed full time before leaving, 13% were working part-time, 23% were unemployed and 15% were students.

Almost 70% of emigrants had a third-level qualification such as valuable IT or health professional skills. Young people are, therefore, being forced to emigrate not just because of a lack of jobs in Ireland (the unemployment rate among those 15-24 is 30%) but also because of under-employment — low pay, insecure contracts, and poor career prospects. The public sector reduction in recruitment levels and pay for new entrants has added to the problem. At third level, for example, there is an increasing issue with the use of short-term and non-contract teaching staff.

For those young people who do not want to leave or cannot leave, austerity has hit them hard. The Fianna Fáil-led government in 2009 cut jobseeker’s payments for those aged 22-24 by €44 (to €144) and for those aged 18-21 by €88 (to €100).

The Fine Gael-Labour government reduced it further for 22-24 year olds to €100. Work incentive initiatives such as JobBridge have been criticised for exploiting young people and worsening the inaccurate narrative that youth are lazy and to blame for their own unemployment.

It has resulted in the displacement of employment opportunities. Public and private-sector employers are using the JobBridge and internship schemes to replace what used to be fully paid entry-level positions. Thus the jobs market for young workers increasingly resembles that of the United States, where working for free or for little pay as an intern is becoming an essential part of a modern curriculum vitae.

Furthermore, almost 20% of 15-25 year olds are NEETs (not in education, employment or training). Ireland has the fourth highest NEET population in the EU. Many of the integral supports to such young people have also been radically cut, such as community and youth workers in disadvantaged areas.
Their possibility of attending third level has been further reduced by rising fees and reductions in the availability and amount of the student grant.

All this shows the way in which the insiders in Irish society, ie the “older” generation and existing “order” — those in power, in senior positions in civil service, business, and civil society organisations have protected themselves at the expense of our youth. It is not an exaggeration to say they have imprisoned and sacrificed a generation of young people with the costs of austerity and the banking crisis.

Young people are an easy target They traditionally do not vote. They don’t have a voice in the media. Most commentators are closer to 60 than 20. They have been outsiders in a system that sought to protect its privileges at the expense of those more vulnerable and the young and future generations. They are the victims of an acceptance of emigration as a “natural” phenomenon.

It is sad to see how recent developments are being warped into a celebration of the international ‘competitiveness’ of our graduates. But our education system just turns young people into commodities. They are taught at secondary and third level to study as an individual, in its narrowest sense. To focus on getting the highest mark and making themselves marketable and employable as their primary aim.
They are rarely taught to be critical thinkers, aware of the challenges faced by their surrounding society, nor are they inculcated with a passion or idealism of commitment to better their country. And so they pursue the strategy they are taught. They leave. We export them to a country that wants to purchase their commodified skills.

But they are not products. They are our children, they live in our communities. Their leaving represents our collective destruction as a nation and the slow rotting of our communities. Of course it suits the political system that potential critical and radical youthful voices leave. Throughout Irish history emigration has provided a very useful political safety valve. Figures suggest that without it the unemployment rate would be around 20%. It removes the problem of angry young people who might demand alternatives.

Just look at the streets of Spain and Greece — young people dominate the protests. A new youth campaign, called We’re Not Leaving, has been campaigning against what they have termed the “social catastrophe of forced emigration”. They explain that the crisis has had a detrimental impact on the mental health of our young people.

The cut to guidance counsellors at secondary level hasn’t helped in this regard and neither has the on-going underfunding of mental health services.

The legacy of this crisis in creating a lost generation of youth is already profound and its implications are likely to be devastating for decades to come.

Rory Hearne


Launched at a conference in UCC this September, Irish Emigration in an Age of Austerity is the first major study of contemporary emigration from the Republic of Ireland. Citing CSO statistics, the report’s authors – Piaras Mac Éinrí, Irial Glynn, Thomas Kelly – show that between 2006 and 2013, upwards of 213,000 people have left the country. In 2005, the final year before the economic downturn that hit the Eurozone sharply and the Republic of Ireland ever more so, the gross emigration figure from the country was then 13,000. Put in context, for the year-ending March 2013, the figure was 51,000 – a 400 per cent increase seven years on.

But Irish Emigration tries to go beyond these headline figures and paint instead the first statistically representative picture of the complexity of present-day Irish emigration. Using a sophisticated sampling methodology of household surveying and online questionnaires, the report looks to examine not just the bald numbers involved in the outflow, but also the regional impact of emigration (urban, peri-urban, rural), as well as the socio-economic, occupational, and gender background of those leaving.

The findings of the report are often startling. For instance, of those who have left in recent years, at the time of departure, 47 per cent were in full-time employment, a further 13 per cent were in part-time employment, while 23 per cent were unemployed.

