Or to put it another way, it the majority are leaving now for lifestyle reasons then why weren't they going for similar reasons back in bubble years?
My own interpretation, and I'm a glass-empty kind of guy, is - if true
- this is a vote of no-confidence on the country.
When people left for "lifestyle" reasons in the boom, well, you were leaving Ireland with its boom for, likely, another country in good times. If it didn't work out, there was always the plane back and likely a good job waiting here. So, not a risky proposition.
Now, my intuition
would say that with a recession the numbers of people leaving jobs to move to another country should drop - or stay the same at the very most. Sure, tax is going up and spending is going down - some might have to leave in order to earn extra cash to service debts/mortgage - but a person would be and is moving to countries where the labour market has in general tightened up. If a person moves outside of the EU, then it's a case of temp working visas and looking to extend or somehow get sponsored.
A person leaving behind a job, then, for this kind of uncertainty - even if a job is lined up for them - is taking a much bigger risk. Also bear in mind that benefits/entitlements will probably be denied to them if things don't work out and they have to return (a fact that might not be that all well-known). It would take a lot of guts, for me at least, to leave a job and take the "lifestyle" route.
Taking this into account, then, I'm surprised that the percentage could be this high. If the numbers are true, it's a bit of a kick in the teeth for the country and government. If the numbers are wrong, then how wrong must they be? It does seems impossibly high.