Extending free travel to Irish emigrants

March 15th, 2005 | by aobaoill |

It’s a slightly out-of-the-way issue, but one I’m glad the Labour Party is addressing. Irish pensioners have a right to free travel on public transport, but people who have emigrated – and in particular those thousands who emigrated through economic necessity in the 1950s and earlier – are not eligible. The Labour Party is now campaigning for the scheme to be extended to them.
Irish citizens constitute the largest section of the homeless community in Britain. Many of those who emigrated will be able to make rare if any use of the service, but for those who can and do want to make a journey home I think this would be an appropriate (if still inadequate) gesture.
I was only growing up in the 1980s so my memories aren’t as strong as others, but I can remember the constant roll-call of factory closures, the numbers unemployed reaching ever record levels. One statistic shows, I think, the gap between the ‘old’ and ‘new’ Irelands. In 1989 the number of those who sat the Leaving Certificate – the terminal exam for second level education – was 58,500. The number of those who emigrated from Ireland in that year was 70,600. We did, it is true, have a certain amount of inbound migration too so the net migration is lower – around 43,900.
Think about those figures. Sure, a lot of older people, graduates perhaps, left, or whole families moved out. But in that year, as for so many years before, emigration – economic migration – was a very real entry in the short list of choices for many if not most school-leavers.
13 years later, in 2002, we had net inbound migration of 41,300. There’s still emigration but you don’t have the structural forced migrations of whole generations, year after year. In my case, for instance, I resigned a well-paying job in telecoms in order to pursue my graduate studies here in Illinois. Obviously, not everyone’s story matches mine, but for many migration is a choice, taken from a longer menu, rather than a destiny.
It’s in this context, with Ireland now one of the richest (if increasingly unequal) societies in the world, that we owe a debt to those generations who have gone before, those who through an accident of birth did not have the choices of others and who did not get to share in the ‘rising tide’ of the Irish economy. Obviously, I think, this solidarity should stretch wider than just our own emigrants, but it’s a start, and a bloody good one.
Read more on the Labour Party site and then write to An Taoiseach asking him to extend the scheme.

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.