The Irish Diaspora: Us and Them

A forecast by Ireland’s Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment predicts that 27,000 more people will leave the country next year than will enter it. This, reports the UK’s Sunday Times on Nov 29th, will lead to the first net emigration in 12 years. It seems that the end of the building boom in Ireland and the general economic downturn is driving the Irish abroad once again.

What implications might this have on the Irish Diaspora? That it is again active, that it is being replenished in a way that wasn’t happening during the Celtic Tiger? Through that recent period of economic success in Ireland, it became a net importer of people reversing the movement of men, women and children established centuries ago. But the impact of 27,000 people into a global population of 70 million hardly seems worthy of mention. It’s less than half of one percent of the total population.

The real implication lies less with the Irish Diaspora and more with the Irish in Ireland themselves. The Celtic Tiger brought about a change in Ireland’s perception of itself perhaps. No longer was she a nation defined by hardship and long-standing emigration – she was now a positive, vibrant and successful place. In fact, Ireland and the Irish found them-selves to be far better off financially that those places paved with gold that the Irish landed on in harder times. Ireland could hold its head up and expect to be looked upon differently. Will this still be the case now? Might this turn of events bring on a crisis in Ireland’s recent and positive self-identity?

Hardly, Ireland has turned a corner and will never go back to those experiences of its terrible past. But perhaps this new reality can change the way Ireland views its global Irish population. In a recent blog Karl here talked of a more sustainable policy toward the Irish Diaspora by Ireland, one where it was not seen by the Irish solely as a financial resource. Rather, it should be a reciprocating relationship where it is a living, human eco-system that does not view ‘us’ as the Irish in Ireland and ‘them’ as the plastic Paddies abroad who can be tapped for a few quid for the betterment of Ireland alone.

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