From Socialist Voice, September 2010

Starve, emigrate—or fight!

Well into the collapse of the Celtic Tiger the former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern was still in high demand on the international lecture circuit. As late as February 2009 he was the guest speaker at the Honduran National Business Council, where he gave a lecture (for a fee of €10,000) entitled “The Celtic Tiger: The Irish development model.”
     In an advertisement promoting the lecture the newspaper La Tribuna hinted what his speech might be about. “Nothing about the dramatic situation in the Republic of Ireland at the start of the 20th century—with their recently acquired independence, hurt by tragic levels of inflation, massive emigration and alarming levels of unemployment—could have foretold their sudden transformation from ‘the Cinderella of Europe’ into what we now know as ‘the Celtic Tiger’.”
     What the advertisement didn’t tell readers about was the collapse of the Irish economy in a mire of broken banks, rising unemployment, renewed emigration, ghost estates, and crisis-ridden social services.
     Now, more than a year and a half later, with unemployment running at about 286,00 and the Economic and Social Research Institute in its latest Quarterly Survey forecasting that at least 120,000 people will have emigrated in the two years ending April 2011, the fact that Ahern can no longer hope to generate fees in the region of €10,000 per night is one of the least serious side effects of the collapse.
     The emigration prediction is staggering and will take us back to the kind of numbers emigrating at the end of the 1980s.
     The historian J. J. Lee once wrote that the Irish “socio-economic system” is one that “decreed mass emigration and national population decline as pre-requisites for the comfort of the ‘survivors’.” This perhaps prompted the great liberal Garret Fitzgerald to recently portray Irish unemployed workers as being “cushioned” by the 80,000 departing migrant workers and their families.
     Cushioned from what? From unemployment? No: 160,000 of them have just lost their jobs.
     From emigration? No: his own analysis, based on the patterns of the 1980s, shows that emigration rates build up over a three to four-year period. This perhaps explains another ESRI prediction: that 200,000 people will emigrate between now and 2015.
     While there has been quite a lot of media coverage of various aspects of present-day emigration, official Ireland has been for the most part silent.
     Even President McAleese is unusually reticent. Yet not so long ago she, in partnership with Bertie Ahern, was touring eastern European countries, telling their governments how membership of the European Union had solved Ireland’s emigration problem and brought about the Celtic Tiger—and how they could expect the same once their countries joined.
     Now the scourge of emigration is hitting the citizens of many of the countries whose leaders were conned by the two high-powered EU sales reps.
     A variation on this approach was recently illustrated in a speech by the governor of the Central Bank, Patrick Honohan, to the Japan Chamber of Commerce in Tokyo when he told his audience that in the past “Ireland had been exporting what was seen as its surplus population to fuel growth in the New World as well as in the UK and elsewhere. The pattern had long been established of emigration by those who sought a wider horizon and better opportunities than seemed available at home.” The clear message was that this was now a thing of the past.
     He went further a few days later in Renmin University in Beijing when he enthused about immigrants from the rest of Europe, from Africa and from China “flooding” into Ireland at the height of the Celtic Tiger era. His audience might have wondered where they are now. Honohan did not inform those present about the drop of 105,000 in the number of these immigrants at work, nor about Garret Fitzgerald’s view on how this represented a “cushion” for Irish workers.
     Despite the occasional rhetoric about “lost generations,” emigration has provided a safety valve for Ireland’s parasitic ruling class. Through emigration, the bottled-up frustrations of the exploited and the oppressed have historically been dissipated to the four corners of the earth and the prospects for the development of real alternatives stymied.
     As Alexis Fitzgerald—the wealthy lawyer who served as adviser to two Taoisigh, his father-in-law, John A. Costello, and later Garret Fitzgerald—once acknowledged on behalf of his class, “While there is a danger of complacency, I believe that there should be a more realistic appreciation of the advantages of emigration. High emigration . . . releases social tensions which would otherwise explode, and makes possible a stability of manners and customs which would otherwise be the subject of radical change.”
     Just as the Unionist ascendancy form of government in the North required discrimination to be incorporated in all aspects of life, so emigration contributed to the continuing rule of a golden circle of bankers, speculators, asset-strippers and fronts for transnationals that contribute nothing to the production of real wealth.
     This group is primarily responsible for the stifling of any state initiatives independent of the transnationals; it is influential in top state circles and dominates the formulation of economic and financial policies.
     It stands as the main obstacle to the development of an employment programme that would go beyond aspirational statements and be an actual programme with an associated strategy that would be driven forward and implemented.
     This time, those contemplating emigration should seriously consider the better alternative for themselves, their children, and generations to come: stay and fight!

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