Meanwhile, at the regional level, emigration is most keenly felt in rural areas; some 27 per cent of households had experienced the direct emigration of at least one family member since 2006. In other regions – affluent suburban and ex-urban areas with older populations; high-density urban areas with high-employment, high-educational levels and a younger population; high-density urban areas with low-employment, low-educational levels and a younger population – the corresponding figure was 15-17 per cent across these households.

An outlier of sorts to this general pattern emerges, however, in areas with a high proportion of highly education people, aged 35-44, with young families and who are mostly mortgaged homeowners (usually the newer commuter towns and suburbs ringing Dublin, Cork, and Galway cities). Here, emigration is least keenly felt, with as few as 11 per cent of households experiencing the emigration of a family member.

But the report offers a caveat. While these areas record lower than the national average emigration levels, what such householders may have in mind when surveyed is, as the report’s authors call it,  “conventional emigration” [report’s emphasis]. That is, where someone emigrates from the country on a more or less full-time, permanent basis. This 11 per cent figure, then, would not take into account more unconventional types of emigration – circular, temporary, seasonal, overseas company transfers, secondments.

As to why these highly educated households with young children in many of Ireland’s newer commuter towns and suburbs experience below-average rates of conventional emigration, the Irish Emigration authors offer the following explanation:

“It is likely, however, that these are the kinds of areas from which ‘commuter migrants’ are likeliest to be found, that is, where one household member is working outside the country and returning home on a more or less regular basis. . . . One might have expected people from classic commuter areas to be leaving, given the negative equity many face. Due to the burden of mortgage service costs, however, and because the Irish system does not allow a householder to give back the keys and walk away from the debt, emigration becomes complicated, especially if mortgage holders have young children.”


My research at the Institute for Social Sciences in the 21st Century (ISS21) at UCC investigates one such instance of where “emigration becomes complicated”, examining the experiences of Irish-based “commuter migrants” to other European cities. I categorize their cross-border movements as “Euro-commuting”, that is, where their primary residence remains the Republic but their work destination is now located in another EU28 country, usually one of its major cities like London, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Munich, Frankfurt.

Futurologists have recently claimed that this type of intra-European movement would become a “mega trend” in years to come. A 2006 study from the Centre for Future Studies (CFS) – Social Demographics in 2016 – argued a new breed of worker would emerge across a post-Schengen European Union. Taking advantage of the removal of mobility and labour-market barriers between European countries, as well as the growth of relatively cheap air travel, EU citizens, so the CFS report contends, are increasingly living in one EU country while working in another, shuttling back and forth between the two.

A graphic on the front cover of Social Demographics shows a map of Europe. Superimposed over the map is the grid of an underground rail network. The name the CFS gives to this redrawn European map: “The New Commuter Belt”. Accounting for expected growth in air travel, the expanding reach of high-speed rail lines, and intensifying road traffic in major metropolitan areas, Social Demographics predicts that, by 2016, the numbers of so-called “Euro-commuters” will rise to millions.

Is the Republic of Ireland, then, becoming a “suburb” of a “new commuter belt” emerging across Europe? The Irish Emigration in an Age of Austerity report would not support such a claim. However, what the report does support is the claim that, in certain areas, among certain households, unconventional types of emigration like commuter migration appear to be more in evidence than elsewhere across the country as an alternative to more conventional emigration.

My research draws on in-depth interviews with Euro-commuters, and asks: who are these people shuttling between two or more European countries, and why do they choose to undertake this unconventional form of migration? And, having made this decision, what do they hope to gain by so doing?

A squeezed, fleeing middle?

My findings show that Euro-commuters have many characteristics in common. All worked in professional-managerial occupations, at various seniority grades, all in well-remunerated positions in their overseas workplaces. Based on references to their housing, travel, lifestyle, leisure, consumption and education, all too were part of the Irish middle class.

Most followed similar commuting schedules, travelling between the ROI and various European cities on a routine (weekly or bi-weekly) basis. Most shared similar family circumstances – married or co-habiting, in long-term relationships with partners back in Ireland, with children of schooling-going age enrolled in the Irish educational system.

Many cited similar benefits to their private lives and their careers as a consequence of Euro-commuting – developing an expanded network of professional contacts, learning new job skills, having a greater sense of personal autonomy in living alone for part of the week, making new friends in new places.

At the same time, the disadvantages associated with this particular kind of mobility were echoed across several accounts – loneliness in the commuter destination, fatigue from air travelling, occasional miscommunication with left-behind partners over domestic and private issues, missing out on special family events.

In this light of shared experiences, Euro-commuters take on the outlines of a distinct migrant group.

However, when I looked into their motivations for Euro-commuting, here the coherent portrait of the typical Euro-commuter began to fragment. My findings show that a range of motivations drive this unconventional mobility. As the Irish Emigration authors rightly note, mortgage-debt issues and the presence of young children – especially school-age children enrolled in the Irish educational system – certainly feature among these motivations. But so too do other, less visible motives.

