Published in The Irish Examiner, September 27, 2002
IN THE SUMMER OF 1973, I drifted off to sleep on a cold concrete slab, listening to a scratchy Oriental sing-song melody. Part of 72 hours in a mock POW camp in Colorado courtesy of Commandant Nguyen Tan Dong.
In the summer of 2002, I slipped in and out of sleep atop a well-used mattress pad on a cold concrete floor, listening to a screeching pop music melody. Part of one night in Mount Joy Prison, courtesy of Chief Officer Egan.
The two episodes have interesting parallels. As a POW in '73, I was blindfolded inside a small cage because I refused to sign papers. Inside The Joy, I stared drowsy at a blue-white fluorescent ceiling because I didn't have proper papers at Dublin Airport.
The Joy's evening welcoming committee of Burke, Weldon and Kelly ("The Handsome One") locked away my Nokia 9210i and Palm m505. Class Officers Durkan and Gallagher ran out of mattresses in the "Liam Lawlor Wing" where I stayed with two Lithuanians, a Brazilian and a Romanian. There was no floor space for David Cranny from Sandyford, in for a short stay on an outstanding bench warrant.
Since 9/11, all direct entry points to the US have to show the INS they are clamping down on arriving passengers. Detective Garda Michael Walsh has done this, by deporting me, among others.
Irish immigration authorities will produce record annual numbers. This newspaper provides details of Garda sweeps for illegals and documents cases of undesirable aliens.
It is irrelevant that I am on a one-year unpaid career break from a permanent position on a third level ICT lecturing staff. It doesn't matter that I carry an NUJ card, own land in Kilkenny, pay a mortgage, vote in national elections, meet all tax obligations, and represent Irish technical issues at industry events.
I didn't intend to fall into this unwelcome status, but my inattention to detail caught me out. I failed to note an expiration date. I failed to present myself at a local immigration control point. Detective Sergeant Martin Donohue saw no option but deportation.
In 1898, the McAuliffes from Clare settled in St Mary's Parish, the oldest Catholic community west of Philadelphia. I grew up there, among 4m other Irish-Americans in Pennsylvania. But I haven't lived stateside since 1986.
I came to Ireland at a time when the tech boom of the 90s mandated a constant flow of qualified workers. I passed freely through the Republic's regional airports with a laptop on my shoulder. I mingled with dozens of returning emigrants, Irish-Americans like me who could trace their roots to the post-Famine State.
Today, family ties don't matter, if they ever did.
I wonder how Ireland's enthusiasm of turning away foreigners will play in sustaining Irish growth. The raw numbers of applicants to third level ICT courses have declined. The number of students opting for computer courses as their first preference almost halved from more than 10,000 last year to just 5,000 in 2002. This dramatic fall in applications has prompted employers to warn of a skills shortage of 3,000 IT professionals over the next 5 years.
Microsoft's Human Resource Director, Mark Keane, knows trouble looms ahead for Ireland's ICT Ireland forum, "The number of software engineers is not yet a crisis, but we are building one in the long term."
IBEC points to glaring inadequacies in Ireland's infrastructure. Without constructing projects in the National Development Plan, Ireland will remain mired in Third World conditions of transport and rural communities will face longer periods without essential services.
Labour costs have escalated for these projects. Mihai Hoyda, a talkative Romanian who jabbered away the early morning hours, gestured passionately with hands calloused by two years wielding a jackhammer. Like some builders, he worked on the black side of the Irish economy, constructing social housing and building industrial parks along the Southern Cross in Bray.
After three years, trying to get an Irish work permit, Hoyda was ousted to Romania. On his way out, he wondered aloud why Ireland "cuts her face" by "putting out her people."
Eight years ago, I landed in Rosslare as a tourist. I decided to stake my claim as a returning Irish emigrant. I developed professionally during the ascendancy of the Irish tech industry. My payback to the Irish people continues as I get my personal documents back in order.