People Are Still Choosing to Leave Ireland, Why Should They Stay?

Young people continue to leave the country in search of a better life, and who can blame them?

It’s no secret that Irish people love to travel, and our presence in the global diaspora is one to be proud of. Every year, young Irish sign up for J1s and jet off to the States or disappear for a few months to interrail across Europe. Others pack up and go for good, leaving the country to start families and chase dreams.

But at some point, Irish people stopped leaving Ireland because they wanted to, and began to emigrate because they felt that they needed to. The 2008 recession that sent shockwaves through the Emerald Isle was an obvious reason for young people to look to other countries for a more stable future. However, Ireland has since recovered, and the youth of the country continue to emigrate in steady waves.

In 2020, 56,500 Irish people emigrated in search of something better abroad. Over half of them were between the ages of 25 and 44, and nearly sixteen thousand of them were teenagers and young adults aged 24 and under. But why are they still leaving? And how can we convince them to stay?

It’s a good question, and the answer is multifaceted.

The most prominent factor can be found in the living situation, where a housing crisis leaves rent prices at unattainable levels and mortgages nothing but a pipe dream for young professionals. This month, grim findings from the Parliamentary Budget Office revealed that there has been a collapse in the number of young adults owning homes, with rent prices spiking almost 7% and leaving the average monthly rent in the country at €1,516.

The cost of housing has been regarded as ‘severely unaffordable’ by international standards, and though there are plans to build 26,000 new homes over the course of the year, prices show little sign of dropping – in 2018, The Guardian reported 30,000 homes sitting empty in the greater Dublin area.

Dr Rory Hearne from Maynooth has suggested that Ireland will face mass emigration if the government does not act soon, as Dublin in particular climbs above Paris and Rome for rent prices.

Irish folks are nothing if not resilient, however, and as the fight for better housing rages on and young people struggle to stay afloat, other reasons for abandoning their homeland swim to the surface.

One such reason; is a deteriorating nightlife, namely in the capital city. Recent years have seen a number of beloved Dublin nightclubs and bars lost to hotels and apartment sites, including The Tivoli Theatre, Hangar, and Palace, among others. Many have been pushed out and forced to find alternatives, such as the charming and longstanding Bernard Shaw in Portobello, which has since moved to Phibsboro.

Objecting to plans for a new hotel and retail outlet on South Great George’s Street, which would see the likes of Dame Street’s bar The Globe demolished and nightclub Rí Ra taken over, Greens Councillor Claire Byrne said there has been an excessive erosion of club culture in the city.

‘We are running out of places to dance.’

Meanwhile, clubs that remain soldiering on grapple with dating laws around club venues, as Irish legislation falls behind other European cities. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, clubs were limited by a 2.30 am closing time, forcing partiers into the streets mid-groove, whereas countries like France and Germany see their residents dancing till 5 or 6am.

The benefits are many; staggered amounts of people heading home which would slow the rush for taxis, and encouragement to pace out drinks so club-goers are safer and can enjoy themselves more, as opposed to hurriedly downing shots before its time to leave. Later closing times would see increased profits for clubs, which may incentivise lower entry fees, another sting for Irish youth who can pay up to €15 for a ticket into one of Harcourt Street’s bustling bars.

Though we’re known for our fondness of a session, it’s not only the drink and dancing that’s driving us abroad. A general lack of arts and culture in the country seems to be breaking the hearts of young Irish people, who are eager to experience the soul and vibrancy of cities rife with music, theatre, art and history.

Young Irish people on TikTok and Twitter frequently point out that there’s ‘nothing to do’ here, and those who don’t drink feel alienated as they struggle to find things to do and see in their local areas. Education plays a part in this too. Universities and colleges around Ireland have great cultural offerings, but studying isn’t always accessible. Ireland now has the highest student fees in Europe, with the number of students choosing to receive their education or engage in apprenticeships abroad having doubled over the last decade.

However, it isn’t all doom and gloom. The youth of Ireland are not ones to stay silent, and their calls for change across social media and throughout their peer groups and workplaces shines a ray of hope for their future. Give Us The Night, set up by venue owners, DJ’s, and professionals, is a campaign dedicated to refreshing Ireland’s nightlife and altering the current legislation surrounding closing times.

A memo that went to Cabinet in September 2021 set out a need for change, with Minister Helen McEntee committing to bringing Irish nightlife more in line with European countries, and suggesting ways to make it easier for theatres, galleries and museums to get an alcohol licence in a bid to boost creative spaces.

The general election vote of February 2020 showed that Irish young people are swaying the political game too, voting majorly left and citing the housing crisis and quality of life for young people as the reasons for their votes.

As far as what needs to be done, the Irish youth have been speaking up. They want culture and art in their cities, they want affordable housing, and they want a better education experience.

Is housing and happiness so much to ask for? We think not. In order to keep Irish people from disappearing, and to be able to welcome home those who’ve felt the need to leave, changes in these areas need to be made sooner or later.

After all, Irish young people are some of the best in the world – and we want to keep them!

Words by Aoife CodyKane

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