Northern Ireland

Youth emigration 'devastating' for Irish economy

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Media captionAround 300,000 people have left the Republic of Ireland since 2009

The current scale of emigration from the Republic of Ireland is likely to be "devastating" to its economy, according to youth organisations.

They are due to meet politicians in Dublin to call for more to be done to create opportunities for young people in Ireland.

But what is the impact on towns and families?

Emigration has not stopped family get-togethers in Ireland, but it has certainly changed them.

In County Wexford, Margaret Howlin's relatives have gathered to celebrate her birthday.

However, it is only thanks to the internet that her daughter, Sandra, and grandson, Alex, can join the party.

Image caption The internet helps the Howlin family keep in touch with one another

They sing along to Happy Birthday via Skype from their home in Australia

Next year, another daughter will have to join the celebrations from thousands of miles away.

Eleanor has struggled to find a job and she is about to move to Canada to look for work.

"Ireland is in so much debt," she said, referring to the bailout money lent by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

"We know they will be repaying this debt for years, so it is hard to see a future here."


In the 19th Century it was the potato famine that forced people to travel across seas; today it is the economy.

Over the last four years more than 300,000 people have left Ireland, with the UK, Canada and Australia among the most popular destinations.

Some 41% of them were aged between 15 and 24.

Image caption Many young people have already left the County Wexford fishing village

The impact on families like the Howlins is obvious around their kitchen table.

"Family is very important," said Eleanor's father, Noel, as he fights back tears.

"And it is one of the things that we are probably going to lose in Ireland by all of these people going. It is sad."


But there are signs of hope. The family's business, the Grange Greens Plant Centre in Kilmore, is growing and providing work for Noel and Margaret's other two children.

However, this fishing village on the coast of County Wexford has seen many young people leave in recent years.

"It feels like half of Kilmore Quay is on Bondi Beach," jokes David Keating who is considering a move to Australia.

"There seems to be farewell parties and people going every couple of weeks."

A recent survey by the National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI) found that little more than half of 18 to 24-year-olds had considered emigrating.

The vast majority of people who had thought about leaving Ireland said it was either because they did not have a job or they wanted to look for better employment opportunities.

The era of the Celtic Tiger when the Republic of Ireland was viewed as a land of opportunity feels a very long time ago.

"This brain drain will have devastating consequences for Ireland," said Marie-Claire McAleer who wrote the NYCI's report Time to Go?

"We are losing some of our brightest and the young people said very often it feels like (people are saying): 'You're gone - goodbye and good luck'.

"There is no one responding to the issue."

Image caption Marie-Claire McAleer said the brain drain would have "devastating" consequences

On Wednesday, members of the council, which represents youth organisations throughout Ireland, will travel to the country's parliament, the Oireachtas, to lobby politicians to do more.

They want a government minister to be given specific responsibility for tackling the issue.

Widespread emigration does have some advantages. It has helped reduce Ireland's unemployment figure, although it is still high and the reason many are leaving.

However, in the long-term, the country's economy will need young workers, particularly as the population ages.


It is no surprise though that many are having to consider their own futures as well as that of the country.

Victoria Hoban has been posting an online video blog on You Tube in the weeks leading up to her departure for Canada.

The 22-year-old music graduate went to Alberta a few months ago to examine the options emigration would open up for her. The trip encouraged her to make the final decision to apply for a work visa.

"I walked through West Edmonton Mall and all I saw were signs saying they were hiring, hiring, hiring," said Victoria.

"It was like a completely alien planet to me - that they could not get people to fill the jobs."

Victoria indicated that she would like to permanently stay in Canada.

But the majority of 18 to 25-year-olds questioned for the NYCI's emigration survey said they would eventually like to return to Ireland.

Whether they actually stay abroad or head home may well depend on the future fortunes of Ireland's economy.