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Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade debate -
Wednesday, 11 Dec 2013

Report on Impact of Emigration on Youth: Discussion with National Youth Council of Ireland

I welcome Ms Mary Cunningham, director and Ms Marie-Claire McAleer, senior research and policy officer, National Youth Council of Ireland. I apologise to the delegation for keeping them waiting. The delay was due to an additional item being added to the agenda, namely expressions of sympathy on the death of former President Mandela. His death occurred after arrangements had been made for today's meeting.

The main purpose for meeting the council is to hear about its report entitled Time to Go? which explores the social and economic impact of youth emigration and its implications for the future. The council has carried out an in depth study on the subject. Emigration has been part of life for many in the State, to such an extent that everyone here and their families have been touched by emigration. Over the past number of months the committee has touched on the issue of emigration reform. I call on Ms Cunningham to make her presentation.

Ms Mary Cunningham

My colleague, Ms McAleer, will make the presentation.

Ms Marie-Claire McAleer

I thank the committee for the opportunity to make a presentation on the theme of youth emigration. I will base my input on the research referred to by the Chairman and published last May entitled Time to Go? It is a qualitative research study that explored the experience and impact of emigration on the current wave of new young emigrants who left Ireland in the past two years and emigrated to the UK and Canada.

The study identifies the push and pull factors influencing Ireland’s young to emigrate and explores the policy implications of sustained emigration of young people from Ireland. For details on the background to the research, the research methodology, the key research findings and all of the report's recommendations, I refer the committee to the report that was circulated to Members in advance. Given the time limitations I shall focus on the most salient and relevant aspects of the research. There are seven report recommendations but I shall focus on the three most relevant to the work of the committee. They are as follows: the appointment of a ministry with responsibility for responding to and connecting with the Irish abroad; the need to develop and adopt a new strategic approach to meet the needs of new young emigrants; and the needs for centralised and ongoing data collection on emigrants.

As the Chairman has said, we all know emigration has become a prevailing part of Irish society. It is worth reflecting on the statistics in this regard. According to the most recent estimates compiled by the Central Statistics Office have revealed that 177,000 young people aged between 15 and 24 years of age have left the country over the past five years, and 89,000 people left the State in the year up to April 2013. At the start of the recession, outward migration was mainly accounted for by workers from new EU member states. Since 2010 emigration by Irish nationals has increased significantly and now accounts for more than half of total emigration.

Data collected by the NYCI have revealed that over the past two years over a quarter of the population has been affected by the emigration of a close family member and 51% of 18 to 24-year olds would consider emigrating. It is widely acknowledged that the number of people emigrating is concentrated heavily on the youth population.

Despite high levels of unemployment, poor labour market status and increasing emigration by Irish nationals, Ireland still receives significant immigration.

Dr. Mary Gilmartin asserts that such immigration reflects a shortage of workers with appropriate skills in some areas.

Another interesting aspect of the recent data on outward migration is the destination of choice of emigrants. The data reveal that 24% of emigrants are moving to the United Kingdom, 17.3% to Australia, 16% to the EU-12, 13% to the EU-15 and 6% to Canada.

I propose to highlight some key findings from a recent study by University College Cork, which was published at the end of September as part of UCC's Emigre project. The findings are pertinent to the discussion and reinforce some of our findings in respect of the brain drain. The study found that 62% of recent emigrants hold a third level qualification, which suggests graduates are over-represented among those leaving. More than 17% of emigrants worked in construction or construction related industry prior and 47% were in full-time employment prior to departure. Under-employment was a major driving factor, with 13% of emigrants working in part-time jobs before their departure. Almost 23% of those leaving were unemployed before departing and the vast majority, more than 70%, of emigrants are aged in their 20s when they depart.

Emigration is a very emotive issue arousing many different feelings, emotions and perspectives. When it comes to the topic of emigration there is a tendency to bemoan the fact of emigration, dwell on how terrible emigration is and deny that for some emigration is an escape from unemployment and limited opportunities at home. Our research reveals this journey often has many twists and turns and highs and lows and that it can be a positive or negative experience. Regardless of how we perceive emigration, we have a responsibility to support emigrants before and after they leave, maintain links with our citizens abroad and facilitate their return in future if they so wish.

Two key points contained in the analysis of the Time to Go? report were the social and economic implications of large-scale youth emigration. Notwithstanding the significant social costs of emigration, which are outlined in great detail in chapter 8 of the report, emigration costs the State money in the long term. While it may temporarily help alleviate the problem of unemployment, in the long term the prevalence of large-scale emigration produces a significant loss to the State in terms of the public funds invested in the education system and the brain drain of highly skilled and educated young people. Any future upturn in the economy requires a pool of well-educated young people to attract investment and stimulate and sustain economic growth. The question of how to reduce the loss and increase the gain to the economy as a result of emigration is a key policy issue that requires further consideration. Moreover, for those young people left with no option but to emigrate, every effort should be made to attract them back to Ireland when jobs in the labour market arise. I will return to this point.

