The Irish, it seems, can’t do without their motors — big ones at that. Move over, Los Angeles.
On the surface at least it would seem that the growing similarities between living pace in Ireland and the United States would make the thought of leaping back across the pond little more than a formality.
Today’s Irish, to rehash a saying from another time, have become more American than the Americans themselves.
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, as reported in this paper last week, is of the view that expatriates should seriously consider making the return trip as soon as possible if for no other reason than the dramatic changes in the Irish business landscape.
Bertie’s a serious man for the business. The opinion polls are suggesting that this might be at the expense of his politics.
Apart from the business landscape there’s the government plan to more easily extend planning permission for houses in rural areas should an emigrant return to the locality where his or her family is most rooted.
This effort to lure back emigrants is both flattering and practical.
It would be nice indeed to be welcomed home with a smile, the prospect of a good job and an approved blueprint for Southfork on the hillside.
But, of course, there’s far more to a return trip than just economic considerations, especially for those expatriates who have kids born in their adopted countries, or indeed for those who just plain like living in the place they now call home.
From a purely governmental view, the need to stoke the phenomenon of return migration is based on a revived tiger economy that desperately needs all hands on deck — and then some.
Two million pairs of hands are now engaged each working day in driving the Irish economy to the point where Irish people have the second highest disposable personal income on the planet.
This is precisely twice the number that was working in the Republic as recently as 1991.
The total population of the 26 counties, meanwhile, has reached the highest level since 1861.
As of April this year there were 4.13 million souls living in the Republic, about ten percent of them born overseas.
That was an increase of 87,000 or 2.2 percent over the same month in 2004.
The 2001 Northern Ireland census, meanwhile, had previously pegged the population in the six counties at 1.7 million.
People are pouring into Ireland from all over, most especially the newer European Union countries.
This influx of immigrants, unprecedented in the island’s history, is being augmented by a birth rate that is now well ahead of the death rate.
Yet even this is not enough. Hence the plea to the ex-pats, be they in Boston, Birmingham or Brisbane.
There’s a cold logic to the Irish government’s proclaiming the case for a return of lost natives.
There’s no immigration process to delay entry and clearly the returnees have a leg up on, say, people from Poland and Lithuania, two countries that are leading providers of eager young workers for the rocket-fueled Irish economy.
Of course, a combination of returning Irish and arriving Europeans is not the entire picture.
Not a few Americans live and work in Ireland and more are hoping to move there.
This — as highlighted in a recent Irish Echo report on the efforts of a young New Yorker named Carrie De Soye to live and work in Ireland — is not always a hope easily fulfilled.
Even possessing top-flight job skills and cultural familiarity, Americans have to battle their way into the 26 counties these days as much as the Irish have to battle their way into the 50 states.
The same goes for other non-EU and EU Economic Area nationals hoping to make a go of it in the new sod.
The former is the 25-member European Union while the latter is the same plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
Still, and despite legal obstacles, just about every nationality on earth is to be found in today’s Ireland.
An Irish government listing for work permit applications granted, renewed and denied for the first two months of this year reads like a global spread sheet.
China, India and Malaysia, the Philippines and the United States are well represented in terms of their share of permits issued and renewed, and, in a minority of cases, denied.
Not so high up the list are the likes of Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Mauritania, Nepal, Senegal and Vietnam.
But they are represented and are but a sampling of the far flung nations on the permit list.
Ireland, once a windswept island on the edge of the known world, has morphed into a pint-sized economic middle kingdom where — as reported last week in Irish newspapers — a 280 square foot “tool shed” jammed between small terraced houses in a part of the capital city once considered bottom of the heap now ranks as a desirable dwelling with a snap-up price tag of