For some, the decision to Euro-commute is more a lifestyle choice, the to-ing and fro-ing between two or more countries offering, as one Euro-commuter put it, “the best of both worlds”.

Take Michael’s account (Note: All first names used in the text to refer to Euro-commuters are pseudonyms, so as to protect their anonymity). He is emphatic that he became a Euro-commuter chiefly as a matter of quality of life.  Michael works in London, in the financial services industry. He has been a commuter, on and off, for the past twelve years now. The economic recession throughout the ROI, he insists, is not a signal cause behind his commuting routine; he could find work commensurate with his salary expectations and level of experience “in the morning” in Dublin, if he so choose.

Instead, he “loves the life” he has commuting between his home in a salubrious suburb outside Dublin and central London. “I always felt,” he says, “that I’m bigger and better than this place [Dublin].”

Michael continues, explaining how he feels the Irish capital is a “small pond” professionally, that too many parochial rivalries stymie workplace innovation and talent there. By commuting, he has been able to sidestep what he sees as the small-minded business environment of the Irish financial industry, has been able to thrive both professionally and personally as a result.

He concludes: “This is a lifestyle choice rather than a forced situation.”

For others, their essential motivation for undertaking this pendular migration relates more directly to career progression: they move overseas for work, to amass a certain mobility capital that will benefit their professional development.

Eoin’s reasons are typical here. He moved two years ago to Bristol to take up a promotion with the company he has worked for in Dublin for the past five years. Effectively, he went from being assistant head of department in Dublin to being department head in Bristol. His job in Dublin was not under threat, he stresses; his mobility is not expressly linked with the ROI’s economic crisis.

However, he admits, if he was to progress from the position he was in, then it became clear that he would have to take an inter-company transfer – to a bigger branch in the Britain.

Eoin states:  “Well, I am very career focused at the moment. So is my girlfriend. So we discussed it. She has a very good job here in Dublin, so leaving that wasn’t a non-starter. And if I was to ever to sort of get moving up the ladder here, then I had to move with the crowd I’m with.”

Commuting-as-lifestyle driven on the one hand; commuting-as-career driven on the other. These are two distinct sets of motivations evident among Euro-commuters. That said, these drivers remain a minority among those I spoke with.

A much more prominent narrative to emerge is that of “commuting-as-livelihood-strategy”, where, effectively, the advent of the Republic’s economic downturn is a key motif for Euro-commuting. From near-full employment during the so-called ‘Celtic Tiger’ years (roughly 1995-2007) to a current 13.8 per cent unemployment rate, many sectors of the Irish economy have suffered severe job losses since the recession began in late-2007. And even for those who have not lost their jobs, swingeing pay cuts, massive tax hikes, and increased job precarity – conditions demanded by the ECB, EC and IMF (or ‘troika’) as part of Ireland’s €90 billion 2010 bailout loans – are undermining workplace conditions.

Such domestic “push” factors spur many Euro-commuters to consider employment opportunities overseas, while higher remuneration and better working environments in neighbouring EU countries act as further “pull” factors.

As Oliver, working as an accountant in London and commuting back at weekends to Galway, has it, “This is work, not life.” “Having a job,” echoes Barbara. She commutes every second week between Hamburg and the Wicklow countryside, outside Dublin, and goes on: “Having an income – that’s why I do this.” Likewise, Thomas, who shuttles weekly between Frankfurt and Cork: “It’s about survival, isn’t it?”

But what, exactly, does this “survival” entail? Almost unanimously these Euro-commuters refer to keeping abreast of mortgage repayments on family homes purchased in the Republic. Barry’s story encapsulates this scenario. He purchased his semi-detached suburban home outside Dublin (where I interviewed him) in 2006 – when Irish property prices were nearing their peak.

At that time, he had a secure job in the IFSC; he earned enough to pay the mortgage, and to meet him and his family’s other living expenses – private health insurance, children’s education, annual holidays, fuel, motor insurance and road tax on two cars, and so on.

Now, he flies over and back between London and Dublin, working weekdays in the English capital’s financial centre, before returning to spend weekends with his wife and children in Ireland. He lifts his hands in the air, rolls his eyes, and says:

If it wasn’t for this [house], things could be a lot different. I mean, we love the house, we have invested a lot of money and energy in the place. But if we had, a . . . what you call them, a jingle mortgage like they do in the States, then the keys might well be in the postbox . . .

Barry’s quote refers to a touchstone issue among the majority of people I interviewed: their family homes, and meeting the high cost of mortgage repayments, featured front and centre in their accounts of Euro-commuting; by travelling overseas for work, they could generate sufficient income to meet their day-to-day costs of living (mortgage, insurance, health, children’s education) back in Ireland.

The reference to American-type “jingle mortgages” is especially relevant, too. A jingle mortgage is a euphemism for a loan whereby a borrower strategically defaults – oftentimes posting the keys of a house (hence the “jingle”) back to the lender in the mail. In the ROI, strategically defaulting like this is not possible, as the borrower remains liable for the balance of the original loan, even after the property is re-sold.

