Every speech, every outside TV News report on the death of the Celtic Tiger has evoked the memory of the coffin ships and Danny Boy. Emigration keening has been a strong element of the Irish identity. Professor Wickham of TCD gives it a more positive complexion. The time to think about emigration differently is long overdue. The difference of view lies in whether emigration can be thought of as a last resort or an opportunity. As entry is unrecorded I’d like to know what the figures are for shifting over to Britain. Given the extent of internmingling, easy mobility and shared experience, does it make sense any longer to apply the term “emigration” to a lifestyle where you can reach home in either island in a couple of hours?
Says the good professor
The most recent estimates published by the Central Statistics Office indicated 27,700 of 65,300 emigrants recorded in the year to the end of April 2010 were Irish.
The test of whether Irish migration would become mass emigration would occur this summer, when a new generation of students will leave university, he said.
“We should learn lessons from the recent mass emigration from Poland, when people were treated as traitors for leaving. This created dissatisfaction. But I’ve seen no sign of that in Ireland, which has a good record of welcoming back emigrants,” he said.
Prof Wickham said the concept of a “brain drain” caused by emigration is giving way to a more modern concept called “brain circulation”, whereby people tend to move countries more often before returning to their home state.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London