Articles 2013

April / May 2013

Should We Panic?

by Stacey Dunne, website research volunteer

In recent weeks Ireland’s weather has been everything but ordinary. What does this unseasonal weather me, is the end nigh? The answer is no, not yet! Although, the recent cold snap has put people’s opinions about Global Warming and Climate Change back into focus, people are still divided and unsure of what exactly is happening to Ireland’s and our Earth’s climate.

Ireland’s climate can be described as a temperate oceanic, with mild, moist weather with a general lack of temperature extremes. The difference between our climate and our weather is time. Any countries climate is defined by a pattern of weather that expands for thirty years or more, with day to day changes in atmospheric pressure, rainfall and sunshine defining our weather.  It is evident though that the change in recent decades in our weather patterns is most likely an indicator of climate change. Are we going through a climatic shift?

Record floods and cold snaps have been more present in the last decade than in the last century. Our recent cold weather, however, can be explained as nothing but a weather phenomenon: In March the country was caught in an Artic phenomenon known as Artic Oscillation; cold polar air moved southwards towards the lower latitudes, resulting in below average temperatures being recorded throughout much of Europe – which in itself is not unusual. Sceptics of global warming, however, have used cold weather periods in the last few years to disprove that the world is actually getting warmer. This is simply not the case – the world is getting warmer. This recent occurrence of cold unseasonal weather is not so much a picture of what is to come due to climate change but more of a brief weather phenomenon.

What would Ireland’s future look like? With the warmest Christmas and coldest March on record in the last two years it is evident that something is changing. Climate forecasts suggest that in years to come there will be an increase in minimum winter temperatures over Ireland of about one degree Celsius in the period 2021 to 2050. This is then set to rise to about 2.5 degrees Celsius in the period 2071 to 2100. One might think that an increase in 1 degree is harmless, that is simply not the case.

Worldwide, an average increase of one degree across the entire surface of the Earth would mean huge changes in climatic extremes. Even if Greenhouse Gas emissions stopped overnight, the amount already in the atmosphere would still mean a global rise of between 0.5 to 1 degree Celsius. Terrifyingly, it has already been calculated that with such an increase fresh water would be eliminated from a third of the world’s land surface by 2100.  With rapid melting of the Arctic ice sheet occurring it seems that there is no way of reversing what has already been done.

Ice reflects 80% of the sun’s heat, whereas the darker depths of the world’s oceans absorb up to 95% of the solar radiation. Thus, ice-caps melt; freshwater is added to the ocean causing an increase in surface area in which solar radiation can be absorbed. Unfortunately, this is not the only threat that the oceans hold. Low-lying countries, islands and mainland coats will be preparing for extinction as sea levels rise by 2.5 foot by 2050. Islands across the world, especially in the Pacific, will simply no longer exist. Super-Storms such as hurricane Sandy, which struck the East coast of America last year, will become more frequent in occurrence, as the oceans water temperature rise. Further, such events will become bigger in size, force and above all impact millions of people living in populated coastal areas.

Of course these events will impact every country but how exactly will Ireland be affected? What has happened globally is mirrored by events happening in Ireland. Research shows, that Ireland has already started to warm by 0.128 degrees Celsius per decade in the last fifty years. In the case of Ireland, warming does not mean that the whole country will enjoy actual summer temperatures and even milder winters but instead a dramatic change in rainfall. Observed trends confirm that there will be an 11% increase in rainfall in the west of the country by mid-century. This increase will definitely affect the frequency of floods. A one in fifty years event will become, by 2050, a one in five years event. This will affect all people living near low-lying rivers and on flood-plains. Infrastructure will have to be built to cope with these drastic changes.

Summers in the east of Ireland are going to become drier, with an overall decrease in rainfall by 25-40%. Considering there are already water shortages throughout Dublin this does not bode well for the future as there are no alternative water resources for the eastern region as of yet. Though after the winter we have just had, longer drier summers in the east may seem welcoming, but there are many concerns. With a decrease in rainfall especially in August plants and vegetables such as potatoes will not be getting the water they need to grow. An increase in temperature and a decrease in rainfall with also result in stunted growth of grass. Consequences of this are severe. Animals, such as cattle would be at significant risk as it would be too hot for them to be kept outside and there would be a severe lack in food supply, as their food resource would be stunted. With ground saturated in the west and dry conditions in the east, the consequences for farmers and people of small-holdings are without doubt extreme.

Although Ireland will not feel the full force of climate change and global warming for another few decades we should be under no illusion that we will not be affected. The amount of food that is imported into the country illustrates this all too perfectly. Coffee, cocoa, chocolate, oranges and tea are all imported. The countries where all these products are produced are not immune to climate change and eventually production of these may decline or even stop. It is hard to say when this will happen but the main thing to understand is that it will happen and the world as we know it will change.