On the impact of demographic changes arising from emigration, the estimates of the numbers currently emigrating are alarming as they indicate that if emigration continues at the current pace, it will result in a significant change in the age structure of the population. Prior to the economic crisis, Ireland exhibited one of the largest youth cohorts in the OECD, with young people accounting for 16% of the population. As a result of rising emigration, this figure currently stands at 12%. This alteration in the age structure, combined with an ageing population, has profound and long-term consequences for many aspects of social policy. For example, in the case of pensions the ratio of people of working age to people of pension age is expected to fall. The increase in life expectancy and in the number of people of retirement age will call into question the sustainability of funding State pensions to an adequate level.

How should the Government respond? The State must continue to work towards economic recovery to provide a stable economic environment that can attract migrants back when the economy recovers. One of the positive aspects of emigration is that many young people who emigrate acquire skills and knowledge while abroad. The vast majority of young people interviewed in our study expressed a strong desire to return if job opportunities become available to them. The improved skills and expertise they possess have the potential to provide a significant return to the State. This needs to be recognised and harnessed. The Government needs to maximise the rate of return of emigrants when the economy starts to improve. Not only does this make economic sense but it is vital for future economic growth and the social fabric.

I will focus on the three recommendations of our reports that are of relevance to the remit of the joint committee. The first is the recommendation to appoint a Minister with responsibility for responding to and connecting with the Irish abroad. The research highlights the need for the Government to ensure greater connections are made and sustained with young people who are leaving the country. Emigrants suggested one way of responding would be to appoint a Minister with responsibility for connecting with the Irish abroad. The Minister would have specific responsibility for ensuring long-term planning in the development of public policies, responding to the needs of emigrants and liaising with key public employment services to facilitate return migration to fill gaps in the labour market as they arise in future.

Engaging with the diaspora was thought by research participants in the Time to Go? study to be extremely important. One emigrant proposed that the Government ensure greater connections are made and sustained with young people who are leaving the country. In the absence of local or national representation of the Irish abroad, the appointment of a dedicated Minister to respond to and connect with our emigrants and diaspora is extremely important. Aside from the moral imperative to meet the needs of emigrants, a ministry of this nature would also benefit Ireland greatly in terms of exploiting the potential social and economic gains that can be derived from emigration. When one considers that approximately 70 million people of Irish heritage and 1.2 million Irish born citizens live overseas the argument supporting the appointment of a Minister for the Irish overseas becomes most compelling. Such an appointment would serve to greatly enhance and build on existing connections with our emigrants and diaspora throughout the world. This is even more relevant in the current context of large-scale emigration of young people, many of whom wish to be included in Irish life and society and return home some day if they have an opportunity to do so. I cannot emphasise enough the extent to which we need these highly educated and skilled young people to return.

The second key recommendation is to develop and adopt a new strategic approach to meet the needs of young emigrants. The Government needs to develop and implement a new strategy for emigrants. The strategy requires an action plan and the necessary supports to take account of the diversity of needs and provide structural supports at home to inform and assist young people who are emigrating. The strategy must also include ways of incentivising emigrants to return when the economy recovers. It is vital that the State develop a long-term plan which is responsive to changes in migration and demography and the needs of those who have emigrated. It should, for example, provide for adequate housing and social services that are equipped to respond to returning migrants. Ireland should not be complacent about return migration. In its recent report, the OECD cautioned that "international competition to attract workers with specialised skills has become fiercer and the automatic return of migrant workers should not be taken for granted".

The third recommendation relates to data collection and the need to inform a public policy response and strategy. Reliable and robust data on the profile of emigrants have been absent to date. Data collection and profiling is integral to future policy planning and the maintenance of good links with our citizens abroad. While the recent UCC Emigre study has contributed significantly to addressing the data deficit, a commitment is needed that such data will be collected on an ongoing basis and will be used to inform a policy response. A more long-term policy perspective must be incorporated in policy planning to take account of changes in demography and migration.

Tracking emigrants and investing in the facilitation of return migration could reduce the risks of a permanent loss of valuable qualified workers from the labour market. As I noted, more robust data on the profile of emigrants is required.

Emigration needs to be recognised as having a significant impact on society and the economy. While it is often considered as a panacea to addressing the problem of unemployment in the short to medium term, it should be recognised that in the long term, the impact of emigration can cause significant problems in terms of skill and labour shortages, salary costs and long-term economic growth.

