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Column: Young Irish people are losing their voice and facing forced emigration

The surge of precarious and part-time employment, unpaid internships and false starts expose Ireland’s bad attitude to young peoples’ future. , writes

Rónán Burtenshaw

IN 1913, thousands of Dublin workers found themselves locked out of their workplaces for demanding recognition. As we remember the centenary of that great struggle it is easy to forget that it was an employers’ offensive, initiated from above to close off a section of society from security and opportunity.

Today we live in an economy that excludes young people from the protections of society and even the public discourse about our future. Youth unemployment, precarious work, unpaid internships, higher education fee hikes and grant cuts: the problems that unite the young in Ireland were not created by them. Nonetheless, these problems suffer inadequate attention and insufficient response. In short, we see a different kind of lockout – a lockout of young people.

Work and precarity

Ireland’s jobless rate is the sixth worst in Europe, while unemployment here hovers just over 30 per cent for those under 25. Overall unemployment would reach 20 per cent without emigration’s softening touch. A simple call for ‘jobs’ is not enough, however. The surge of precarious and part-time employment, unpaid internships and false starts expose Ireland’s attitude to young people’s work: not as a generational shame, but as a means of squeezing the young for a few extra quid.

We’ve seen the JobBridge ads for waiting staff, for valets, for housekeepers: unpaid work for an apprenticeship in stacking boxes. Even the rhetoric praising the conquering young entrepreneur is just another invitation to go and become someone else’s problem, to pin on lone individuals the shared, generational responsibility to plan for an uncertain future. Our work and our study should grant us the same rights and responsibilities as all others in Irish society. The young should not be asked to foreclose on their aspirations simply for coming of age at an inconvenient moment.

Forced emigration

If we are already barred from stable employment, we see the gates shutting upon the university as well. Slashed and severely delayed student grants, as well as third-level fee hikes, mean education is backsliding from a right into a privilege. We should not see this purely in terms of reduced job prospects, however. Too many young people find their education is about the fashioning of human beings into tools, to be used and discarded by employers. If that’s all that’s expected of youth here, it’s no wonder that they seek greener pastures elsewhere.

Irish society expects of many of us to leave. The refusal to shoulder the responsibility to provide for the needs of young people here – for affordable education, decent work and opportunity – makes it inevitable. Despite Michael Noonan’s blithe dismissal of emigration as a ‘lifestyle choice’, or Junior Minister John Perry’s claim that he knows youths ‘quite delighted to go’, the young are departing out of necessity—we are forced to emigrate, at the rate of two hundred per day.

Emigration is the most effective means of silencing youth, of preventing us from asserting ourselves. Our lives do not stop while we wait for more economically favourable times, while we are held back in fruitless internships or in exile abroad. And yet we essentially disappear in the eyes of Irish society. That too is part of the lockout of young people.

Break the silence on youth issues

The Lockout of 1913 was a moment when many realised that they did not have to face their problems alone. A century on, young people in Ireland should organise—to break the silence on youth issues, and to demand recognition. To accept the conditions of Austerity Ireland as an unbreakable ‘economic reality’ is to concede defeat to a future of insecurity, powerlessness and frustrated ambitions.

We invite anyone interested in these issues to a public meeting this Monday, the 29th of April, at 7.15pm in Wynn’s Hotel, to discuss how we can work in solidarity to tackle the challenges that unify young people across Ireland and across Europe.

Tell us how we can stay and fight.

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About the author:

Rónán Burtenshaw

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