Irish Emigrants should have a vote, says FG Councillor

By Martin Murphy
Martin Murphy
Martin Murphy
July 3, 2014 Updated: July 3, 2014

Much interest has revolved around the Irish Diaspora in recent years, though primarily as a revenue resource for the tourism sector. However, recently elected Fine Gael councillor Alan Tobin thinks we should engage more with the Irish who have emigrated.

“I think we need to keep in contact with those who have emigrated in some way. We need to do better in that respect, they need to be involved in the political system, to have a say,” says Tobin.

“People are being pushed out of the country because of the economic situation: they should have a say, they should have a right to vote, they need to have a say on what’s going on in this country, because we need to fix this country,” said Tobin, who added that Irish emigrants are probably best suited to suggesting solutions here, because they might see our situation here more clearly from the outside, and they may also have gained insights into how good policies are created in other countries. 

“Their involvement is critical—we need them to be involved, to have a vote, to have a say, and we need to keep in touch with them. Also, from a mental health point of view, we need to keep in touch with them so they know that we do care about them, and that they aren’t forgotten about once they leave this country.” 

Commenting on the downturn and the subsequent increase in emigration, Tobin said: “We have come from a time several years ago when everyone was able to make a living and everyone could afford to live, to a time now where, finally, the economy is starting to grow again. At certain stages over that period I was able to say that 50 per cent of my friends were living abroad—they were in the UK, Canada, Australia, continental Europe and the Americas, anywhere and everywhere around the world.”

According to Tobin, the reason they are there is because their skills aren’t required here, so they have had to go further afield to get jobs. He reckons that this cyclical wave of emigration that washes our young folk onto foreign shores is mainly driven by the political system in Ireland. “Greed has driven the economy, and because of that greed we have paid the price. Our generation did not do the damage, but our generation is certainly paying for it,” he said.

“I know everybody has been effected by it [the economic downturn], but at the end of the day my generation and younger are paying for it…It’s not right that people have to go away, some choose to but not many, those who are forced to go find it very hard. It’s not right that people can’t afford to stay here,” he said.
According to Alan Tobin, emigration depends on many factors, from the profession you work in to whether you have debt: If you purchased a house, for example, and whether it’s in negative equity.

“A lot of my generation—not the people who left but those remaining here—they can’t leave because they have debt over their heads that’s keeping them here. I think it’s more the 23 to 40 age group that’s gone, the younger generation are remaining,” says Tobin. 

The word ‘Emigration’

Alan Tobin doesn’t feel the word emigration is representative of what is happening on the ground. “Forced emigration is what it should be called because it is not a choice for many, it’s emigrate or go on the scrap heap…there are trained people who haven’t been able to work in years, they would go mad if they stayed here, there are no opportunities.” Tobin believes more could be done to help people upskill so that they can avail of the opportunities here.

Business point of view

According to Tobin, too much emphasis has been put on multinationals and the employment they can create, and not enough focus is given to SME’s and the jobs they provide—and could potentially create. Alan Tobin runs his own business, and therefore has a good insight into this area. “We are forgetting about the small business owner who employs two or three people—that’s the backbone of the economy, and they are the people who need to be supported, they are the ones who take on the part-time employee and give them a bit of experience, and enable students to put themselves through college.”

Training Young People 

Alan Tobin feels that the younger generation need to be trained to an exceptionally high standard to avail of opportunities in Ireland. “Younger people need to get more experience in the workplace before leaving school so they know what they could end up doing after they go to college. I find kids coming in from school—some are good but a lot are poor practically, with their hands, they aren’t used to physical work…I just don’t think they are coming out of school ready for even part-time jobs. They don’t know how to deal with money, or moral issues such as honesty. Simple things, like saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, or how to address and help a customer. It’s important for all students to get that experience of the real world.” 

On the issue of money, Alan Tobin elaborated by saying that some younger people just don’t get the whole profit and loss idea, basic business knowledge doesn’t seem to be there. A lot of emphasis is now put on entrepreneurial nature, as if it’s something mystical. However, most good business people would, in younger years, have washed cars for neighbours or mowed lawns for pocket money, and this kind of activity seems to be lost among younger people.