Since you read last week's Sunday Tribune, another 1,000 people have left these shores unsure whether they will ever return

The rate of unemployment is around 14%. Youth unemployment is tipping towards 25%. The workforce is well-educated. At the upper echelons, an elite class is insulated from any hardships. Sound familiar?

Those facts pertain to Tunisia, but they are equally applicable to the Republic of Ireland. The prevailing circumstances are ripe for major social unrest, and that is exactly what happened in Tunisia in the past fortnight. Vast swathes of people decided they were mad as hell and weren't going to take it any more. To a large extent, the popular uprising which saw the despotic president flee the country was led by disaffected youth.

Middle East watchers are now saying that events in Tunisia may well set off a domino effect in the Arab world. Youth unemployment is a growing problem, and the old order is rapidly failing in its attempts to keep a lid on boiling passions.

There are serious cultural and social differences between Ireland and Tunisia, not least that we have an established democratic system in this country. In 2009, Tunisia went to the polls and the incumbent president – who has now fled – received 86% of the vote. Ireland's last election was in 2007, when everybody, and particularly the young, were living in a different country. The quality of democracy has come under the microscope in the past few years. Who voted to saddle this and future generations with the debts of Irish and European banks? Was there any proper debate about the merits and morality of socialising the debts of developers?

No, our democracy is not all it's cracked up to be, even when measured against that of places where the universal franchise is a more recent phenomenon. The real difference between the disaffected youth of Ireland and Tunisia is that the former has easy access to the great escape hatch – emigration.

Ireland has the tradition, the links, the language, and the reputation. Its young people have wandered out on the world for years, and, on the whole, they have – to borrow a phrase from Finbarr Furey – represented d'oul country massive.

Now, we've slipped back into the sour groove. Once more, the country cannot provide for itself, so it falls to those with the least stake to take a hike.

According to the ESRI forecast last week, up to 60,000 will have left in the year to next April. Another 40,000 are expected to go in the following year. Back in 1989, at the peak of the last recession, the numbers emigrating hit 44,000, albeit from a smaller population than today.

This is why the unemployment figure won't climb up towards 20%. This is why the anger of disaffected or idle youth will not manifest itself in social unrest. The anger leaves with them, and over time, on the streets of the cities of Britain, Europe, North America and Australia, it will, in many cases, be distilled down into plain old bitterness.

Emigration has been a friend to Irish governments for decades. De Valera pretended it didn't exist. Maybe it was too painful for him, this keening manifestation of all that was wrong with his vision for the country.

In the 1980s, it was a godsend. "After all," Brian Lenihan Snr, Tánaiste at the time, opined, "we can't all live on a small island."

Last February, Mary Coughlan couldn't help articulating her relief at the easy access to emigration enjoyed by those who are regarded as excess to requirements at home.

"We have a lot of people – young people – who have decided that they will go to other parts of the world to gain experience," she told the BBC.

"I think the type of emigration that we have... it's the type of people that have left have gone on the basis that... they want to enjoy themselves. That's what young people are entitled to do." Truly, the woman hasn't a clue.

Like all who governed before her, Coughlan must be relieved that all that anger is now somebody else's problem. A lid has been kept on any potential for social unrest emanating from angry young men. Nothing for you to do here, now please move along.

Little consideration is given among the elite to the loss of energy, imagination, brain capital and potential leaders of tomorrow. When those with the most do get up and go, it's inevitable that what's left behind develops along conservative lines. There is no place for radical thought in such a society, even at times like now, which cry out for a new way forward.

As for the emigrants themselves, they are far better equipped than those who went before them. In the first half of the last century, the Irish were largely uneducated and from tight rural communities. They were thrust into the cauldrons of developing cities, where some survived, some even prospered, but many were unable to adapt.

The great waves of emigration from the 1980s were peopled by emigrants better educated in all ways. They had grown up expecting to leave, and harboured hopes of one day returning.

Today's emigrants were reared on a legitimate expectation that the country would provide them with work. They, and particularly their parents, really believed the past was a different country. As for any expectations of returning, those who know their history must be contemplating whether it will continue to repeat itself in this country as both tragedy and farce.

At the height of the bubble years, some found the bling distasteful, the national hubris misplaced, the endless talk of property unbearable. But at least the scourge of emigration had been stopped. Now, as last week's figures demonstrated once more, that achievement was not a benchmark on a nation's road to destiny, but a hopeless mirage. Now, the hatch has opened again and the scramble is on.

Since you read last week's Sunday Tribune, another 1,000 people have left these shores unsure whether they will ever return. By the time you read next week's edition, another 1,000 or so will be gone.