Because of this scenario, those like Barry feel themselves entrapped. Their earning potential has been severely reduced in the ROI, if not entirely decimated, yet they are obliged to continue servicing costly mortgages.  As a result, one viable compromise is to commute overseas for work as part of a livelihood strategy, an economic necessity, to meet their inescapable financial commitments in the ROI.

As Barry states: “You have to stay afloat.”

This idea of “staying afloat” financially is certainly paramount in several Euro-commuters’ accounts. However, importantly, the motivation for Euro-commuting cannot be entirely reduced to hard currency, the blunt bottom line.

Instead, alongside the economic rationale for their migration decisions, at the same time a more class-based rationale as members of the Irish middle class runs through these interviews. Euro-commuting, effectively, safeguards against the threat of downward social mobility that accompanies remaining either out of work or on reduced earnings in the ROI.

On this point, Peter is explicit. He still had work in the aftermath of the economic contraction from 2007 onwards, though his income – cuts to overtime, clawbacks on expenses, rising taxes – had dropped sharply by 2010. Consequently, he opted for a better remunerated post with the same company in Germany, and now commutes back to his family home in County Wicklow most weekends.

He can now comfortable meet the mortgage repayments on his family home, and the second car that was lying idle in the driveway for a few years is now back on the road again. The family have also recommenced taking annual holidays, something they foreswore in recent times.

“Look, I’m a Catholic, but I guess I turned my children into Protestants. One of them does piano, one horse riding, the other plays hockey. All these are very pricey, and if they were to keep doing those, then daddy had to go, didn’t he?”

Peter uses religion here as a metaphor: if him and his family are to remain part of the Irish middle class, then he has to find a labour market position that pays for the trappings that go with that middle-class lifestyle – hence, his weekly commute to Germany for work.

Now commuting to Vienna Monday-Friday, Andrew is similarly conscious of the necessity of downgrading his expectations should he remain full-time living with his wife and children in Dublin. Before the economic crisis, both Andrew and his wife were in full-time professional positions; him as an architect, her as a career civil servant. Their life, Andrew says, was “comfortable” – foreign holidays with the children twice a year, two cars on the road, a nice house, in a nice neighbourhood.

In the wake of the “Celtic Tiger’s” demise, both their incomes and future career prospects in Ireland suffered considerably and as a result they were finding it difficult to sustain a similar quality of life to what they were accustomed to circa 2007.

A lot of it, if I’m being honest, is Keeping-Up-With-The-Joneses. I mean, Marie’s income has been shredded, mine too. So it was either try and sell this place and move to a cheaper area – like [less prestigious residential area A], or [less prestigious residential area B] – and stay in the job here in Dublin. And of course, cut out some of the extras. That wasn’t really an option – the kids like their school here, and we are well liked in [affluent Dublin suburb]. So if we wanted to stay, somehow I needed to be earning the big bucks.

For the like Peter and Andrew, livelihood strategies clearly intersect with middle-class social norms and values around residential location, leisure, lifestyle, consumption practices, children’s education, and so on.

Neither Peter, Andrew, nor several others want what they perceive as a demotion to their social status, so they become Euro-commuters in order to (literally and figuratively) circumnavigate this undesirable scenario.

The alternative – remaining in Ireland on much-reduced means – would threaten this class-based identity. That is, it would lead to losing some of the class-specific distinctions in their domestic and social settings – moving to a less affluent neighbourhood, cancelling some of the children’s fee-paying extra-mural activities, driving a smaller car.

A “mancession”?

But if Euro-commuting is spurred for many by a threat to their social standing as middle class families in the Republic, it is also spurred by a threat to their gendered identities as male breadwinning figures. Time and again, when encouraged to greater detail why they made the decision to Euro-commute, several Euro-commuters I spoke with tell of how they would prefer to be living away from their families across the EU28 so as to financially support them back home rather than remaining either un- or under-employed in the Republic.

Here is Joe, explaining how he is happy that – unlike some Irish men he knows – he did not, as he phrases it, “just sit around on my arse” once his career prospects in the ROI began to look uncertain, around the middle of 2008. He could easily, he says, have stayed in Ireland, reduced some of his outgoings, claimed social welfare payments from the State, and done occasional work on the black market – undeclared, one-off freelancing jobs for clients who would pay cash-money. In this way, him and his family could have got by, survived.

Instead, Joe opted against this, opted against, as he says, “scrounging” off the welfare system at home in the ROI. As he puts it, “I got out there and earned money whatever way I could.”

This sentiment is echoed by several Euro-commuters, the attitude almost taken-for-granted: “You do what you have to do,” says one in relation to the need to earn a living; “I mean,” states another, “you follow the work. That’s it basically; no work in Dublin – fine! London, then – fine! Put me on the plane, strap me in.”

