Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Spinning A Bleak Yarn

At present, it is estimated that 200,000 people are out of work in Ireland.

We're back to the 1980's, trumpets Eamon Gilmore of the Labour Party. Things are that bad, he'd like you to believe. You remember those wretched days, don't you?

What Mr. Gilmore fails to mention is that those 200,000 people without jobs in the 1980's were the few unemployed who actually stayed in Ireland. The rest got on planes and left.

The 1980's were grim times, but no worse than the decades before when Ireland exported workers by the boat load. There were no jobs to be had. If Mr. Gilmore wished to paint a complete picture, he might include the emigrants in his jobless count, to present a more accurate portrayal. The real figure would be 200,000 out of work, plus how many tens of thousands who would be out of work if they hadn't gone job-hunting in other countries.

Twenty years later, the workers who left for sunnier shores are enjoying new lives in America or England or Australia. The parents they left behind are alone in their old age, worried about how they'll take care of themselves with all the children gone abroad. Mr. Gilmore's assertion that the 1980's are back is directed at them.

It's as bad as the 1980's, the Labour leader says, and the voters look around their quiet houses and wonder what the grandchildren might be doing. It's the 1980's out there in the economy, Mr. Gilmore proclaims, and the voters worry that they'll end up in a nursing home in a few more years if their health doesn't hold out.

With Brian Cowen about to don the mantel of An Taoiseach, the soon-to-be-former Prime Minister Bertie Ahern would like to remind those same voters that the economy is still growing, albeit more slowly, and no one said that in 1983. The nation doesn't need new building programs to generate jobs, and the government doesn't need to cut spending in other areas so that money can be channeled into school construction.

There was marching in the streets in the 1980's, Mr. Gilmore noted. No one's marching these days. Back in the 1980's, they were upset about the lack of employment, but they were more upset that the only other option was to emigrate. Mr. Gilmore may not have noticed, but Ireland's been importing workers for several years now, and no one can say that about the 1980's.

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