Having just returned to Vancouver following ten days of meetings in Ireland, one thought has stuck in my mind: Ireland is a very different place in 2019 than it was when I left in 2008.
Dublin is rightfully relishing its role as one of the most exciting cities in Europe, and Ireland is definitely a more tolerant and socially-accepting place than it was a decade ago. On top of that, March’s unemployment figures indicate that joblessness is now at an eleven-year low, the lowest rate since the crash
However, while lots of progress has been made in recent years to improve Ireland’s standing internationally, a disconnect remains between politicians in Dublin and Irish workers and families in cities around the world.
Hundreds of thousands of Irish citizens left their family, friends and life at home after the crash in search of better work and life opportunities abroad. Now that Ireland is edging towards full employment, it is vital that the broken relationship between the Irish government and those who left is mended so as to fully close this circle. This is what my recent series of meetings in Dublin was all about.
So, what did I learn?
While in Dublin, I was able to meet with a range of government departments, agencies and bodies broadly affiliated with returning emigrants. In my view, definite progress has been made in terms of assisting returning emigrants, but it’s also apparent that more can be done. In reality, it’s time to get more serious about the latent potential of would-be returning emigrants, and how they can help solve issues at home.
I met with officials at SOLAS (formerly FÁS) to discuss concerns members of our community have had regarding the recognition of foreign trade qualifications in Ireland. I also met with the Department of Social Protection to get a clearer understanding of the reasoning behind the current maternity benefit eligibility criteria and how it affects certain returning Irish women. Finally, I had a productive meeting with officials at the Department of Justice regarding the introduction of simpler immigration processes for non-EEA de facto partners of returning Irish citizens. This latter issue is a serious headache for a number of returning Irish emigrants and their partners, and I am confident that progress will be made on this issue in the coming months, which should make it easier for these couple to move to Ireland. But what else can be done?
You don’t need to be a political expert to know that Brexit is the biggest issue facing the Irish government at the moment, and in their defense, it is somewhat understandable that this seismic political event has made it more difficult to focus on other important issues, including challenges facing returning Irish emigrants.