14 October 2011 No Comments by The Northern Standard

Last week’s Global Irish Economic Forum in Dublin Castle could be interpreted as putting a positive spin on emigration.
It presented the vast numbers of Irish people, and people of Irish descent, who reside abroad as a major resource, hitherto untapped in any systematic way, that could be deployed to help generate this country’s economic recovery.
Many excellent ideas were advanced over the course of the weekend, and the slick presentation of the event and its celebrity heavy guest list conveyed an impression of up-and-at-’em adventurism in the face of adversity that was very revealing of how our current Government wishes itself to be perceived, more so internationally perhaps than in the eyes of domestic consumers.
We assume the EMU and the IMF were suitably impressed – and, despite the occasional orchestrated overdoses of “is feidir linn-ism”, several sound strategies did emerge from the onslaught of sound-bytes and life coach philosophising that gatherings of this nature always generate.
The problem with conferences and forums on economic recovery is, of course, delivery.
Co Monaghan and the wider Border region has played host to a succession of smaller-scale but similar events to the Dublin Castle think-in over recent years, both before the downturn and in its aftermath, and as admirable and stimulating as many of these were, it is very difficult to chart a connect between the aspirations they espoused and positive practical impact upon the economic fortunes of our local communities.
The Global Forum would appear to face one formidable difficulty in achieving its aims.
The prosperous, entrepreneurially acute element of our diaspora is no doubt predominantly well disposed towards its native place and keen to see its economy resuscitated.
But our brightest and best abroad are also striving against the adversity created by what is virtually a worldwide decline, facing challenges of their own that will in many cases severely limit their capacity to buy into the rescue plan for ‘the oul’ country’.
And it must also be remembered – and stressed to the many young Co Monaghan people planning to leave the country at the present time in search of education or employment opportunities elsewhere in the world – that the Irish experience of emigration is often a very harsh and disillusioning one.
For every Irish person who achieves highly abroad, there are many who do not prosper. There are substantial numbers of our people living in very reduced circumstances in England, for example, who have grown aged and infirm but who do not receive much in the way of attention or practical support from the country of their birth.
If the plight of these people received any attention at last weekend’s forum, it was certainly not a foreground feature of the event.
And yet their experience is a cautionary and highly relevant one.
We do live in an age where revolutions in communications and ease of travel provide certain safeguards against isolation or abandonment for the modern diaspora.
For some, the opportunity to study or work abroad offers real rewards, and a rich potential dividend for this country in the future should they choose to return and put their enhanced learning and skills to productive use here.
But these opportunities appear confined to certain age groups and skill sectors, and even the most tempting must be prey to the profound uncertainties of the world’s economic climate.
Emigration remains an uncertain pathway to embark upon, and the many from our county considering it through choice or necessity at present should have a very clear roadmap of strategies and supports mapped out for themselves before they venture on the journey.
There are still many reasons to, in the words of the Bob Dylan song, “…pity the poor immigrant/who wishes he would’ve stayed home.”

Such is the ballyhoo over who will win the current X Factor contest for the Presidency that it is easy to forget that the Irish people are being asked to vote on two extremely important referenda on the same day as the Presidential Election, October 27.
The issues at stake in these votes are not as attention grabbing as the Aras race, but they are arguably of much greater importance.
We are being asked to make two changes to the Constitution, both of which, if passed, will confer greater powers on the Oireachtas – to reduce the pay of judges in one instance, and in the other to conduct inquiries into what are defined as “matters of general public importance”.
The amendment in relation to judges’ remuneration appears the more straightforward, but is perhaps deceptively so.
At present the Constitution protects the pay of a judge from being reduced during their continuance in office.
The Government is seeking an amendment to allow it to treat judicial remuneration in the same manner as public service pay and make judges subject to pension levies and other charges which at present do not apply to them.
Prevailing public sympathy may not be disposed to protect the judiciary from such measures at a time of rampant austerity, but the amendment can be seen as impinging somewhat on the territory of judicial independence. The people should give some measured thought to such implications before determining how they should vote.
The amendment relating to inquiries is more provocative.
If this were passed, the Oireachtas would be empowered to determine of itself what matters should be subject to such a procedure, and in exercise of this power would be enabled to make “findings of fact” about the conduct and behaviour of individuals.
This would seem to confer a very powerful, and very onerous function, on the Oireachtas, and the implications raise issues about political and judicial function and what their parameters should be in a parliamentary democracy.
Questions are also provoked about the rights, particularly in terms of representation and procedure, of individuals and groups who might find themselves the subject of such inquiry in the future.
Indeed, complex questions lie at the heart of both referenda.
In light of the importance of what we are being asked to decide, we would urge our readers to familiarise themselves with the literature being distributed at present by the Referendum Commission.
We would also respectfully suggest to our politicians to disengage themselves from the presidential canvass for a period sufficient to debate the issues at the heart of these proposals with the depth and seriousness they deserve.
For very little time remains for them to assist the public in making what are potentially far-reaching decisions on the powers wielded by the Dáil and Seanad.

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