WHILE I was growing up there was always a flurry of excitement when the monthly letter from Australia arrived. My mother’s only sibling, her sister Alice, had lived there from just after I was born. She was very dutiful and wrote home every fortnight.
The first letter went to my grandfather and two weeks later my mother’s arrived. One of her daughters was the spitting image of my grandfather. He was not a demonstrative man, but he puffed on his pipe and smiled until he glowed when we would remark on the likeness in the few photos so gladly received.
My aunt was a qualified nurse and had no bother being accepted for an assisted passage of emigration to Melbourne on a boat that took her to the far side of the world.
Of course, having relatives abroad was not unusual. Three of my father’s brothers lived in England, he himself had lived in Manchester from the age of fourteen in the unending search for “work”. In later years he would travel to Spain and to New York when things were despairingly grim in Ireland.
The story of Ireland, North and South, is tied to the story of Irish emigration. Generations of  economic, political and social expulsion of the country’s brightest and best. My own generation, leaving school in 1988, left in their droves, not out of choice but with no real economic choices on this island. During the 1990 Presidential election, Fianna Fáil candidate Brian Lenihan came to UCD, where I was studying. I went to the hustings to raise the case of Dessie Ellis, who was on hunger strike in Portlaoise, and was roundly booed out of the place by the Section 31 generation who occupied the seats, but I was there long enough to hear Lenihan asked about emigration and his response was that we were getting a great education to go abroad with. Brian Lenihan lost the election to Mary Robinson in an election that is often cited as a turning point in social politics on this island, but those remarks rang in my ears as they caused such little outrage.
Times have changed since then. There has been an economic miracle on this island and a transformation in social attitudes. However, there is a generation of young men and women who are still being forced to seek work abroad. Just like my aunt, the men and women whose vocation is in medicine are being forced by conditions and pay to look beyond their homes.
Every single student and newly qualified nurse and doctor will have had a conversation with someone about how they can earn better money in America, Dubai, Australia, just about anywhere. And work in far better conditions where they are respected as professionals, rather than abusable skivvies.
In the very reductive analysis of some people, the Executive was resurrected as a result of the actions of the nursing unions who pointed to the need for local administration. No-one who is being honest thinks that the core issues at stake in those strikes are resolved, or even close. Last summer saw 600 local nurses leave their careers, such is the strain they are under.
The health services across the island remain in disgrace, but no reform is possible while its workforce is booking a flight in despair and sadness.