Saturday, 24 April 2010

Young, Irish And Out Of Here...

As the government continues to pump billions into our much discredited banking system, many Irish people unable to find work here are facing into a future outside of this country. John Downes, News Investigations Correspondent, spoke to some of the new Irish diaspora about their recent experiences of emigration...

By any stretch of the imagination, they were a startling set of figures, prompting echoes of a past which we thought we had left behind.

According to ESRI data released last week, we can expect net emigration of 60,000 in the year to this April – and a further 40,000 by April 2011. That's almost 1,000 of our best and brightest leaving every week.

Yet the ESRI's predictions are simply the latest – if most stark – indications of a return to mass emigration among Ireland's unemployed, as the downturn has continued to take its toll.

In September, for example, the Central Statistics Office revealed that Ireland witnessed a return to net emigration for the first time since 1995, with the number of emigrants increasing by over 40% to 65,100 in the 12 months to April 2009.

A significant portion of those emigrating were non-Irish nationals returning home. But the CSO figures, which are by now almost a year out of date, also suggested that a new wave of emigration had already begun among Ireland's jobless masses.

By last month alone, there were more than 433,000 people on the seasonally adjusted live register, reflecting an increase of 65,918 alone in the 12 months to March.

If the ESRI's predictions are correct, as many as 100,000 of these will have emigrated over a two-year period to April 2011.

So while the government continues to invest billions of euro in the banks via Nama, it appears that many Irish people unable to find work here are now facing into the prospect of having to build a life outside their home country.

Many are highly educated and are simply desperate to escape an economic downturn which has robbed them of a future on these shores. Others find themselves effectively stranded abroad and unable to return home due to a lack of job opportunities.

The Sunday Tribune spoke to some of these new Irish emigrants around the world, and asked the question: What now for this new Irish diaspora?

Michael Dennehy, UK - 'I had a couple of buddies living in Woolwich, London and they said there were jobs going... I had a job within three days'

One of Michael Dennehy's first moves after he lost his sales job in Cork last year was to seek out his contacts within the Irish community in London.

Within weeks, the 27-year-old was working in construction there while playing for the Cuchulainns GAA club based in south London. The link between the two was not entirely coincidental.

"I had a couple of buddies living in Woolwich, and they said there were jobs going. They had a house over here with five bedrooms, and only two of them in the house. I had a job within three days. One of the guys in the club had a construction business and he gave me a labouring job."

The work was very different from what he was used to, having worked continuously in the sales business since his late teens.

"I wouldn't exactly be Captain Construction, but it gave me a little bit of income and got me on my feet. It was ground work – anything from digging the ground to general labour – and I did it for a couple of months. It suited me fine at the start."

Since making the move to London, he has prospered, and now rents his own apartment in Islington.

More importantly, he has moved back into sales, working for a company which supplies the motor trade. It is a similar sales rep role to the one he had in Ireland.

"With the GAA I've made a lot of friends. I think if I hadn't had the GAA aspect I wouldn't have fitted in as well," he says. "You have people to go out socialising with straight away – there's a structure in place. You head out with the guys at the weekend. And obviously I got a job out of it too."

While he is enjoying life in the UK, and always had it in the back of his mind to travel abroad to work at some stage, he says he would more than likely still be at home if it had not been for the downturn here.

"There are good prospects within the company I am working for, whereas in Ireland I don't think there are any," he says."Eight or nine of my friends back home are unemployed, drawing the dole. A couple have gone to Australia.

"There isn't much happening at home, and nothing to go back for as far as I'm concerned. I talk to my parents and friends – they tell me there is nothing for me jobs wise."

"I'd say I will move back to Ireland more than likely, but it depends on how things are. I wouldn't move home just to go on the dole."

Derek Flynn, Dubai - 'If it had been different I would have loved to have stayed in Ireland and have a family'

It was in late 2008 that chef Derek Flynn (37) and his wife Angela first began to notice the tell-tale signs of recession-era Ireland at the small bar and restaurant they ran in Killala, Co Mayo.

They could see the business changing: customers were not drinking or dining out midweek, and the weekend trade became quieter.

The situation did not improve, and he looked into taking a lease on various other kitchens in the area. But rents were too expensive, and people still wanted "big money" regardless of the business downturn.

Just over a year earlier, the pair had jumped at the chance to return home from Dubai, where they had lived since 2000.

