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Ireland: Gentrification of a Nation

• December 12, 2013 • 7:51 PM

Civic Offices of Dublin City Council. (PHOTO: YVONNEM/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

The term is selectively applied, depending on personal politics, and obscures much more pressing problems.

Functionally, the exodus from Ireland and the gentrification of San Francisco are the same problem. Residents can’t afford to stay put. The government encourages the economically struggling to leave home:

Youth groups and opposition parties accuse the government of a policy of state-sponsored emigration, which is being dubbed “The Scattering” – a play on the name of Dublin’s “Gathering” tourism initiative to encourage the Irish diaspora to visit Ireland. …

… Dublin rejects criticism about forced emigrations, saying all foreign job opportunities advertised are voluntary and no one will lose their benefits if they do not apply for an overseas job. But the letters raise questions about the basic fairness of its response to the crisis and highlight how a generation of young people with little hand in causing it are now bearing the brunt of the clean-up.

One in four under 25 are unemployed and emigration has reached record levels, with 75,800 people aged 15-44 leaving last year. Tens of thousands of others who bought properties in the housing boom are struggling with sky-high home loans, negative equity and mortgage arrears.

Children have also suffered, with the percentage of under 17-year-olds living in consistent poverty rising from 7.4 per cent before the crisis to 9.3 per cent in 2011.

“The negative social and economic impact of emigration is not recognised here. The government only sees it as a way to save money on welfare and imposes policies forcing people abroad,” says David Gibney, of the youth wing of trade union Mandate.

The only difference between forced emigration and gentrification is the side of the displacement equation.  The Irish suffer diminishing income. San Franciscans flee skyrocketing real estate. Realistically, neither party can afford shelter without public assistance.

I’m loathe to compare leaving one’s native country to relocating downmarket. But home is home and I’d rather not lord over everyone with my personal social justice hierarchy. In terms of economic displacement, there is no reason to have a special focus on gentrification.

Refugee or economic migrants? Teasing out who is a legitimate refugee is tricky and hotly contested. Were Jews Political Refugees or Economic Migrants? Assessing the Persecution Theory of Jewish Emigration, 1881-1914 (PDF):

The timing of Jewish migration, like that of other migrations to the New World, responded to economic conditions. Jewish migration was particularly influenced by the health of the United States economy, perhaps because of its role as a financial constraint on migration networks. The single most important factor in the growth of out-migration rates from the Russian Jewish community was the size of the Jewish population in the United States. The path dependence or chain migration suggests that religious violence had both short- and long-term effects. Not only did migration notably increase in the years after anti-Jewish riots but the migration path was thereafter modestly higher due to the larger stock of Jews living in the United States.

One scholar can point to a pogrom as a reason for leaving. Another scholar demonstrates how the economic attraction of the destination pulled the migrants there. Gentrification is even more muddled and confused. The term is selectively applied, depending on personal politics. The gentrification hubbub obscures more pressing problems such as urban jobs that don’t pay enough for people to live close enough to staff those positions. Instead, we get treated to the tired story of scapegoating newcomers. That is to say, refugees aren’t welcome. They are gentrifiers. Stay out of Oakland and Australia.

Jim Russell
Jim Russell is a geographer studying the relationship between migration and economic development.

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