February / March 2013

Migrating Ireland – An Ever Moving People

Ireland is a land steeped in hundreds of years of history. Our passion for folklore, storytelling and music are unprecedented but so are our migratory patterns. Like an old flock of birds, it seems our population migrates towards warmer climates, whether it’s for one / two weeks or indefinitely, it’s no secret that if given the chance to be in the sun we will take it. Enda Delaney, an Irish Historian, describes Ireland’s migration as the historical tradition of “going away”. Personally I would like to team this with our historical tradition of “coming home”, something I will discuss later on.  Mass migration has existed here since the aftermath of the Great Famine and has continued in interludes since. Fortunately, famine hasn’t been the cause since then – but what has been?  One of the major contributing factors of migration in the sixties, eighties and in recent years has been the country’s economic climate.

Irishness is now a global brand, be it for good or bad, Ireland has been marketed as culturally innovative. Exporting music, Irish pubs, Riverdance, the marketing of craic and above all St. Patrick’s Day has occurred since the boom years of the Celtic Tiger. Today when people migrate to countries around the world, especially Australia and New Zealand, people they meet think of such stereotypes. This was not always the case, as was seen during the mass exodus in the 1980s when people who migrated, especially to England, were greeted with racism and violence.

Immigration into Ireland must be discussed when discussing outward migration. I believe for us to truly understand the real hardships and difficulties when migrating we must look at our own “welcoming committee”, The Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service. In comparison to the migratory patterns of Ireland in the 1980s, since early 2005 Ireland became one of the new working meccas where people, especially from Eastern Europe, came to find work. This was aided by Government programmes that tried to address shortage of labourers during the Celtic Tiger by enabling companies to employ non-EU Nationals. However, the work permits / work visas were time specific with the expectation that the migrants would return to their country of origin once their labour was no longer needed.

Whatever the reasons for migrating from Ireland, what is certain is that it has increased significantly in recent years, some startling figures conducted by the National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis (NIRSA) illustrate this. In 2008 just over 45,000 people migrated prior to the bank bailout. This figure skyrocketed since, with over 87,000 people migrating in 2012. As one might already know, Australia, New Zealand and Canada hold the most Irish visa applicants. At the end of 2011 alone, there were 15,874 working holiday visa holders in Australia. Emigration is so in the fore front of news today that the Irish Times website has dedicated a blog and news feed that solely deals with this topic. Named Generation Emigration, it is the perfect title and illustration of the times we live in. This site tackles various topics and emotions that come with emigration, reasons for and against the trials and tribulations of a loved one leaving their home.

With increased figures emigrating out of Ireland you would think that holding such an elaborate tourist attraction like The Gathering would bring people home – but do people want to come home to the Ireland of today? Reaching out to the diaspora has had both positive and negative consequences for the organisers of this major year-long event. When Gabriel Byrne, who previously served as the cultural ambassador for Ireland in the US, refered to “The Gathering” as a “scam” and “shake down” for money from the Irish diaspora, it ultimately called into question the main reasons for such an event. Is it truly to welcome “home” long distant relatives of the past or is it just an elaborate way to create an outburst of tourism in these harsh economic times? This is a question that I still ask myself and therefore cannot answer for anyone else; I can only express my thoughts.

This question needs to be asked as well – what about immigrants who are here alone, what is the process for these people to be once again reunited with their families? Can these people’s families not be a part of “The Gathering”? Section 18 of the Refugee Act 1996, states that only those granted refugee status (thereby excluding those who have been given leave to remain) can apply for family reunification for spouses or children under 18. The process involves a written request to the Immigration Service in Dublin. Through my research I discovered that there is very little help for people who cannot speak or write English thus making their application near impossible. In general, even contacting the Family Reunification Section seems unlikely as they are only available via telephone on Wednesdays from 10 – 12:30pm. At present there are no clear regulations regarding family reunification for migrants which also affects non-EU spouses of Irish citizens. If this was the process Irish emigrants had to follow in foreign countries I strongly doubt that we would accept it.

Either way, why should people come home? Thoughts and opinions I came across whilst conducting research was that people, especially in this recent exodus, blame the government for their migration. Not all migration is forced but due to decisions made by previous and recent governments people who have migrated may hold a grudge towards such establishments. Therefore, why would those people come home if they feel like that their exile was caused by the party who now wants them to return to this glorious Gathering? Also, can this gathering not incorporate refugees and immigrants waiting to be reunited with their families?

When it comes to emigration, I think the main and most serious question to ask is why should people come home when nothing economically has changed? Sadly, this is what it comes down to. All I know is that too many people I know have migrated because there just were no jobs and no other option. Until there are other options the country should not be asking tourists and distant relatives home. We should be creating opportunities for the people who did not want to leave their homes in the first place. Migration should never be forced, so before inviting people home we should make sure that people can stay here in the first place. And our experience of migration should make us welcome the people who have moved here from other countries and anticipate the arrival of their loved ones.