Joe continues in this bullish tone: “I was hanging around [working two days per week] for a few months, and I said to myself, ‘Fuck this! I can’t be watching day-time television at my age [forty-one], I need to be doing something.’ So I made some calls, did the whole CV thing – and in a few weeks I was getting on the red-eye at 6.30am.”

Now that he is commuting between his home outside Cork city and the EU, Joe says he feels much more in control of his life – “I’m the author of my own destiny again” – and he is proud of his assertiveness, the initiative he displayed in the face of a challenging situation.

Another Euro-commuter, Peter, quoted above, gives a similar account to Joe’s. He says that he now recognizes many of the faces on the Monday-morning flights departing Dublin airport, and that he has begun to get friendly with a number of the other passengers, exchanging greetings, familiar nods of recognition. “The lads on that flight, we’re doing this [Euro-commuting for work] for our families,” Peter says. “If you ask me, we’re the unsung heroes of Ireland.”

Peter fails to consider the possibility that there may well be women (“the lads on that flight”) making up part of the Euro-commuting population. For him, such people are men, such men have families at home in Ireland, and such behaviour – undertaking the strain of travelling overseas to provide economically – is exemplary of how a provider should behave (even if it goes unsung, unrecognized).

Again, Peter contrasts his migration with that of his peers who have remained in Ireland, as he puts it, “stewing”. This binary notion of those who show initiative (by Euro-commuting) and those who do not (by remaining in Ireland “stewing”, “scrounging”, et cetera) is repeated across several interviews.

Effectively, for the likes of Joe and Peter, their male-provider identity was jeopardized by the rapidly contracting economic conditions in the Republic in recent years and the subsequent loss in earnings they suffered. But by commuting, they display resilience; they shore up not just class-based identities as members of the Irish middle class but also strongly-held-but-threatened gendered identities as reliable, primary breadwinners. These Euro-commuters are (again, literally and figuratively) prepared to go to great lengths in order to do so.

And by so doing – much as with their class-based identities – the upheaval and change to their gender-based identities as male-breadwinner figures now has a strong semblance of stability and continuity restored to them.

Closing thoughts

The portraits presented here illuminate one stream of current intra-European migration – a stream that has often been overlooked in scholarly, policy, journalistic, and other accounts of EU citizens moving between member states. The findings open up discussion of some of the casualties of the economic crisis engulfing the EU. These middle-class migrants, reluctantly criss-crossing the European Union so as to consolidate their social status and breadwinner role in the Republic of Ireland, can be seen as part of Europe’s “crisis migration”.

That said, their crisis, if it can be described as such, remains a relatively privileged one – Euro-commuters may bemoan the fact that they have to undertake this unorthodox mobility in order to secure their class-and gender-based identities in their origin country, but if a hierarchy of global movers exists, then they surely remain close to its summit. As one Euro-commuter put it, “This can be a pain in the arse [Euro-commuting], but it’s not as if I’m a stowaway from Pakistan arriving in a container in the port in San Francisco.”

Above all, what I have illustrated here is how a peculiarly 21st-century form of mobility – Euro-commuting – is motivated by an intersection of class- and gender-based identities. In terms of social class, the economic downturn of 2007/2008 threatened middle-class lifestyles and consumption practices for many Euro-commuters. Consequently, the decision to Euro-commute is framed around how this form of pendular migration will help maintain and restore those class-specific lifestyles and consumption practices in the Republic.

As such, to use Rutten and Verstappen’s apt phrase, “[t]hey regard the migration as a requisite precautionary strategy to maintain their status as middle-class families” in the ROI – thereby also ensuring class reproduction across the generations.

In terms of gender, again the economic downturn can be seen to imperil particular gendered identities as male-breadwinner figures. To oppose this, Euro-commuters choose to commute overseas for work, thus reinforcing their self-identification as strong economic providers. They sometimes frame these breadwinner accounts in the language of resilience – they refused to accept their situation, they coped with the shock of economic insecurity in their origin country by becoming part of an unorthodox stream of intra-European migration.

My research also highlights how, as a particular modality of migration, it is clear that the stress for Euro-commuters is steadfastly on the Republic of Ireland. These migrants are strategically mobile, deploying their economic, social and educational resources so as to strengthen their class and gender positions back home. In this way, to paraphrase the Irish Emigration in an Age of Austerity report, we can see how emigration may well become complicated, and further, how alternative, unconventional mobilities like Euro-commuting arise.

Another issue. Euro-commuters are certainly conscious of the considerable sacrifices their mobility regimes extract, particular in the domain of intimate relationships and caring responsibilities back in the Republic. That said, they viewed their mobility decision, overall, as the correct one to make, their migration project as a success. Though it was by no means an easy decision, and there were certainly drawbacks attached to the arrangement, ultimately they were succeeding in maintaining their families’ middle-class social status in the Republic of Ireland, as well as reaffirming their own gendered-identities as strong provider-types. However, could others see the Euro-commuting project as a failure? Might there be Euro-commuters who consider their mobility a poor decision?

