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The Changing Face of a New Ireland

“It isn’t so much that hard times are coming; the change observed is mostly soft times going. ” ~Groucho Marx

     I write this article from Bolivia as I´m currently travelling South America for a couple of months before I move to Australia for a year. I´m one of the lucky ones. I left a good job in Public Relations by choice and not out of necessity. I wanted to see the world, experience different cultures and meet new and interesting people.

     Some of my contemporaries have not been so lucky. Those who aren´t on the live register are either working minimum-wage jobs not related to their field of study or have taken it upon themselves to work as an intern in a bid to get a foothold in an industry of their choosing. To an American reading this article it probably makes sense for a graduate to work as an intern in order to make progress in ones career however internships are a relatively new phenomenon in Ireland and the government Internship Scheme-JobBridge- has come under fire for exploiting graduates who are expected to work for an extra €50 a week on top of their social welfare benefit. The issue is not so much the internships, as the types of internships which are being advertised. Some of the “internships” being advertised are positions which require some years experience e.g. News Journalist/Current Affairs Producer, Accountant, etc. This interference in the jobs market will undoubtedly have negative consequences, creating a culture whereby, in order to forge a career one must work for almost nothing.

 The Celtic Cubs* as they were known have never really known what it is to want. Ireland went into the 90´s as one of the poorest countries in the European Union and emerged the equivalent of Donatella Versace- rich, gaudy and not necessarily the better for the face-lift.  A large majority of my generation expected to go to a good university, expected to graduate with an honours degree and expectedto be head-hunted out of university by a top firm which would start them on a minimum salary of €30,000.

The recent decline of the Middle Class in Ireland since 2008

I´m certain there are Irish expats reading this who left Ireland in the 80´s out of sheer necessity with the ambition for a better life. To them this generation reared on social media, cheap Ryan air tickets and a free third-level education must seem ill-equipped for the real world which has scant regards for your dreams or expectations but will keep on turning whether you lie in the gutter or keep making your way to the top.

 Much has been made of the ´Puerte del Sol´protests in Spain, the copious similarities between the Spanish and Irish fiscal situations and the wildly different responses from the respective nations. There is so much anger in Ireland at the moment- at the government and at ourselves – it is difficult to see how we, a nation with a history peppered in revolution and protest, have seemingly done nothing and meekly accepted our penitentiary lot as meted out by the IMF.

 Traditionally Ireland is not a country known for its apathy or for being apolitical. This is not necessarily reflected in the electoral turn-out; however politics is a hot topic of conversation across all age groups.

 During the boom years, electoral turn-out was quite low. Tellingly, the most recent general election in Ireland (February 2011) had the highest electoral turnout since 1987 when Ireland was also in the throes of an economic recession. Why is it that we turn up in our droves to vote when the damage has been done, when it is clear that there is no quick-fix solution to be had?

 However changes are taking place. They are taking place quietly, without fanfare or drama and these changes – instigated by ordinary people- will be the steps upon which Ireland regains her foothold.

We The Citizens is an independent national initiative which is currently exploring the benefits of new ways of public decision-making. In May and June 2011, there were seven citizens events held throughout the country the purpose of which was to generate dialogue between cross-sections of society.

Presented with topics such as “Imagine an Ireland which exists for the common good. What does that Ireland look like and how would you implement it”. I attended the Cork event which was thought-provoking and caused me to re-examine some of my views. The anger from people was palpable but it was anger with a purpose. The resulting atmosphere was one of realistic positivity. Everybody knows the solutions to our economic crisis are long-term ones however any solution is better than none at all. At the time of writing, the results of the citizens´events are being compiled in order to demonstrate the benefits of a deliberative democracy model to Ireland.

Hireland goes above and beyond the parameters of the government JobBridge Scheme which is largely aimed at recent graduates and excludes a huge number of unemployed professionals whose skills will become obsolete the longer they remain out of work. Hireland aims to create 10,000 jobs in Ireland through obtaining pledges from small and medium-sized businesses. The fact of the matter is, there are vacancies for skilled people in Ireland however the vast majority of employers simply cannot afford to recruit as they are barely staying afloat after paying out on overheads. The aim of Hireland is for employers to think creatively in order to recruit. This could mean a number of small businesses coming together to create a job for one person e.g. an accountant who would do the accounts for each business, freeing the respective owners up to focus on ways to expand their businesses.

 As a Public Relation Professional, I have come across a substantial number of small to medium-sized business owners who, in an effort to cut costs, have taken on a colossal work-load which in many cases costs them more in time and energy than it ever would in financial terms. For these people, the premise of Hireland is one which could change the direction of their businesses for the better.

 Similarly, I came across numerous people who having lost their jobs, used their redundancy money to set up new businesses. These are the people we need. We need those who see opportunity in a negative situation and who have the uncanny ability to create a silk purse from a sow’s ear.

 I recently came across an anonymous quote; “The survival of the fittest is the ageless law of nature, but the fittest are rarely the strong. The fittest are those endowed with the qualifications for adaptation, the ability to accept the inevitable and conform to the unavoidable, to harmonize with existing or changing conditions.”

 I don´t want my generation to be remembered as the tigers who had their claws pulled. The tiger is an endangered species where we will survive. We will be remembered as the generation who adapted, who created opportunities from a seemingly hopeless situation and who, like the chameleon, managed to survive in inclement environmental conditions.

*The term Celtic Cubs refers largely to the middle-classes.

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