Our research on youth unemployment reaffirms the importance of prioritising emigration in all aspects of public policy. The way in which we respond to prospective and current emigrants and support them before and after they leave Ireland will determine the type of country we will have. Our recommendations are informed by the qualitative research on the experience of young Irish people who have emigrated. It is important that we listen to them, learn from their experience and take on board their advice on meeting the needs of the current wave of emigrants.

We acknowledge the Tánaiste’s commitment to reviewing the existing policy on emigrants and developing a new global diaspora policy, which we understand will include a focus on meeting the needs of new young emigrants. We believe such a strategic review of policy has the potential to respond to the changing needs of younger and older Irish emigrants and our diaspora throughout the world. The development of such a policy requires the support and commitment of all political parties and sufficient resources to ensure it is fully implemented. Such a policy should provide for rigorous review and monitoring to ensure it is effective. A new global diaspora policy is not only timely but also provides an opportunity to consider how we respond to the needs of Irish emigrants throughout the world. We welcome the initiation of this policy review by the Tánaiste and his officials in the Irish abroad unit of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. We look forward to contributing significantly to the formulation of a new strategic policy framework in 2014.

I thank Ms McAleer for her comprehensive report. There is no doubt the timing of her appearance before this committee is very good. We will hold hearings on the foreign policy review in the new year. We will take her comments on board in that context. We are reviewing our foreign policy at an important time. Given that so many Irish people are living abroad, it is obvious that the diaspora should play an important role in that review. When the economy recovers, it will be important for them to come back.

I welcome our contributors. I thank Ms McAleer for her presentation. The briefing material we have been given is very comprehensive. I do not think there is much in the presentation that we could disagree with. During the Seanad referendum campaign, when we debated the role of a second House of Parliament, it was pointed out that a clear and obvious opportunity exists to appoint someone to the Seanad to represent the diaspora. It would be a way of keeping the concerns, issues and challenges facing people who emigrate on the political agenda in the Oireachtas. I do not know whether a Government Department should be established. The Taoiseach of the day always faces pressure to establish specific Departments depending on the issues challenging the country at a particular time. There are obvious merits to this proposal. I would think, on the basis of my experience of attending embassy functions abroad, that young people do not engage with the embassy network as much as the older generation. It is generally the older cohort of people who attend such events. Maybe there is a difficulty in encouraging some of our young people to engage. Perhaps there is a lack of effort on the part of the embassy network. I do not know. I would be very reluctant to criticise our diplomatic network anywhere in the world. It does a fine job for our country. A better form of connection is probably needed.

I presume the unit for the Irish abroad that has been proposed would target a number of specific areas and would engage with and assist people. We are all aware of the various societies and clubs in cities such as Birmingham, London and Coventry, as well as in the United States. They often assist older people who do not have any immediate family support, or who need financial assistance during challenging periods in their lives. There is a GAA club in almost every part of the world, thankfully. The overseas branch of the GAA is almost like a formalised network for Irish people. One could see a Clare or Cavan jersey in any part of the world. The Clare jersey is very popular this year. I welcome the visibility of those jerseys. I know from many of the young emigrants to whom I have spoken that the GAA club has really become a focal point of their lives. It provides sporting activity and helps them to make friends.

Ms McAleer has outlined the type of work that a Government Department in this area could engage in if such a Department were to be established. I am reminded of the Department of Labour that existed until the early 1990s. It dealt with labour relations and labour market policy. It was merged with the old Department of Industry and Commerce to become the Department of Enterprise and Employment. I think Deputy Ruairí Quinn was the first Minister in the new Department in the early 1990s. Perhaps there is a case for doing some further work to assess the value of the old type of administrative structure that existed in this country when the Department of Labour was in place. I was struck by one or two of the statistics mentioned by Ms McAleer in this context. According to her submission:

47% of emigrants were in fact employed in full-time jobs before leaving. Just under 40% of these emigrants left because they wanted to travel and to experience another culture. These were often people with qualifications that other countries coveted, such as valuable IT skills or health professionals.

To my knowledge, we have a shortage of workers in many of those areas. Ms McAleer mentioned that a great deal of the immigration into this country is related to the attractiveness of the job opportunities that are available here. It is apparent that there is a mismatch between our training and labour market policies. Perhaps a greater focus on this area is needed.

