Irish Deputy Prime Minister Eamon Gilmore, in town to open a new settlement centre for the latest flood of Irish immigrants to Canada, was looking forward to toasting St. Patrick at the end of the day with a spot of Ontario red wine.
In two tiny rooms jammed with brogues and shamrocks, Gilmore put a brave face on the brain drain that has robbed Ireland of 100,000 people in the last two years.
“They’ll be back,” he said. “That’s what happened in the ‘80s.”
In the meantime, Ireland is kicking in $80,000 to help fund the new Irish Canadian Immigration Centre for the more than 10,000 mostly young, skilled Irish immigrants fleeing 14.8 per cent unemployment for a year or two in Canada on working visas.
“We have two responsibilities to young people,” Gilmore said. “To create opportunities in Ireland for those who choose to come back and to let them know we do not forget them and we give them government support while they’re here.”
John Heffernan is counting on that.
“Of the 10 lads I know back home, five are gone in the last two months,” the 23-year-old said seven weeks after emigrating from Tullamore to Toronto.
“I see myself staying for a few years.”
Eamonn Moloughney is here for however long it takes.
The 29-year-old civil engineer arrived in Toronto three weeks ago with a first-class honours master’s degree in architecture, engineering and construction that meant nothing.
“If I had my first choice, I’d like to stay home in Ireland,” he said en route to brunch with friends, followed by a pub-free afternoon watching the Ireland-England rugby match.
“The employment centres recommend you just get out of the country.”
He was working as a lifeguard or gym instructor to pay the bills and found himself competing with 500 other candidates, some with 18 years experience, for entry-level engineering jobs.
In Canada, he’s already had a job offer in northern Alberta and another good part-time prospect in Toronto.
Irish immigration to Canada has been climbing steadily, up in April 2011 by 45 per cent over the previous year to 40,200 as economic calamity followed the Celtic Tiger boom years of 1995 to 2007 that transformed Ireland from one of Western Europe’s poorest countries to one of its richest.
“Our economy is growing this year for the first time in four years,” said Gilmore, who’s quick visit was largely to encourage investment and trade ties with Canada.
“We are on the road to recovery.”
Meanwhile, Canada is happy to help the Irish find the road out, expanding the working visa quotas for Ireland this year, from 5,000 in 2011 to 5,350.
“There is a large and growing labour shortage in Canada,” federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said at the centre opening. “There is a dire need.”
As well as those federal visas, delegations from Saskatchewan, British Columbia and Alberta have gone in recent months to job fairs in Ireland armed with hundreds of provincial visas.