Good fun as ever in Ireland yesterday, with a seminar on alcohol abuse with politicians and policy experts, a meeting with the See Change and Headline campaigns against mental health stigma, a tour of twitter HQ and then off to the Late Late Show.
Great to meet up again with retiring (in both senses of the word) Irish rugby star John Hayes, his wife Fiona, and our fellow guest, author Joe O’Connor. But the section of the show that made the biggest impression on me was the interview with members of the audience emigrating to Canada, and with Canada’s immigration minister, Jason Kenney, who is visiting Ireland and Britain to call on skilled workers to head West.
He did a good job selling the country’s appeal, but two things struck me – first, how refreshing it was to hear a minister making the positive case for immigration as an economic benefit. Second, how his analysis of Canada’s economy (on the day there was more good news on the jobs front for their bigger US neighbour) exposed the myth peddled by the UK government that our economic woes are uniformly shared worldwide, and that we are doing as well as other G8 countries.
So the minister put in a good performance. But the really powerful interviews came from those in be audience who had decided Ireland had nothing to offer them, and were taking up the offer to go to Canada.
The younger ones seemed really up for it, saying they would miss friends and family, but sensed a great adventure ahead, just as so many Irish people had in previous economically challenging times.
But one chat with a married couple from Limerick in their early 40s, with two young children and two old grannies they were leaving behind, was moving to the point of heartbreaking had interviewer Ryan Turbity pushed it further than he did. He asked the woman if she had ‘made peace with her decision’ and though the lips said yes, the eyes and and the body language said something else.
They will go, and everyone who watched will wish them well. But the mood sat very oddly with the decision of Time magazine to put Taoiseach Enda Kenny on its front cover this week, with the headline ‘Celtic Comeback’.
I hope it proves to be true, and that one day the couple from Limerick come back too. Forces beyond their control were forcing them to make a decision they never wanted to make and for all the minister’s friendly words about the warm welcome and good opportunities they will get, it was a sad encounter.
Meanwhile back in the UK this morning I skim read the pre Tory conference coverage and see the shambles of strategic failure as a group of random ministers make random points, and David Cameron tells us once more that because he owes a debt to the NHS he can be trusted with its future. He can’t, not least because the Hunt he has put in charge of it seems more interested in changing the law on abortion, and has still to explain why he did not want the NHS in the opening ceremony of the Olympics.