Ms McAleer made it clear that our emigrants need support as they leave our shores, on a constant basis while they are abroad and - hopefully - as they prepare to return. All of us realise that the best programme of assistance that could be offered to any potential emigrant would come in the form of job opportunities. We are all conscious of that. The Chairman and some members of this committee recently visited the United States to seek further support for the immigration reform Bill that has been proposed there. To the knowledge of Ms McAleer, are we active in this area? The visa policies of Canada and Australia can make it difficult for some people who wish to emigrate to get into those countries. Difficulties can also be encountered by people whose visas expire while they are in those countries. I know that particular hardship was imposed on some young people who had to leave employment out there and return home even though there appeared to be plenty of job opportunities in the sectors they were working in.

Ms McAleer's work is very welcome. This material will be of great value to us as we reflect on the need to support our emigrants. I come from a very rural community. We are conscious that many people in the age cohort mentioned by Ms McAleer are leaving. We see the much-reduced panels that are available to football and hurling clubs and other sporting organisations. This is a huge challenge for the country. Support is needed. The creation of job opportunities here would be the most successful way of eliminating the difficulties faced by so many of those people. I thank Ms McAleer again for her presentation and welcome her work in this regard.

I thank Ms McAleer for completing and publishing her research and her report. I hope I do not repeat what Deputy Smith said on this issue. Ms McAleer mentioned that a quarter of the population had been affected by emigration. I think this is an indictment of the political system and of us all. Youth unemployment and emigration are the two biggest issues and challenges facing Ireland. The difference between Ireland and the rest of Europe is that emigration is not as significant a factor elsewhere. Ms McAleer mentioned many of the destinations to which many young people are going. Does she see a pattern there? Many young people go to Australia or Canada because they know someone there. There is a pattern of going to countries where the English language is spoken.

Ms Marie-Claire McAleer


That is important. When the CEO of Glen Dimplex spoke at the jobs committee recently, he referred to difficulties associated with Australia being so far away. He was talking about children going abroad. Around 1 million jobs are available in Germany. That never comes on the radar, even though Germany is just 2 or 3 hours from Dublin and the rest of Ireland. Why do people not emigrate to Germany? Is it simply a question of the language barrier? I ask Ms McAleer to comment on that.

We have heard about how difficult it can be to settle in a new country. What is Ms McAleer's view on the level of support that new emigrants receive from the Government? Could the embassies be doing more to assist them? In what way could they be of assistance? My party colleague, Deputy Pearse Doherty, recently brought out a report about his meeting with Australian trade unions.

Again, it concerned the difficulties faced by young people going to Australia. It was about rights. The information was helpful because we do not want people to be exploited. It dealt with basic stuff like if one rented somewhere in Australia, one did not have furniture. Could we do more in that respect? Ms McAleer spoke about difficulties in the United Kingdom. She spoke about opening a bank account. Could she explain it a little more because we have Bank of Ireland, Ulster Bank and others there? She also spoke about voting rights. Is there strong support among emigrants in this regard? The issue came up during the presidential election and a number of parties, including mine, tried to put it down. I agree with the idea of having seats within the Seanad. How important is this issue to emigrants?

In respect of the information pack on Australia, did this issue come up among respondents in Canada and the United Kingdom? Would such a pack be useful for those going to these countries? How would it be distributed? If one starts to give people information, is one encouraging them to go? I notice that in the five year plan many talk about returning to Ireland if the economy improves. I suppose it is natural for young unmarried emigrants to want to return to their home country. It is everyone's aspiration. I heard people who had come back during the boom say in interviews that they felt let down about the fact that they had left a really good life behind. How could we improve the position?

Will Ms McAleer expand on some of the different issues, particularly the difficulties arising in the United Kingdom? Opening a bank account is getting more and more difficult, even for people in Ireland, but I would have thought it was simple. There were also difficulties in this area in the United States. Is there a role for banks in this regard?

I thank Ms McAleer for her presentation and wish to mention a few points. I agree entirely with her analysis and think she has done a very good job. There are lessons for all of us. First, we need to focus on the future needs of a growing population, something we have never really done in this country. We have moved from boom to bust in a series of crises over a number of years and never made real provision for the future. We need to make provision for a bigger population. We need to identify the skills available and that are required and marry the two. We also need to diversify the way in which we create jobs and their placement. There are large areas of the country that never see a job created, particularly the rural areas referred to. In today's world of high technology, it is much easier to locate jobs with a high IT skills requirement in places that do not have a large amount of infrastructure provided they have Internet access and meet other electronic requirements. We know that there are more opportunities in more populated places. That creates its own ongoing social problems through a convergence of the population in particular areas. We have learned so many lessons in my lifetime that I wonder when we will have qualified and achieved some academic status in that regard.

