Change may come too late to halt a new Irish diaspora

By PETER GEOGHEGAN
in CAVAN

TURNOUT at Ireland’s polling stations was reported as high yesterday, despite widespread scepticism that the incoming government will be able to drag the country out of recession.
Fine Gael, the right-of-centre opposition in the last parliament, is still heavily tipped to form a government under leader Enda Kenny, ending decades of left-of-centre Fianna Fail rule. The final result isn’t expected until Sunday.

One of the voters in the constituency of Cavan yesterday was Daniel Downey, 29. Until 2009, he was a public relations officer with the pro-democracy campaign in Burma. He is now one of Ireland’s estimated 420,000 unemployed. He returned to his native Cavan hopeful of work, but, five vocational courses later, is still searching.

“I was applying for four or five jobs a week and getting no response. Now I probably apply for one job a week – there’s nothing out there,’ Mr Downey said.

Until recently Cavan was a thriving town, benefiting from cross-border trade and inward investment. Now money is in short supply, several leading businesses have gone to the wall, and joblessness is spiralling. Robberies and violent crime are on the rise, while seizures of hard drugs have also surged.

“There is huge hopelessness in the younger generation here. We are over-skilled and over-educated but there is no work for us here,’ Mr Downey, active in community politics in Cavan, said. “Young people feel powerless. They are asking ‘What can I do?’ but getting no real response. Most don’t believe the next government will be much better.”

His scepticism is a common feature among Ireland’s young.

“Fine Gael say they want change but they will have their hands tied behind their backs. With the IMF and the ECB in charge of everything I don’t think they will be able to make much of a difference,’ said Aideen Reilly, 24, a student from Roscommon, 100 miles west of Dublin.

“A lot of people my age don’t see a future here. In 2007 (the last Irish general election] all of my friends would have been here to vote; now most of them have left,’ said another young woman, outside the town’s polling station. Ms Reilly has also witnessed friends and family leaving Roscommon in droves. “Out of 100 girls in my year in school, only 30 are left here,” she explains. “Emigration parties are the new 21st birthday parties. Since the start of the year I’ve been to four. Next week ten girls I went to school with are all moving to Australia.’

This piece first appeared in the Scotsman 26 February

Many commentators believe it could be at least two years before the new government is able to affect real change – a timescale too long for the current generation of highly educated Irish men and women.

“Young people feel that nothing has changed.

Unless they see change happening in their local area soon those that can will leave,” said Mr Downey.