In Northern Ireland we have many problems to contend with going into the future. We have sectarian tensions and a government that now seems to be in a permanent state of paralysis when it comes to dealing with issues like parades.
However there is a wider problem that has not being given enough attention and that is the increasing number of our people that are choosing to leave Northern Ireland.
Since the economic crisis hit in 2008 we have been in the grips of a recession. The lack of jobs has forced young people in particular to leave our shores for places like Australia and the United States.
We often consider emigration to be a problem that mainly impacts the Irish Republic, but the figures show that the droves of young people leaving our shores does not stop at the border as 25,000 people left Northern Ireland in 2011 alone. Just to put that in context that’s 74 people every single day choosing to move.
It doesn’t take a Stormont press release to tell you that this trend is still going on. I am still constantly hearing about people leaving as they cannot find work and seeing the Facebook invites to emigration parties.
This is truly amazing when you think that we achieve some of the best exam results in the UK and have two excellent universities. Yet despite all of this, we allow huge numbers of our graduates to leave and put all of that talent into developing cities and regions thousands of miles away.
I’m not suggesting that in all cases emigration is bad thing. Sometimes getting out and seeing the world can really help a person gain perspective on the career that they want to pursue. Although we have to reconcile ourselves to the fact that most surveys have shown that people who emigrate from Northern Ireland do not come back.
You have to ask yourself why? Why is it that when people go off to foreign shores they can’t see a future back home? What is it about our economic strategy that fails to secure enough high paying jobs that can keep people here? These are just some of the questions that those of us here and more importantly our executive need to be asking themselves.
A few weeks ago Alex Kane got into some trouble for encouraging those who got their A-level results to leave Northern Ireland. However I think he has done us a favour by opening up this debate. When we think about the turmoil we have experienced from the flags protests to the riots over the summer it is probably remarkable that more people aren’t leaving.
I’m not writing this to simply engage in pessimism about the future. Rather I’m trying to highlight that our failure to create a more normalised society and a more prosperous economy is forcing thousands of people to emigrate. We cannot pass the buck onto the British government for this as it is the failures of our own government that are driving this trend.
I’ve often written that Northern Ireland will sink or swim on what we choose to do here. We need to stop persisting with an economy and a society that encourages 20,000 plus to leave our shores every single year. Emigration may not be headline news but there is a real problem going on right now.
Instead of pandering to those who make a lot of noise and seek to create havoc on our streets, our executive should just pause for a moment to think about those who quietly make that journey out of our province and perhaps develop a strategy that might entice them to come back.
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