In a former incarnation as a Minister of State, I liaised with Irish associations in Boston, New York and Camden in London. It is heart-rending when one meets people, some of whom are not so young anymore. Some have integrated, while others have not. Some look back to the country they left and think it remains as it was, even though both it and the world in which we live have changed vastly. We need to recognise that we live in a challenging global economy, that people are coming here and filling positions that we do not always fill and that they will continue to do so. We must expect this to happen, as it is their right in a global economy. We need to have the skills required, prepare people to be available for the jobs that are available in the economy and make sure there is the investment to have an ongoing stream of employment.

The population of the island will grow to at least ten million in the next 20 years. I predicted this and it is already on course to happen. Twenty years ago I predicted where the population was heading. The population of this part of the island is almost double what it was in 1956 when it had a population of 2.56 million or thereabouts. We have moved quite a distance since. With that movement there is the challenge of making provision. I have referred to the creation of job opportunities, but housing is another issue that is of huge importance for young people. Sadly, after the boom and bust, we are not providing it. Fr. Peter McVerry was on television last week and correctly identified that young people were being squeezed out. Owning their own house or renting it from a local authority is a basic aspiration for all young people. We have been told that we should be like the rest of Europe and depend on the private rental market. Sadly, as it has failed to deliver, we need to address the issue. With a house goes security. As somebody has to build it, there is a job for somebody in building it. At least one job will be provided in the building of a house. This may seem separate from what we are talking about, but it is very relevant because we all see those affected in our clinics every weekend. Young people and young families come crying because they have nowhere to go. That is a sad reflection on our society.

The report produced by Ms McAleer is excellent. It focuses on the issues that have been determined. I am not so sure Ms McAleer would get the post of Minister of State with responsibility for the Diaspora. I think some Minister who is already overburdened will have to take on that responsibility. He or she could and should do so and liaise with relevant parties. I am not sure there is a great surge of support for votes for emigrants, although we have tossed the idea around from time to time. We need to recognise emigrants, be there for them, look over their shoulders and look straight between the two eyes at all times to recognise that they may or may not be abroad permanently. Our objective should be to create a place for them if they wish to come back.

I thank Ms McAleer and, in particular, the National Youth Council of Ireland for producing a fascinating piece of work. It is fascinating because it is so relevant to Irish society. I do not know whether we can tease it out with the delegation and get an opinion from it. It might have heard me say I left Ireland in 1969 and arrived in Africa in 1970. The three of us were tradesmen - an electrician, a plumber and a carpenter. The reason I am highlighting this issue relates to the term "emigrant". Was I an emigrant? I felt we were adventurers - three people who wanted to see the world. The report states 47% of emigrants are employed full time, which was the position we were in in 1969. Just under 40% had left because they wanted to travel and experience another culture. One could almost read me into that statistic, but I never saw myself as an emigrant. I wonder, therefore, whether there is a definition. Are those of us who travel automatically labelled as emigrants because we might only go with a view to spending some years away and then returning? It is even more complex than this.

The delegation might have noticed that the Immigrant Council of Ireland has a 24 hour picket outside Leinster House. I went and spoke to people on it.

There are as many as 30,000 undocumented workers here and 50,000 undocumented Irish in America. Most of the undocumented in this country are in employment and enjoying their lives. We live in a global world and emigration today is nothing like that when I was a kid. Because of the peaks and troughs in the construction industry my uncles emigrated. There were great movements of people from County Donegal to Northern Ireland, for example. This is now one of the member states of the European Union. I might be falling into the same trap as the Minister for Finance - if it is a trap - but I have a daughter in London and a daughter in America. They are my only children. Are they emigrants? They are both highly educated, having left Ireland to pursue third level studies in London. They are economically viable and happy and can return at Christmas. They may wish to return to Ireland one day or they may not.

I will recite an interesting story. When I was a member of the then Eastern Health Board, we all heard the complaints about nurses being educated and then leaving the country. It was a matter of how to balance their desire and right to emigrate with the policy to recruit Filipino nurses to take their places. We can no longer regard the global movement of people in the same light as the poor, unskilled labourer arriving in London to build roads and railways and ending up impoverished and living in hostels and digs. Nowadays, our educated workers are packing in their jobs.

I agree with and support three of the recommendations made. I have not read all five recommendations. The Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Joint Committee on European Affairs are examining our foreign affairs policy. I have covered a number of elections in other countries. To our eternal shame, countries that were criticised, including Ukraine or Romania, open their embassies on election day to facilitate their citizens living outside the country. Despite our proclaimed love and understanding of the Diaspora, we do not allow them to vote in general or presidential elections. There is a case to be made to engage more seriously with the Diaspora, the members of which are a tremendous asset. We are not unique. It was noticeable that many Chinese were among the marchers today. Two thirds of the Chinese who leave China to study or work never return. The Chinese Government knows this is a loss to the country.

