Saturday, 21 February 2009

Hard Times In Ireland...

'I moved from a three-bedroom house into a six-bedroom house. So I'm stuck'.

HARD TIMES: Dublin families who moved to the commuter belt in search of a better life are among those now queuing for a living...

IT’S AN eerily quiet midweek morning in Cavan town. Until recently, processions of lorries thundered through here at rush-hour and heedless streams of cars clogged up the narrow approach roads. Today, traffic glides through the town. The mid-term break from school means it’s quieter than normal, but local people say the long traffic jams have all but disappeared, even on normal weekdays.

Greg (47), a father of five, would welcome the quieter roads and the faster journey to work, except he’s signing on the live register for the first time.

He’s one of a swarm of Dublin migrants who sold modest properties in the capital and bought large, detached trophy homes in commuter-belt towns across the south of Cavan such as Virginia, Ballyjamesduff and Bailieborough.

Some, though, are beginning to question whether they made the right move: as job losses mount and property values plummet, many new arrivals find themselves saddled with hefty mortgages and shrinking bank balances.

“I moved up here for the change in lifestyle,” says Greg, who was laid off last month from insulation manufacturers Kingspan. “I had a three-bedroom house in Ballyfermot and moved into a six-bedroom house with one acre of land. So I’m stuck here for the moment.” He’s still figuring out how he’s going to pay the €1,500 a month mortgage while relying on social welfare as his sole source of income. He has a three-month reprieve from the bank for the time being.

“I’m worried about work, of course, but I’ve been temporarily laid off and hope to be back working in a few months. But I’m happy with the decision to move here. The kids love it, they have their own bedrooms, their own privacy. That’s been fantastic...”

And what of his neighbours, many of whom also traded up by trading out of Dublin?

“Most are surviving and getting by. Most are happy to stay. They don’t want to go back... in any case, you meet more people up here from Dublin than you would at home. Neighbours from Ballyfermot, the whole lot,” he jokes.

Some young people who moved with their families to the commuter belt as children are also finding themselves on the dole for the first time.

Aidan (21) moved up to Virginia with his family several years ago. He had been working as a retail manager in a supermarket in Kells, Co Meath, until a few months ago. “I thought the job was secure. Maybe I was a bit arrogant. I thought I was invincible against what’s happening. Everyone has to eat at the end of the day, but clearly not. It’s rough out there. I’m going to go back to college in September to do an arts degree.”

His friend Aaron (20), also from Dublin, is planning to go to college to try to ride out the economic storm. “I’m going to head back to Dublin, because the college is there. It can be very limiting here. The transport is non-existent in the evenings.”

Away from the drab social welfare on the edge of town, the signs of the recession are hard to miss.

An estate agent is advertising one-bed apartments for sale for €99,000, a 40 per cent price drop over the past year.
Up the street, construction work is starting on the warehouse that will house a new Aldi supermarket.

Over on the Dublin Road, a small crowd has gathered outside a timber flooring shop. On the window is a notice scrawled in black marker, which reads: “The following is a list of people who are very, very, very slow in paying their bills...”

Six names are on the notice, followed by the amount of money they owe, and the date the payment was due. Some of the outstanding bills date back three years and range up to €4,000.

“It these kinds of bills that are pulling businesses under,” says Owen Smith, the shop owner. “I’m standing up for small businesses. I’m not looking for anything that’s not mine. My back is to the wall and this is my last resort.”

Back at the welfare office, times are just as tough for a new generation of well-educated men and women who have only ever known good times.

Noel (26) ploughed his substantial earnings as a civil engineer into a house outside Cavan. Now, he’s faced with having to sell it to make ends meet. “I’ll try to renegotiate the mortgage. As I see it, the banks will have to agree. They’re the ones who should be carrying the can. If I made mistakes like they did, I’d be sacked.”

Colm (25), also an engineer, was laid off last week and is planning to do what previous generations have done: head to England.

“Young people here, they’ve got nothing. Lots are just sitting at home, doing nothing They can’t even get interviews,” he says with frustration. “That’s the way it is. Myself and a few friends will head across the water in a fortnight. There’s no other option.”

Report CARL OBRIEN - Irish Times.

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