"The reason we went back was because Ireland was doing so well. It was great to be close to home again. my father is a farmer, so I enjoyed my time doing a bit on the farm again. In Killala, a small fishing town, working in the bar and restaurant was enjoyable and lively. Being home was what I wanted," he says.

The recession in Ireland put an end to all that, however. Last September, the couple moved back to the United Arab Emirates, where Flynn now works as an executive chef.

"Living away from Ireland does mean you miss your family an awful lot, but they come out to visit," he says. "It is a shame what has happened in Ireland and I hear from friends it's not really improving. It saddens me to think the government are not trying hard enough. Ireland was booming for years, and to think no money was put away for the rainy day, it doesn't seem right ? what are the government doing?

"If it had been different I would have loved to have stayed in Ireland and settled there to start a family. Schools are good here, but there are no rolling green fields for children to roll around in. I hope it improves in Ireland soon."

Pat Lowney, Canada - 'I just came at first for a year out and did not intend to stay for as long as I have done'

For engineering technician Pat Lowney (34) from Beara in Cork, the reality of emigration during a downturn truly began to kick in after he was made redundant from the local consulting firm in Vancouver where he had been working. It was the third round of layoffs at the firm.

"I first came to Canada in October 2007. I just came at first for a year out and did not intend to stay for as long as I have done. It was not a nice feeling to be out of work in a foreign country, especially when your visa depends on you being employed," he says.

"But the option of returning to Cork was not there, as the recession was far worse."

He eventually found more work with a firm of consulting engineers, which is involved with a multi-billion dollar road-building project called the Port Mann highway.

Despite having worked in both the USA and Australia previously, he found it difficult to settle into life in Vancouver at first.

He cites the "lacklustre nightlife scene" as one key difference, adding that it took him about six months to really "crack" the city.

As is the case for so many other Irish emigrants, key to this was the role of local Irish organisations such Vancouver's Irish Sporting and Social Club.

"I went to Gaelic football training and it took off from there. There were many nationalities at training as it was a downtown location. From there I met some fellow snowboarders and gradually built up my friends network," he says.

Lowney has no plans to move home at present, although he would like to do so eventually. This is because it would be "next to impossible" to secure a job in civil engineering here.

Instead, he intends to apply for permanent residency to give himself a more secure footing in Canada.

"I guess I'm stuck here for the immediate future but I could think of worse places to be... I miss family more than I miss Ireland. If I could meet with them every six months that would be ideal, but that's not possible: a flight home is about $1,300," he says.

"I have returned to Ireland to act as groomsman for one of my best friends' wedding. It was good to meet all my friends and family again, but all people said was 'stay where you are, boy, there's nothing going on here'."

David Joyce, South Africa - 'The quality of life here is so good and the country is truly beautiful. The only downside is the political situation'

'The weather is too good here. I was home last month for my sister's wedding and I was miserable with the cold, my friends in the construction industry on the dole, the flooding in Ballinasloe etc. One friend told me I was missing nothing, which was a bit chilling."

There are not many people who would leave a permanent, pensionable teaching job in Ireland during the depths of a recession.

But when David Joyce's South African fiancée could not get work here, he decided to do just that last September.

Originally from Lawrencetown, near Ballinasloe, Joyce now lives in North Riding, a suburb north of Johannesburg. He met his partner when they taught at the same school in London.

In 2007, they moved back to Ireland where he got a permanent post at a primary school in the village of Eyrecourt in Galway.

But work as a trainer with Fás and the local VEC dried up for his fiancée last year.

That, coupled with a 10% paycut for Joyce as a result of the government's pension levy on public sector workers, prompted them to decide that making the move to South Africa would be worthwhile.

He currently works teaching English to foreign students, which he enjoys in part due to the relaxed nature of the work.

"I couldn't get a job as a primary teacher unfortunately. It's tough to get work. Networking is everything down here, worse than Ireland even. If I didn't have a South African partner I wouldn't have a chance," he says. "On average, the working day starts earlier here, but everyone who can finishes early on a Friday [lunchtime]."

You can "never say never" when it comes to returning home permanently, but for now it is not on the agenda, Joyce says.