Why are people going as far away as Australia or Canada when we have the beautiful European Union of 28 countries? Is it question of language? I ask for an explanation of the figures which show a figure of 16% for the EU 12 and 30% for the EU 15.

The Chairman led a delegation to represent the undocumented Irish in America at a time when there are 30,000 undocumented people outside the door here. These 30,000 people have the right to register and vote in local elections. I hope the work of the delegates will be further debated.

I thank the delegates for the presentation. I am fascinated by the study because I was involved in developing the first policy paper by any political party on the Irish overseas. One of the recommendations was to have a Minister for the Diaspora. Many countries with a diaspora smaller than ours have dedicated ministries. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Éamon Gilmore, has also spoken on this matter in recent times. I tie this suggestion with the delegation's third recommendation on data collection. Someone has to be in charge of collecting the data and the Irish abroad unit could be central in this regard.

Members have spoken on the issue of voting rights for emigrants. The shocking fact is that what was proposed at the Constitutional Convention was the lowest form of expression of democracy. Giving a vote in a presidential election, an office which is largely ceremonial, represents the lowest form in the democratic world. Of the 186 countries in the world, 121 give a vote to the diaspora. Only eight restrict the vote to presidential elections, but these eight countries have an executive president. Ireland is considering giving the Diaspora a vote in a presidential election, a ceremonial office. I refer to the executive power held by President Obama. We are considering what is the least we could do, yet we are hesitating.

Of more immediate value to the Diaspora would be having a Minister in charge of co-ordinating the work of various Departments to ensure the rights and concerns of the Diaspora are dealt with. For example, I refer to the particular issue of driving licences for Irish people moving to Canada. The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport informs the authorities in Ottawa that it does not deal at sub-national level. Ottawa and British Columbia are bigger than Ireland and have larger populations. Each province in Canada has its own driving licence system, yet the Department has no interest in dealing with Irish emigrants. This illustrates the need for a Minister to undertake that the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport would deal with the issue of driving licences in Canada for Irish emigrants.

I commend the work done in compiling the information contained in the report and know how difficult it is to compile information which can be hard to find. The report suggests one agency should deal with the data required. Every party should commit to the appointment of a Minister for the Diaspora in advance of the next election. When the manifestos are merged, it is to be hoped a ministerial office could be created, whether with a Minister of State or a full Cabinet Minister. It is essential to engage with the resource that is the Diaspora because otherwise it is a loss to Ireland and a loss for Irish people abroad.

I thank the delegation for the report which is thought-provoking for all of us. I had to smile at the notion of a ministry for the Diaspora. I remember the national outcry when the Department of Social Protection wrote to people telling them about jobs in some other country - I cannot remember which but perhaps it was Germany or somewhere else. There was an uproar that the Government was trying to get people to emigrate. There is a danger that such a ministry would be seen as encouraging emigration. However, I take the point being made by the delegation.

I agree with the proposal to have a person to negotiate on behalf of the Diaspora on the issues of driving licences and passports.

Deputies Eric Byrne and Bernard J. Durkan raised a point on the validity of the notion behind emigration, about which I also thought.

This is not to deny that there is involuntary emigration; there is, although my children chose to go in the good times. They might have liked to return but they cannot. There is still voluntary emigration, but there is definitely involuntary emigration; there is no point in denying that. Even for them it is a different concept. We have immigration and emigration. The word "emigration" has connotations that no longer seem relevant, particularly in a global economy where we in Europe see mobility as a good thing and something we strive towards. It raises questions about how we discuss emigration.

Unlike the emigrants of long ago, many emigrants are educated and well able to look after their own needs when they go abroad, but there are some needs that must be looked after by a national government. If we could look after their needs at home, we would not have emigration. The best thing we can do for emigrants is to stop the need for involuntary emigration by providing jobs at home. That is the ultimate aim of what the NYCI is talking about. I have no questions about that. Collecting data and knowing what is happening and the movement of people is vital for planning for ourselves and our immigrants and emigrants, so it is a worthwhile document and discussion. I thank the witnesses.

I welcome our visitors. They have done the State some service by producing this very thought-provoking study. There is much in it that we probably knew already, but it is very useful to see it in print and set out in an easily-read format. Deputy Durkan spoke about some parts of the country suffering from emigration much more than others. I am from Ballinasloe in County Galway, where the surrounding areas have lost significant numbers of manufacturing jobs in the past decade. Many of the small towns and villages in that locality have been decimated by emigration. Many of the people who have gone have done well but many yearn to return to Ireland in the future. There is an onus on the Government in this regard, and I am glad to see it devoting such major attention to job creation. I have a number of family members in Australia, who are doing well, but some of them keep inquiring of me whether things are improving because they hope to return to Ireland to work in the future. One of the important points in the report is the significant change in age structure in the country. We could fast become a nation of elderly and very young people. There will be a lost generation if we do not accelerate the creation of employment.

