Leading academic says Irish economy will fuel a lost generation
Ireland’s economic struggles have created a generation of “involuntary non-returns” who have been forced out and are unable to go home.
This is according to leading academic on the Irish in Britain, Professor Mary Hickman, who describes reality of this latest wave of emigration out of Ireland as “depressing”. A long-term researcher on the community in Britain and founder of the Centre for Irish Studies at London’s Metropolitan University, Professor Hickman is preparing to document the new wave of emigration from her new position as Professorial Research Fellow at the Irish studies centre based in St Mary’s University, Twickenham.
“Since the fall of the Celtic tiger we see the proportion of people leaving Ireland, who are Irish born, rising each year, successively,” she said. “I do think there might be an expectation that there is more done for these citizens by the Irish government in the coming years. There may be a feeling that they are owed something more, due to the calamitous catastrophe in Ireland.”
She added: “The issue is even if these people think they are making a positive decision to leave, that they are leaving voluntarily, that becomes involuntary as they can’t go back because there are no opportunities. This is an issue potentially facing quite a number of people – I would call it involuntary non-return. It’s a really difficult situation to be in and it’s important that this is documented.”
In leaving her 25-year role at London Metropolitan University last month Ms Hickman gains the opportunity to do more research while based at St Mary’s – who recently began investing in and expanding their Irish studies centre. “I would be more than happy if this hadn’t happened to Ireland and no one was emigrating unless they really wanted to,” she said.
“It’s a bit depressing. We had all that emigration in middle of the 19th century, then in the 1950s, then in the 1980s and here it is again. I think people during the Celtic tiger thought it would not happen again, but it has.” She added: “It will of course inform the work I will be doing over the coming years and my recent move has allowed me the flexibility to do that.”
Regarding the move between universities, she added: “Lots of things fuelled the move, some personal but ultimately I had been at London Metropolitan since wet up the Irish studies centre in 1986. I felt 25 years was enough at any one institution. What is great about St Marys is they are self-evidently investing in Irish studies. There has been a centre there for some years, but it was recently reconfigured and re-launched, it was fortuitous for me at a time when I decided I had done my stint at London Met that they were expanding and approached me to offer the position.
“I held a high profile management job previously, but with this new professorial fellowship the prime axis of what you are doing swings back to research rather than management. This post releases me from all that, which is great as I want to draw together all the research I have done on the Irish in Britain over the past 25 years and this gives me the time to do it.”