Safe Home Ireland continues to provide practical information for returning Irish
The CEO of a charity which helps returning emigrants settle in when they arrive back in Ireland is hoping to increase its profile following a period of rebranding, writes Adam Shaw.
Safe Home Ireland, based in Mulranny, Co. Mayo, is an emigrant support service which offers advice and information for those thinking about returning home. This practical advice is available to anyone of any age around the globe and Kate McHugh, who heads the charity, wants more emigrants to realise what it’s about.
“Raising our profile is a challenge but we see it more as an opportunity,” she explained. “We’re really keen to get the word out so more people can know more about us and, hopefully, choose to make use of our services.” She explained that moving back home, or even thinking about it, is a huge decision and that it can often be a confusing experience.
“When you live abroad for a long time, no matter where, actually returning to where home is does require some sort of advice and information,” she said. “I lived in London for 15 years and I found that it wasn’t all that straight forward to return. I’d never worked in Ireland before, I’d never owned a car and moving back was a bit of an eye-opener for me.
“It’s like ‘where do you go?’, ‘what do you do?’ It’s about guidance at a very basic level and then for people who might need a bit of extra support to overcome certain challenges, we can also provide that.”
The charity was set up in 2000 after Dr Jerry Cowley was asked by several of his neighbours if there were any support schemes in place for their relatives abroad who were thinking of coming back to Mayo. A pilot project was set up and, as it gradually became more popular, the organisation was officially registered in 2001.
Initially it was to specifically cater for older Irish people living abroad but, 16 years later, it offers general advice and outreach support to anyone who requires it. ‘Older’ people – those aged 57 and over – are still able to benefit from additional assistance if they are eligible for housing support.
“We don’t provide housing, but we can signpost people to an agency provided they meet the criteria,” Ms McHugh said. “For someone to be eligible for housing through Safe Home, they mustn’t have the means to be able to buy housing themselves. We can still provide all the support but we won’t necessarily be able to help them with housing.
“And that’s not exclusively a Safe Home thing either; it’s a council requirement and a pretty standard practice globally.”
An increasing number of emigrants are choosing to return to Ireland, and last week The Irish World reported that for the first time in seven years, the number of people arriving in the country has overtaken the number moving abroad.
In the past year, 13,800 moved from the United Kingdom to Ireland – an increase of 3,400 from the previous 12 months. In the ‘Rest of the World’ category, 29,700 people arrived in Ireland, with just 16,400 people headed in the opposite direction.
However, Ms McHugh explained that it isn’t quite as simple as merely wanting to move back to your homeland.
“Any emigrant has the dream of returning home; it really is ‘the emigrant dream’,” she said. “It’s the same for all Irish abroad; part of you will always be attached to Ireland. No matter how long you’ve been gone, it will always form part of your identity.
“But while the dream is always there, the reality isn’t always possible.”
She noted how some people might feel perfectly settled in their new country, or how they might have met a partner, or had children, there. And, though it might be an extreme example, she compared the obstacles facing prospective returnees to those Syrian migrants have to face. Though not suggesting that civil war is comparable to economic uncertainty, she explained that “when they explore everything and assess all the options, they might realise that it’s better to stay where they are”.
“We would always encourage people to come back if they want to, but, above that, we would encourage people to really explore everything when they are thinking about returning,” she added.
However, she maintains that her organisation will help anyone and everyone who feels like it might be of use. This includes people who might have a non-Irish partner, those who were born outside of Ireland and those who might not have any remaining family in the country.
But it will only be able to achieve this if it focuses on its two key challenges of increasing funding and raising its overall profile.
“Funding is an ongoing issue and, to expand our services, it is a challenge,” Ms McHugh said. “It is more difficult in Ireland as well and, while smaller fundraising events will help smaller projects, newsletters and so on, it won’t cover the costs of delivering our services.
“And we want to help people every step of the way but to make sure we can give it to those who need it, they need to know we are there, before it is too late.”