Improvements in ICT and communications have brought about a much better situation than was experienced by people who emigrated many years ago. Family members overseas say they probably speak to parents and other relatives more often now than they did when they were at home. It is important that we keep that connection. I support the idea of having a Minister of State who would connect with emigrants and the Irish diaspora. I hope our Ministers will go abroad in the future and try to attract many of those people to return to fill key positions in companies here. I would especially like to see this connection between the Minister and emigrants who are faring less well than the well educated, highly skilled people who have emigrated. There are many, as we know, in communities in the UK and other parts of the world who have not been so fortunate and who have suffered from problems with drink and addiction, and all the problems we have at home. I am concerned that those people do not have the backup and services they need. It is important for them to have a Minister.

Our embassies are stretched but I would like there to be encouragement of a greater connection between our emigrants abroad and the embassies in those countries. I could not disagree with the suggestion about data collection. That should be much easier to do now because of technology. On votes for emigrants, there is a logistical issue and there are problems and difficulties there. I welcome the fact that there is a commitment to give emigrants a vote in presidential elections in the future. We can start from there and hopefully progress that further.

Ms Marie-Claire McAleer

There are many questions. I thank the members for their comments. The question on destinations that are English-speaking raise a very significant issue. In ten minutes it is very difficult to summarise a dense report, but one of the key issues that arose in the research was the need to promote foreign languages at secondary and third level so that Irish people have the linguistic skills to compete for work both nationally and internationally. An example was highlighted by an emigrant who said there are Irish people who have first-class business degrees who cannot take jobs in Ireland because they do not have the language skills. It is a very significant issue and is the reason many people opt for English-speaking countries such as Canada and Australia.

Emigration is extremely complex, as our summary of the key findings highlight. Many people go abroad to experience new horizons and access greater opportunities, particularly while young, but the limited employment options and the lack of opportunities at home were cited as the determining factor prompting their decision to leave. The question "What is an emigrant?" is interesting. The people who participated in this study regarded themselves as emigrants. Many said that if there had been work for them at home they would not be abroad, although some were more open to it than others. They felt there was a disconnect between Ireland and their experience as emigrants abroad and felt there needed to be a greater link between Ireland and its diaspora. They said it felt very much as though, when they were going, it was a case of "Goodbye and good luck," and nobody really cared what happened.

Deputy Smith touched on Irish networks and support. These were highlighted in great detail and the report found them to be of tremendous value to many emigrants. The GAA and the London-Irish centres were mentioned, among others. They provided not only companionship and networks of Irish friends, but they were also a great support for people in good times and in bad.

The Irish abroad unit funds some fantastic initiatives in host countries. I profiled one relatively new example, the Irish Canadian Immigration Centre, which receives seed funding from the emigrant support programme. The centre was established largely by people who had emigrated in the 1970s and came together to provide some support to immigrants. It provides very good information on how to adapt to the Canadian labour market, transform an Irish curriculum vitae into a Canadian résumé and prepare for the differences in the recruitment process in Canada, which has a different labour market from Ireland. It also provides crucial advice and assistance on visas, heath requirements and many other issues. Young emigrants described the service as fantastic but noted it would have been even better if this type of resource had been available to them before they left Ireland. There are many similar organisations receiving funding from the State. We recognise that an infrastructure is in place. The issue is to ensure we build on it.

Ms Mary Cunningham

Deputy Crowe asked whether providing information encourages people to emigrate. It is necessary to have a mature conversation about emigration and the shame that has been associated with it historically. We need to grow up in that regard and respond to the reality of the lives of young people. Emigration is a reality and people emigrate for positive and less positive reasons. We need to embrace it as it is part of the reality of young people's lives. What information do young people need to ensure they are well equipped before they go abroad? This point was highlighted by the assumption many emigrants made that their qualifications would transfer to their destination. They did not realise, for example, that it costs a significant amount of money to have one's qualifications verified in Canada. Those who do not receive sufficient financial support from parents or family members to complete this process can find themselves on the back foot.

On bank accounts, I do not know if members have tried to open an additional bank account here. Even when one approaches the same bank, it can appear that one does not exist as one must produce utility bills and so forth. This also applies in the United Kingdom in cases where a person seeks to open an account in the same branch of a bank where he or she has a bank account. Problems then arise because people cannot get an address or receive a utility bill until they have a bank account. Addressing this issue should be a matter for discussion.