I encountered no such voices. This can be explained, I think, by the fact that all my “commuting-for-livelihood” Euro-commuters considered Euro-commuting as a form of temporary migration. All stated that it was their ambition to return to the Republic full-time, as soon as a suitable position in the Irish labour market commensurate with their experience and qualifications could be secured.

However, if such future aspirations could not be realized, and what was conceived as a temporary sojourn overseas turned more permanent, then, arguably, these Euro-commuters’ views on the success of their migration project could well alter, significantly. This Euro-commuting-as-temporary-mobility attitude was shared by my “commuting-for-career” respondents, who also wanted a return move to the Republic once a suitable job posting arose.

Interestingly, the exception here is the “commuting-for-lifestyle” respondents; their future mobility aspirations were much more open-ended. They were content Euro-commuting for now, and might well continue doing this as long as they found it enjoyable; they might also return to the Republic, if circumstances changed.

As such, theirs could be deemed “success stories” without the necessity of framing the migration decision to Euro-commute as temporary, and without the contingency of buoyant economic recovery in the Republic, sometime that is far from guaranteed.

David Ralph



Outside is warmer than the air-conditioned car and my feet begin to thaw as I cross the dirt-road with camera in hand.  The sign reading ‘wedding’, a wooden plank shaped into an arrow and adorned by a glass bottle dangling from a nail, points to a ramshackle barn with rusted corrugated iron roof standing next to some scattered trees.  Behind this I can just make out the substantially more salubrious premises within which, presumably, said weddings are to take place.  My companion has pulled over the car so that I can get a shot of what she assures me is a pretty regular sight in this part of Australia.  We have been driving around the Hunter Region of New South Wales, an area that extends from 120 km to 310 km north of Sydney.  The Hunter Valley is famed for, amongst other things, horse breeding and wine production, and we are currently on a stretch dominated by the latter.  While many notable Australian wine brands are still produced in the region, since the 1990s a co-dependent tourist industry has been developed around the vineyards, attracting streams of Sydneysiders north for weekend breaks that encompass wine tasting in carefully sculpted landscapes of rolling hills, winding dirt roads, and miles of vines housing upmarket hotels, along with faux-rustic venues like the one that I have stopped to photograph.

The Australian summer has been tentatively announcing its presence this year and today is cloudy but warm.  I finish photographing and we resume our journey, the air-conditioner summarily resuming to freeze my feet. We’ve been driving through ‘blink and you miss it’ towns filled with detached houses, convenience stores that have seen better days, and oddly ubiquitous hotels that all look like replicas of Wild West Saloons.   We pass through the sanitised vineyard territory into the slightly less manicured landscape of smaller growers.  These too peel away to reveal a stretch of highway through the bush, upon which road-kill kangaroo carcases are strewn every hundred meters of so, and we are marveling at the levels of carnage when the Hunter’s other defining feature creeps up on us unawares: as we turn a bend on the road an open-cut coal mine comes into view. (more…)

New NIRSA Working Paper by Mary Gilmartin: The changing landscape of Irish migration, 2000-2012

Abstract: At the start of the twenty-first century there have been significant changes in patterns of migration to and from Ireland.  This paper provides a comprehensive account of available statistics on these migration patterns, and assesses the quality of this information, highlighting issues with the measurement of migrant flow in particular. The paper also provides information on migrant stock in Ireland, drawing on detailed information from the 2002, 2006 and 2011 Censuses.

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According to the CSO, just over 76,000 people migrated from Ireland in the year to April 2011. Almost 38,000 were female, which means that the gender breakdown was more equal than in 2010. The largest group of migrants was Irish men, at 23,100 (ca 30%), followed by Irish women, at 17,100 (ca 22%). Overall, though, there was a 4% drop in the number of migrant men, and a 51% increase in the number of migrant women, from the year to April 2010.

There was also an increase in the number of people moving to Ireland during the year. Just over 42,000 migrated to Ireland in the year to April 2011, an increase of over a third from the previous year. The largest increase is in the number of Irish people returning to Ireland, up from 13,300 to 17,100. There has also been a large increase (from 5,800 to 9,000) in EU12 nationals moving to Ireland, but this remains significantly lower than the peak year, 2007, when over 50,ooo EU12 nationals moved to Ireland.  Slightly more women than men moved to Ireland in the year to April 2011.

The ‘Rest of World’ remains the most significant destination for migrants from Ireland, with over 30,000 (ca 40%) people moving to places outside the EU and the USA. However, the UK has increased in importance as a destination, accounting for almost 19,000 (ca 25%) of all outward migration.

As in the case in previous years, a significant majority of migrants from Ireland fall into the 15-24 and 25-44 age categories (accounting for 43% and 45% respectively). However, the number of outward migrants in the age category 65 and over has doubled in the last year.

