Amid the backdrop of increased numbers returning ‘home’ from abroad, a 71- year-old Corkman has described his relocation from London back to Ireland as brilliant’ after being reunited with childhood friends, Colin Gannon reports.
Last week The Irish World reported that Irish emigration had been outstripped, for the first time in a decade, by Irish nationals returning home.
Migration to the UK, Central Statistics Office (CSO) figures have shown, also fell from 12,100 to 11,400 in 12 months – the lowest it has been in a decade – as fears and uncertainty about residency status post-Brexit mount and as a post-recovery economic ‘boomlet’ takes hold in Ireland.
Bernard O’Sullivan, 71, returned to his native Cork City three years ago after almost fifty years living in the UK. A looming Brexit, however, was not a factor that played into his decision.
After spending a decade mulling over a move back home, O’Sullivan began his inquiries he after learning of the services of Safe Home Ireland – a charity that offers assistance and guidance to those Irish who are considering moving back to Ireland – from the London Irish Centre in Camden Town.
O’Sullivan spoke to Safe Home and, eventually, made his decision about moving home permanently.
Coming to this decision, he says, was not something he took lightly but said his age and the thoughts of reconnecting with old friends and family lured him back.
“You hear of all of the people who have gone and I said I’d have a crack – and I’ve no regrets, thank God,” he said, adding that the seamless process and experience was “brilliant”.
Safe Home provide four distinct services: access to social housing in Ireland for those aged over 57; crisis returns to Ireland for issues such as homelessness; information, advice and outreach; connections with friends, families and companions for those not seeking a return.
Safe Home, as with all housing applicants, placed O’Sullivan on a housing waiting list. He refused the first housing offer – citing an unsuitable peripheral Cork City location, referring to himself as a “city boy” – but was quickly amazed to be offered a place just miles from where he grew up.
“Lucky enough, this place came up and I couldn’t have been happier. Where I am now there’s four or five lads that hung around together as school kids with me,” he said. “You wouldn’t believe how good it is having friends around.”
Increase in requests
Safe Home – along with the Crosscare Migrant Project, whose services centre around information provision and advocacy – say there has been an increase in contact queries, requests and assistance in recent years.
Safe Home saw their outreach visits increase by 70 per cent in 2017 compared to the year previous.
Crosscare do not provide a relocation service while Safe Home have returned over 2,000 people back to Ireland from the UK, US and Australia among many other countries.
Housing applications, which sees the charity work in tandem with local councils’ social housing departments, rose 16 per cent during the same period. Based on current projections and contact levels, Safe Home predict a further increase in “contacts, applications and connecting” for 2018.
Karen McHugh, Safe Home Ireland’s CEO, told the Irish World that uncertainties and concerns relating to Brexit has impacted conversations they have with prospective applicants. Of the housing applicants for 2017, 91 per cent were UK-based.
Quantifying the Brexit vote’s effect on Irish people in Britain, McHugh says, is difficult, but admitted that “interest, awareness, concerns and confusion about Brexit” now arise in “every conversation”.
“[Many] feel very uncomfortable with Brexit and what it means and how it developed in the first place; the anti-immigrant spin by the media, I suppose,” she said.
“It was all about migrants – and the Irish are migrants, despite sometimes thinking we’re not in that box.”
A representative for Crosscare said that, through their emigrant service partners in the UK, they, too, have become aware of “understandable concern” in relation to Brexit but that, “in practice, this has yet to materialise in a noticeable upswing in Irish emigrants contacting our service citing Brexit” for a return.
As with Safe Home, rejoining friends and family remains the primary motive for return. According to figures obtained from the Department for Work and Pensions, an estimated 1,000 more people emigrated from the UK to Ireland in 2016 than the year previous, totalling about 6,200.
Guidance The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFA), who work closely with and fund such organisations, also provide “guidance and advice to a number of people seeking assistance when returning to Ireland, including in emergency or crisis circumstances”. After three years, O’Sullivan feels right back to home.
He, unlike some, had no problems adjusting to life in Ireland. Safe Home have a holistic approach to relocations, helping applicants in every step of their move, but some struggle.
O’Sullivan does not regret his time in England, working as a driver, labourer and in demolition. In latter years he worked for Haringey Council.
“I finished up living in Crouch End which was absolutely brilliant. I couldn’t have asked to have lived in a better place. I was there for 12 or 13 years. Beautiful flat, beautiful everything,” he said, noting that the time was simply right to return.
O’Sullivan admits that he probably would have struggled and “gotten upset’ making arrangements for tax, welfare, TV licence, and is forever grateful to Safe Home for their work.
“You wouldn’t believe how grateful I am. I can’t thank them enough, actually. They are absolutely outstanding.”
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