Emigration once again - a new Irish ballad
“Sitting on the sidelines, cribbing and moaning is a lost opportunity. I don’t know how people who engage in that don’t commit suicide.” - Bertie Ahern, July 4th, 2007
I’m a year on the dole next month. Time flies when you’re having fun.
Not that you don’t have plenty of company these days as the numbers unemployed have rocketed from 277,201 when I signed on December 8th last, to the present total of 429,400, but it’s still a lonely station. I have always regarded the expression ‘freelancing’ as a euphemism for being virtually unemployed and so it is. I think my mood these days mirrors the public sentiment having ranged from disappointment, to dismay, disillusionment, despondency, to disgust and finally despair for this little country of ours.
I am not sure which wreaks more havoc on your temperament, the bleak Morning Ireland bulletins, the shenanigans of the two Mary’s, Coughlan and Harney and her with her €5,000 Superbowl bill; the lethargy and indecision of the two Brian’s, Lenihan and Cowen - will someone please check if the Tullamore By-Pass is actually open, did Brian cut the ribbon or is he gone to check with Jack O’ Connor first? But the Fat Cats aren’t just in the Dail. How can RTE condemn Government largesse and TD’s expenses and justify the immoral salaries of Gerry Ryan and Marian Finucane, who earn multiples of any Minister. Then there is wholesale absenteeism in the HSE and the public sector and they in good secure jobs and the appalling scenario of thousands of retired teachers, some on weekly pensions as much as €700, taking the part-time temporary work and bread of the mouths of young graduate teachers, unemployed and still awaiting their first job. How the INTO struggled to condemn that selfish practice this week. The cliques, golden circles and greed are not confined to Leinster House.
It reminds me of a situation from a previous recession. An acquaintance on the financial ropes and on the run from the banks signed himself into St Fintan’s, or the red brick, as it is still affectionately and colloquially known. A mutual friend called in for a visit as our man was drying out. After an uneasy exchange of small talk big Paddy (not his real name, as he is thankfully alive and well) remarks, “They sure are a strange bunch in this place, especially the little coloured fellas in the white coats.” “How’s that”, came the obvious query to tell more. “Well, do you see yer man over there doing his rounds with the clipboard,” explained big Paddy, sprawled out on the bed, hands comfortably folded behind his head, ” he keeps asking me all sorts of peculiar questions. This morning he says ‘and one final thing, if I were to leave a loaded gun on your bedside locker, what would you do?’ That’s an easy one doctor,” says big Paddy, “I’d head straight down the town to that fucker of a bank manager (named) and I’d shoot him.” The story goes that the doctor replied, “Ok, you are fine and are free to go.”
If it wasn’t so serious, it would be funny and so much for Bertie Ahern’s advice that those who want to complain and crib about the economy should go and commit suicide. Of course Mr Ahern, many have. There have been some terrible tragedies this year which haven’t made the headlines. One of the worst I have come across a father and son in Kilcormac, Co Offaly who took their own lives within weeks of each other a couple of months back. Last weekend, in a very progressive initiative, a suicide awareness programme was held in the Portlaoise parish centre in response to a recent spate of suicides. This week CSO figures showed a massive 43% increase in the rate of suicide in the first three months of this year. Many people are despairing of this Government and this country. Dr Michael Smurfit hanging out in Monaco is grievously wrong in his contention that this recession is a “doddle”. Previous recessions were not worse, as never before did we have such levels of debt and this time unemployed builders are being joined by barristers, architects and art teachers all drawing the dole. It’s either that, or emigrate.
Fianna Fail governments in the past came to rely on emigration as a type of economic strategy. The mail boat and the one-way ticket to Boston, Bradford, Birmingham and Berlin dug them out of a hole before. I was fortunate enough to avoid enforced economic emigration on previous occasions but readily recollect how a couple of phone calls in London in the late 80’s pre-mobile phones and there was no difficulty in rounding up twenty lads from Monasterevin and Mountmellick in a Charing Cross Road watering hole. Emigration is the next big thing. This time the destinations will be different, Dubai, Durban and Darwin offer more opportunity than the previous recessionary resorts. I already know men who have taken to working in the 40 degree temperatures on the high rises in the Dubai desert looking forward to a brief visit home for Christmas. Perhaps the Irish Congress of Trade Unions can get retired teachers, who seem so keen on additional work, to teach us all a new song for next Friday’s ‘Get Up, Stand Up’ protest rallies in Tullamore and elsewhere. It can be ‘Emigration Once Again’, sung to the air of ‘A Nation Once Again’.
Emigration is the next big thing. This year for the first time since 1995 the country has recorded net emigration, 65,100 up to April of this year alone. Many of them are Poles and others returning home but over 20,000 Irish joined them in the search for work abroad. I could be joining them myself, as my brother’s invitation to join him in Perth is looking more attractive all the time. My younger brother Jimmy, the brain box in the family had the wit to go to Australia when he completed his PhD in microbiology in UCD twenty years ago. He now advises the Australian government on science funding and research and Professor Jim Whelan runs his own department at the University of Western Australia. He has been previously honoured by the University of Beijing and last month stopped off home for a brief visit as he headed to Sweden to be awarded an honorary professorship at the University of Stockholm in recognition of his work in plant energy biology. All the big wigs were there and when he was asked which ambassador should be invited on his behalf, the Australian or Irish, he opted for the Australian, as that is where he has always worked. He says he couldn’t afford to return home and probably wouldn’t get a job here.
In January I wrote in these columns that the fear of losing your home is far worse than even the shock of losing your job. Despite being implored to do so, the Government has refused to safeguard peoples’ homes through regulation or legislation. I’m sick of this Government. I’m sick to the teeth of NAMA. Only that interest rates are still so low and AIB agreed to an interest only arrangement, I’d be in serious trouble on the home front. Thanks to a competitive tracker rate, repayments plummeted from €1,969 last October to the current €733.61, per month but the outlook remains precarious.
Dickie Byrne (81) is an old pal. A retired Odlum’s lorry driver he doesn’t claim to be hard up or stuck for a few bob. He is though crippled with pain as he endures sleepless nights and awaits a knee operation for five months now. He called out to visit the other day and thinking as usual of others asked: “John if you get a chance in the Sunday Independent will you so something about the old age pensioners. No double week this Christmas and nothing at all about that now, it’s all forgotten. The trouble is John, even if this shower are gone, the other crowd are no better, it will still be the same circus, just different clowns.”
See you in Oz Dickie, better to go Down Under than to get down under.