What happens when the plane lands? Irish emigration success stories – do we listen to them?

By Susan November 21, 2012 16:35

What happens when the plane lands? Irish emigration success stories – do we listen to them?



Ten days ago I was at the IIBN Annual Global Conference. And my, what an event. Now that the excitement from the event has settled, it’s time to take stock and review the experience.

This is when the excitement comes back in waves…

It was an incredibly high-energy experience. To give you an idea, at the end of the conference, IIBN’s founder took the stage for parting words. He asked who, after the conference, would be doing business with somebody they had met at the conference?

Everybody in the room put up their hands. Everybody.

“Business Beyond Borders” was the theme of the event, and it truly reflected its spirit. It wasn’t just a buzzword or lofty ideal, but instead a fantastic exhibition of what the Irish business community globally are achieving. It accurately described people’s actual experience of doing business across the world, as Irish people. Nobody commented about borders or weak economic conditions constraining business.

Over the course of a very, very busy day, I didn’t hear the word “recession” even once. It simply wasn’t in the attendees’ lexicon. Of course current economic conditions formed the background against which they had to work, but their business activities and wider microeconomy were to the forefront.

People weren’t just speaking about success in business, but about success coming to and out of Ireland.

There was a real sense of what the Gathering could be, for example. Obviously, there has been a lot of talk about the Gathering could be, might be, should be – in both positive and negative manners. Yet, if the energy and results of the Conference were anything to go by, the Gathering could really be a special year in Ireland’s economic recovery. Instead of focusing on what we can get from the diaspora, I think the focus should be on what can we do for them.

It confirmed something I had been thinking about for a while. We hear the heart-rending stories of people waving goodbye to their family at the airport because they can’t find a job in their field, or because economic conditions leave them no other choice: they have their backs to the wall.

However, do we hear at all about people that are leaving Ireland, not because they have to, but because they are well able to take advantage of opportunities, wherever these opportunities happen to be in the world? And could it be – it is my dearest hope – that those who are forced to leave Ireland actually find a wealth of opportunities waiting for them?

I met several people that day working in the buzzing city of London and enjoying it all, because they want to. And for them, making the move, temporarily at least, had always been on the agenda as a choice.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m in airports all the time and I see only too plainly the overwhelming evidence of “generation emigration”. It is a truly awful, heartbreaking consequence of economic conditions, and I really hope the tide turns again soon. But I don’t think it’s accurate to say that they are all going because they have to.

Irish business abroad is truly thriving. Why do we never hear about the success stories? And perhaps it could help those forced to emigrate, if they knew and trusted that, when the plane lands, they can tap into rich resources to make their way in foreign lands.

Indeed, Mark Hennessy of the Irish Times announced from the stage that he was very open to hearing good stories, but they were difficult to get. Looking for stories of Irish success is like looking for the leprechaun’s pot of gold. It’s elusive.

And still, there I was at the conference, surrounded by Irish people doing business internationally, some of the companies employing hundreds, even thousands of people.

Is it because there is something deeply suspicious of success in the Irish psyche? Is it that, if you do something well, a lot of people will put you down? Alternatively, is it the case that, as Irish people, we don’t want to be seen boasting about ourselves, even if it would be to the benefit of the economy at home and abroad?

Remember that 65,400 people left the country between 2005 and 2006, when employment opportunities and income generation was available in abundance in Ireland – were they part of “generation emigration” too?

In the 21st century, we live in a global village and the world truly is our oyster.

If we keep believing that everybody who walks through derpartures in Terminal 2 does so because they have to, we will only see forced emigration and that is impossible to bear. But I’ve seen the other side of the story, and things are looking very good indeed for Irish businesses abroad.

Let’s give them all a reason to come home next year, not just to be recipients of their money. We can well afford to be a proud nation, in many, many ways.


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By Susan November 21, 2012 16:35