Mary Gilmartin

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.

Mary Corcoran

Terminal 2 at night (Taken from Dublin Airport Authority website)

Dublin Airport’s Terminal 2 will open tomorrow, Friday, November 19th.  Its unveiling will act as the last major infrastructural project established during the boom years.  Undoubtedly, the Dublin Airport Authority, as well as the political advocates of the project never envisaged that the terminal would eventually open amidst decreasing passenger numbers at Dublin Airport brought about by a deep economic recession.  However, this is where the irony of Terminal 2 only begins.

The TV advertising campaign beginning the week prior to the terminal’s opening features actor David Murray making his way through the new terminal, musing on Ireland’s contribution to the world. This “small island in a big ocean” is responsible for the Beaufort scale, literary greats such as Yeats and Swift, and in the world of sport we have sent “champion horses” to all corners of the globe.  The inference in this being that when people come to Ireland full of expectations about this influential little country, Terminal 2 will be their first indication that yes, indeed, it is great.  A second inference is that when we send the best of what we have out to the world in the future, this ultra-modern facility will make that endeavour a more pleasant one.  It is the latter inference that hints at the second irony of Terminal 2.

Announcing the latest round of budgetary cuts and savings to be included in Budget 2011, the Irish government indicated that their expectation that 40,000 people will emigrate in that year was factored into their calculation.  In effect, for the government’s budgetary strategy for 2011 to be successful, they now need at least 40,000 to leave the country.  Previous posts to this blog by Rob Kitchin and Cian O’Callaghan point out that it is the young, highly educated cohort that are most likely to leave first.  So, heralded as a necessity brought about by a passenger boom which reflected the growing personal wealth of the Irish, and Ireland’s increasing popularity as a tourist destination, the reality of terminal 2’s early years at least, will be the manner in which it becomes the physical site where we export those highly educated, high skilled people who were produced by, and helped fuel the economic boom that brought that very site into existence.  How ironic.

Today, the day prior to the terminal’s official opening, representatives of the IMF, the ECB and the European Commission are in Dublin to discuss a financial ‘bail-out’ in the guise of a ‘substantial loan’ to the State.  Of course, it was the pursuance of imprudent policies within the banking sector and within the Department of Finance – partially manifested through the construction of many costly ‘monuments to prosperity’ such as the Dublin Port Tunnel, the IFSC, the Convention Centre Dublin, and of course Terminal 2 – that has ultimately resulted in that visit.  Wouldn’t it be ironic if these ‘bail-out chiefs’ were the first to pass through the airport terminal that owes much of its origins to the fiscal flippancy and short-sighted government expenditure programmes that made their visit necessary in the first place?

John Watters

“I know we are the country’s future but at the same time why should we stay and pay for someone else’s mess?”

I find this quote, discussed in one of our Friday posts, fascinating and troubling on a number of levels.  It is by a 26 year old graduate on a short term contract.  His girlfriend left for a job in London on Saturday, where she is joining former college class mates.  He’s almost certainly going to follow.  This is the generation that only knew the Celtic Tiger.  A generation that as a state we have invested in heavily through the education system.  A generation that should have been the next wave of Ireland’s economic miracle.  At present, they are the generation that is increasingly disillusioned with the situation they and the country are in and they are leaving.  And with them goes a large slice of our potential future.

A story published last Thursday in The Kingdom newspaper gives some idea of the scale of younger emigration and its local effects on communities.  They report that 197 GAA players transferred their club registration out of County Kerry in the first seven months of the year, the vast majority heading to the UK, US and Australia.  At least the same number again have left without re-registering for clubs at their destination.  And with them goes not only their sporting skills.  Scale that up outside of the county and one organisation and the effect becomes clear.

The next budget and the four year plan are partly predicated on emigration (40,000 in 2011, 100,000 over the next 4 years).  Instead of trying to retain of best and brightest, our policy is to hope they leave!  And they go disillusioned and resentful, feeling that they are not only paying the price for other people’s mistakes but if they stayed that they are expected to carry the burden of debt and woes into the future; hardly the best sentiments for encouraging later return.

There are many, many priorities for action at the minute, but near to the top should be job creation for young graduates such as intern schemes and targeted programmes to incentivize and mentor start-ups (the Union of Students in Ireland have made good suggestions).  Encouraging emigration, on the one hand, and failing to implement a job’s strategy to retain graduates, on the other, does not constitute a policy to build a smart economy.  In fact, there is very little smart about it.  It is just plain dumb.