Young people are also finding it very difficult to obtain a contract for a telephone because many of them do not have a credit history. Practical information on these types of issues would make life much easier for emigrants. We all have family members abroad. Even those who are well qualified are finding that life is not the bed of roses they had anticipated, particularly in Australia where the cost of living is crippling. While emigrants may not be living in digs, they often stay in hostels for long periods.

On Deputy Brendan Smith's point, many emigrants will ask what would be their first point of contact if they encountered a problem. For many of them, the first point of contact is not the Irish embassy but the local GAA club. That is not to detract from the excellent work being done by Irish embassies. Nevertheless, they could do more to reach out in a more proactive manner and make themselves available to young people, not specifically those facing a dire problem but simply letting people know they are available. The GAA network overseas has great strength and young people take with them from their home communities a strong connection with the GAA. One finds the young people from certain villages and towns often congregate in the same place abroad for the same reason. Young people left behind in Ireland will travel to X, Y or Z town in a foreign country because it is where people from their home town are located.

Ms Marie-Claire McAleer

I draw members' attention to some of the key findings at the end of the report. Ms Cunningham referred to the perception that people will walk into a job when in many cases it takes between six and eight weeks to secure employment abroad. The accreditation of Irish qualifications is a major issue. I am heartened by some of the members' comments in respect of establishing a dedicated ministry. One of the reasons for this recommendation was the representation of issues pertaining to Irish people abroad and the absence of voting. Incidentally, voting was not a major issue in our research and does not inform a substantive part of our policy agenda. However, many stakeholders have done substantial work in this field. I am aware from the Emigre study that there is significant support for extending the vote to emigrants in presidential elections.

The major issue we encountered was that no one at home was representing Irish youth who were living abroad. In that regard, no one is co-ordinating a policy response. Emigration cuts across a number of Departments. In such a vacuum, the appointment of a dedicated Minister would be a means of connecting with people abroad. The other issue is that we need young people to return. Many have indicated they are open to returning, with 39.5% of respondents stating they would like to return and 22% expressing the view that it was unlikely they would return but the decision would depend on economic circumstances. As one respondent stated, there is a window during which one may or may not return and the decision will depend on what type of attractions are available, what the State is doing and what their personal circumstances are. If we do not have data on the people leaving and do not know their profile or where they are going, how can we possibly attract them back if jobs become available?

To reverse the issue of providing information about work opportunities abroad, would it not be nice if, when an engineering position arises, we had information about an engineer who had emigrated to Canada and could e-mail him or her, asking that he or she consider returning? This option is not available without data.

The issue is one of building on current infrastructure, providing people with information and maintaining links with emigrants. I concur with the point that the most vulnerable emigrants need most assistance.

This committee, since its establishment, has focused heavily on the diaspora. It would be a little unfair to argue that the embassies are not doing enough as they do a great deal of work on emigration reform.

Ms Marie-Claire McAleer

I agree.

Ms Mary Cunningham

Yes, that is true.

I know it from my travels, as do other members, that our embassies and consulates general in Boston, New York, Chicago and San Francisco have good links with local GAA clubs. A delegation of the committee visited some Irish emigrant centres. Any time members have travelled abroad, the local embassy has arranged a function for us attended by many Irish people who have registered with them. They also use GAA clubs and other centres for emigrants.

The Government provides substantial funding to overseas emigration centres. The Emerald Isle and Aisling centres in New York and other centres in London receive funding. We visit these centres when we travel abroad because it is important to connect with the diaspora to the greatest possible extent. I give the ambassadors and consul generals a thumb's up for the work they do in connecting with the diaspora.

Ms McAleer makes a valid point on job vacancies. Connect Ireland has been a successful initiative aimed at attracting people abroad to come home and establish a business. While there is much that we can do, much is also being done. The resources of our embassies are limited and there is only so much that can be done.

I commend the National Youth Council of Ireland on the work it is doing and hope many of its recommendations will be taken on board in the review. I thank the witnesses for engaging in an energetic and lively conversation on the task facing the joint committee. Irish people living abroad are very important to us.

With Christmas coming, some members of the diaspora who return will not be going abroad again. The statistics are there - jobs are being created, the rate of unemployment is decreasing and some people are coming home. Clearly, however, there is still a significant challenge. The work being done by the National Youth Council of Ireland is valuable and we will takes its opinions on board. I thank our guests for attending.

Ms Mary Cunningham

We appreciated the opportunity.

As our guests can see, members are very interested in this issue. I assure our guests that we will continue to connect with the diaspora when we travel abroad. We will now go into private session and remain so until we adjourn. Is that agreed? Agreed.

The joint committee went into private session at 4.42 p.m. and adjourned at 4.50 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Tuesday, 17 December 2013.