Emigration is ‘lifestyle choice’, says Noonan
Emigration is ‘lifestyle choice’, says Noonan

The 26-County Finance Minister Michael Noonan infuriated the Irish public on Thursday when he described emigration as “a choice of lifestyle”.

He rejected reports that thousands of young people are being forced to leave Ireland because of joblessness.

“There are always young people coming and going from Ireland,” he said. “Some of them are emigrants in the traditional sense, but simply there are people who want to get off the island.”

Mr Noonan’s comments came as the country entered into a fourth year of soaring emigration, with around 40,000 Irish citizens expected to leave to the likes of Australia and Canada this year alone.

Padraig Mac Lochlainn of Sinn Fein said it was outrageous that Mr Noonan had even mentioned lifestyle choice while talking about emigration.

“My own constituency in Donegal has been destroyed by emigration. There was a reunion of 40 people from Inishowen in their 20s at Christmas and only four of them were living there. The vast majority were living overseas,” he said.


Noonan’s apparent gaffe sparked a storm of criticism by emigrants and their families, and brought renewed attention to the coalition government’s failure so far to deliver promised jobs.

Earlier this week, the government was criticised for failing to pursue options for job creation with officials from the ‘troika’ -- the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund -- who are providing ‘bailout’ loans to the 26 County State and enforcing an austerity program.

Officials from the troika held a succession of meetings this week with Opposition parties, including Sinn Fein, and with groups representing business, employee and social interests in the country.

Speaking after a party delegation met officials from the three international bodies, Sinn Fein finance spokesman Pearse Doherty said his party had been left with the impression the government was not actively pursuing an agenda of tapping available resources, such as the National Pension Reserve, for job stimulus purposes.

Mr DOherty said Sinn Fein had also reiterated its strong opposition to the austerity measures and argued that the obligation to repay bank debts was placing a massive financial burden on the State.

In a related development, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has warned the planned new Eurozone treaty would surrender further control of Irish fiscal and budgetary matters to EU officials and would impose “drastic and destructive” austerity on the people.

“It is an austerity treaty. It is bad politics and bad economics,” he said.

The coalition government remains reluctant to hold a referendum on the treaty, with Fine Gael Minister Leo Varadkar declaring this week that the people would have a say only if a referendum was legally required -- and suggesting it was not.

Sinn Fein’s deputy leader, Mary Lou McDonald said that “no matter what advice the government gets from the attorney general on the final draft of the treaty; and no matter what caveats the government secures in that draft, it is absolutely imperative that the people are allowed to have their say.”


Meanwhile, Sinn Fein and the United Left Alliance both blasted the government for moving to sell state assets in response to the ‘Troika’ demands.

It was confirmed this week that a list has been drawn up of state-owned companies recommended for sale as part of the bailout conditions, including Bord Gais Energy, Coillte, and the Dublin Port Authority, as well as the state’s stake in the Aer Lingus airline and its share of the ESB (Electricity Supply Board).

Richard Boyd Barrett of the United Left Alliance, said there was an “aggressive push” to sell the assets to private interests.

“Job cuts will follow the privatisation of State companies, because their new owners will want to bleed them dry for maximum profit,” he added.

Ms McDonald said that selling off successful self-financing commercial state companies made no sense in good times or in bad.

“Instead of flogging off the last of the state’s wealth for a quick buck government should make commercial state companies part and parcel of the solution to creating jobs and delivering growth,” she said.


Protests are mounting against the government’s austerity regime. Last week anger erupted over tax collection letters sent to pensioners around Ireland in regard to the taxation of their state pension. Since the start of the month, tens of thousands of pensioners have been shocked to find themselves suddenly liable for thousands of euro in tax. Some those who were distressed to receive the cash demands were not actually liable for any additional tax.

Other controversial austerity plans revealed this week are a plan by the Health Service Executive to close hundreds of public nursing home beds and acute-care hospital beds.

It was also revealed that the new government is planning a new “broadcasting charge”, which will apply to every household, regardless of any viewing or listening by its occupants. The charge is expected to be incorporated into the new household charge, alongside the new water tax, from 2014

The rapidly expanding household charge is facing growing resistance. Socialist party TD Clare Daly said she was very optimistic that history books would record the household tax as the turning point for Irish people, when they got up off their knees and said “enough is enough”.

Campaigners are planning a series of countrywide meetings as they step up their campaign in the coming weeks, as well as a national poster campaign, door-to-door canvassing and the delivery of some 250,000 newsletters in their bid to encourage people to boycott the tax.

Householders are supposed to register and pay the 100 euro charge before the end of March. The campaign, with the slogan “Don’t register, don’t pay” aims to build mass non-registration before St Patrick’s Day.


And in a hopeful sign that the government is not totally immune to public opinion, the Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn has reversed an attempt to impose major cuts on schools situated in disadvantaged areas.

The removal of 428 teachers from those schools in the DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) programme provoked an immediate outcry, but Quinn quickly described the decision as a “mistake” and ordered a review of the plan.

Despite the rapid u-turn, thousands of protesters gathered outside the Department of Education on Thursday to demand a complete, irrevocable reassurance the cuts would not happen.

Marie O’Grady, with children in St Enda’s Primary School in Whitefriar Street, said children there would not make it to secondary school or college without such supports.

“Our children don’t have loans with banks. Our children don’t have property developments. Our children don’t play golf. So why do they have to pay for the mistakes of bankers and developers?”

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