Throughout our recent history, emigration has acted as a pressure valve for Ireland.Discontented young people frustrated by incompetent government and the mismanagement of the economy tended to leave for more promising lands rather than stay and become politically active in an effort to improve our situation. The end result is that change has been slow coming to Ireland and the cosy cartel of Irish politics continued unabated.De Valera famously pronounced “No longer shall our children, like our cattle, be brought up for export.” Another broken promise. During the 1940s and 1950s, emigration from Ireland reached levels not seen since the Great Famine a century earlier thanks to failed economic policy.
More recently, since the country’s fortunes improved during the Celtic Tiger years, the tables have been turned. Immigration into Ireland exceeded emigration for the first time. Despite this, young Irish people continued to flock abroad in search of work or adventure. Nothing wrong with that. The youth have always been lured by the excitement of exotic locations across the globe. Having the choice of when and where to go is a luxury the previous generations never had.
However, this has exacerbated the population replacement dynamic currently in action to the point where a staggering 20% of the Irish population is foreign born. There are schools in North and West Dublin completely dominated by the progeny of immigrants with barely a native Irish child to be seen. Polish and Mandarin have overtaken Irish as the second and third most spoken languages in the country respectively. The change has happened too fast to allow time for integration. Our tiny island nation is being overwhelmed to the point where academics are predicting the Irish will be a minority in their own homeland by the year 2050.
The ultimate slap in the face is the shameful way we treat our own diaspora. Derogatory terms such as “Plastic Paddy” are thrown around in disdain towards our own emigrants and their descendants who are merely guilty of expressing an interest and love for their motherland and wish nothing more than to reconnect with their roots. This is in stark contrast to the warm welcome extended to third world immigrants from Nigeria and Pakistan, countries with zero historical ties to Ireland, who are immediately accepted as Irish the moment a faceless bureaucrat decides they are. Between 2005 and the end of 2015, more than 121,100 non-Irish nationals acquired Irish citizenship through naturalisation.
The Irish diaspora are cynically treated as a revenue source to be milked for their tourism dollars. They are paid lip service one day a year on St. Patrick’s Day with hollow words of recognition and praise that is never backed up with action. Contrast with how Israel cherishes its diaspora worldwide. Every Jew is welcome to citizenship of Israel and encouraged to make aliyah, the return to the homeland. The Birth Right program grants young North American Jews free trips to Israel to learn their people’s history, inspire a love for the country and showcase the success story of the Jewish nation. I’d like to see a similar program for young Irish-Americans. There is no sense of unity or kinship with our diaspora, which is our loss. I despair when I think of the missed networking and business opportunities.
The Israeli government is not shy to step in to provide support for its people when in distress, as seen with the Yemenite Jews during Operation Magic Carpet in the country’s fledgling years, right up to the modern day where the passage of French Jews to Israel is being facilitated en masse in the face of increasing hostility across France due to imported antisemitism from the Islamic world. How many Irish men died alone and homeless on the streets of London and New York in the 1950s? The Irish government has been slow to extend a helping hand. The native Irishman is viewed as a statistic to be squeezed for tax money and once he leaves, he is no longer any use and is brushed aside.
Thanks to the endeavors and self-organizing of our emigrant communities, Ireland has found itself in the extraordinary position where its national holiday is celebrated across the globe. This affords Ireland the unique opportunity to exert soft power and promote its brand to a worldwide audience. It’ll be a sad day when the Irish diaspora grows tired of its unrequited love and loses interest in the motherland. Perhaps when the tourism revenue dries up, the Irish establishment will finally take notice.
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