Rob Kitchin

For those of us contributing to social commentary at present there is a constant tension between the incessant streams of bad news it seems we are all confronted with daily and a desire to avoid portraying contemporary Ireland as in the midst of ineluctable apocalypse.  We know there is a sun somewhere behind all those clouds but sometimes it’s just so hard to see.  If we are to take Brian Cowen’s point of view, all the naysayers pointing out the nation’s ills are not acting in the interests of the country or any sort of economic recovery.  This perspective is far from constructive in that it tries to hide Ireland’s problems behind what amounts to a net-curtain of artifice.  Hard times, in a variety of manifestations and degrees of severity, are simply a reality for the majority of the population at the moment.

An article in today’s Guardian paints this picture of this latent despair rather aptly.  Without being overly sensationalist it offers a series of snapshots of some of the ways people’s economic and emotional wellbeing has been challenged by the recession.  More than exhibiting trenchant anger, these vignettes suggest a deeper sense of melancholy disillusionment at the way the country has turned out, and the injustice of the Government’s handling of the situation.

As much of the discussion on this blog has suggested, the crash has literally trapped many people in negative equity, on ghost estates, in places where the lives they constructed have crumbled or stand on the precipice of doing so.  They have been stuck in place, imprisoned by the banks in an economic quicksand.

The crash has affected more people than those in heavy mortgage debt, however. There is a whole generation of young people who are emerging into maturity in a country that seems to have sold their future out from under them.  One of those interviewed for the Guardian piece expressed quite succinctly what I think is a common feeling of hopelessness.  Explaining why he was considering emigration he suggested

“I know we are the country’s future but at the same time why should we stay and pay for someone else’s mess?”

This sense of loss has been keenly felt by young people.  For those swaths of society exiting school and college it seems like they have been denied a chance at building a life for themselves in their own country.  In contrast to those who have been almost forcibly stuck to place, many others are being denied their homeplace.  Ireland has been here before during the 1980s, when emigration was almost a necessity, especially for high-skilled labour.  This situation is creeping back into the everyday language of the youth.  A couple of years ago in Ireland emigration was a choice that an individual made.  Now there is a sense that it will again become a choice that is made for us.  Nor is this sense of disillusion confined to the indigenous Irish.  The same fears are undoubtedly felt by many others who have come to Ireland and set up lives for themselves.  Many people I talk to now have emigration in their mind as a definite possibility.

Ireland’s longstanding history of emigration was reversed during the boom.  For the young people currently in the labour market it finally felt like a life of your choosing could be made in Ireland, that you wouldn’t have to start anew, that you wouldn’t have to leave behind friends and family to do it.  Now these ghosts that we thought were gone have returned, spectres of an all too recent past come to haunt the freshly killed dreams of the youth.  We hear all the time about the necessity to build a knowledge economy, yet Ireland is complacently slipping into brain drain mode once again.  We can debate the economic sense of the decisions currently being made about who is saved from the Celtic Tiger wreck and who is not.  What is clear I think is that the outcomes of these decisions are going to be more than financial; they will be emotional and psychological and open up wounds that may never fully heal.

As for seeing the sun through the clouds of despair, it is not just a case of looking on the financial bright side.  Of course there is still much joy and love in people’s lives; the despair is not all encompassing by any means.  But to stare down the country as it stands, I think, necessitates that we feel this disillusionment.  As Bonnie Prince Billy once sang , “I wake up and I’m fine, with my dreaming still on my mind, but it don’t take long you see, for the demons to come and visit me”.

Cian O’ Callaghan

(with Rob Kitchin)

The CSO has just reported that net emigration from Ireland, in the year to April 2010, was 34,500 – the highest level of net emigration since 1989. Overall, around 65,300 people emigrated from Ireland: of these, 27,700 (42.4%) were Irish, and 40,400 (61.8%) were men. The two largest migrant groups, as reported by the CSO, were Irish men (15,800, or 24.1%) and men from the EU-12 (13,500, or 20.7%). The main destinations for emigrants were the UK (14,400, or 22%) and ‘Rest of World’ (23,300, or 35.7%). Levels of immigration to Ireland – particularly from the EU-12 – have decreased. However, around 30,800 people moved to Ireland in the year to April 2010: of these, 13,300 (43.2%) were Irish.

The CSO report is a snapshot and an estimate, but it does highlight three important trends. First is that the level of emigration of people with nationalities other than Irish has decreased, thus casting doubt on the idea of an ‘immigrant exodus‘. Second is the extent to which emigration is gendered: men – particularly with Irish and EU-12 nationalities – are emigrating at a much higher rate than women. This is notable in the 25-44 age group: 20,200 men who emigrated were in this age group, compared to 9,700 women. Third is that immigration to Ireland is continuing, though it is once again dominated by returning Irish nationals.

These figures are, as the CSO points out, estimates, but they are the best available information about migration to and from Ireland. They paint a more complex story than recent newspaper headlines, showing that emigration of Irish nationals has not yet come close to the levels of the 1980s, and that many recent immigrants to Ireland remain in the country. And they raise new questions that we urgently need to address, most importantly about the extent of male migration from Ireland and its impacts on communities across the country.

Mary Gilmartin