"The quality of life is so good and the country is truly beautiful," he says. "The only downside here is the political situation and the fact it is so far away from home, plus there is no security net for you if you fall which is very scary. If you fall, you fall hard in this country. That's why there are people begging at the traffic lights, blacks and whites. It makes you realise how wonderful the Irish welfare state truly is, no matter how much it costs."

Oran McGonagle, USA - 'I don't feel stuck in America but I definitely feel there is something pushing me away...'

'Coming from a small town in Donegal to living in a city like Boston is always going to be different... I would say the quality of life is better here, the drawbacks to that being that I miss my family and all my friends at home. But that is the price I have to pay."

Oran McGonagle (24), moved to the USA in June because there were "simply no opportunities in Ireland" for business and computing graduates such as himself.

Originally from Moville in Co Donegal, last year he took advantage of a new internship visa system which allows Irish graduates to spend up to 12 months working in America.

"When I finished my degree the only jobs available were ones where degree level was not required," he says. "Everybody was looking for experience and I could not get the chance to get any because of the downturn."

He now lives in an area of South Boston called Dorchester, where he works as an advertising and promotions manager for an Irish bar, The Banshee.

He found work relatively easily, he says, in no small part due to the recognition among American businesses that Irish graduates are of a high standard.

"Anyone I know who came here with a degree level qualification is doing very well for themselves and have opportunities for promotion," he says.

He says Dorchester, which has a strong Irish community, is "the way Ireland was before we had all the wealth. That community feeling is definitely alive in the Irish abroad.

"I have applied for a long-term visa now so I will not be heading back home in the foreseeable future.

"I don't feel stuck in America but I definitely feel there is something pushing me away from Ireland, which is a terrible feeling to have about your own country," he says.

"I feel Ireland needs to rectify the situation for graduates as quickly as possible. There are more and more young people landing in Boston every week.

"I was talking to an older emigrant who has been living here for years and he believes that the cycle has just begun again, from his generation coming here, to the new graduates landing. Which is a scary thought for Ireland."

Gina Galvin, Singapore - 'I looked at opportunities but there was very little choice... There was more of a pull to move abroad'

'Iwould like to return to Ireland for sure, I don't know when… [but] I would have to feel I am getting value for my money, for example buying a house should not be a frightening thought, taxes should be more attractive, public transport and roads should be improved."

When Gina Galvin (41) was offered the choice between taking redundancy or moving abroad with her company, TNT Express, she did not even consider coming back to Ireland and bringing her senior management skills with her.

There were simply not the opportunities for her here, while the price of property and the general state of the economy were other major disincentives.

"I looked at opportunities in Ireland but during the time of making my decision there was very limited choice, nothing in the salary range or in the same industry available, and nothing at the level I was looking for. There was definitely more of a 'pull' to move abroad," she says.

"I have family and friends in Donegal and all over Ireland and the feedback about returning was not good."

Having been based in Windsor in the UK for more than seven years, the Donegal native opted instead to relocate to Singapore last April, where her company now has its headquarters.

She currently works as a regional director for the company in the Asia Pacific region, and describes the change as "one of the best moves" she has ever made.

Among the major plus points for her are the low tax rates, the excellent 'ex-pat' social life, and the weather in Singapore.

"I do feel very sorry for the young trying to find work at home, especially my family and friends who have lost their jobs and there are no opportunities even on the horizon for them. Many feel insecure and have no confidence in the future," she says.

"In my opinion moving back to Ireland is a big risk. Everyone got greedy and prices increased, crime increased and there seemed to be no control over what was going on. I would like to move back to Ireland but I don't have great confidence in the economy nor am I willing to take the risk for a while yet."

Karl Stafford, Australia - 'I applied for financial work but ended up working as an orderly in the operating theatres of a large private hospital in Sydney'

'If I was to return to Ireland right now, I know there would be little or no chance of finding work in the financial sector. I don't know what I would do. I might consider doing a masters or something, I really don't know."

Dubliner Karl Stafford did not leave Ireland for Australia due to the recession – but the former AIB employee can't expect to return to a job in financial services here anytime soon.

Stafford (27) and his girlfriend Lydia Finnerty had been planning their round-the-world trip for a while before finally setting off on their travels in February 2008.

While there were tentative signs of a recession at the time, the sheer scale of what would transpire had yet to become known.

"We had decided we'd like to see the world before we got too old or too settled in our jobs. We planned a round-the-world trip which was originally six months in Asia, six months in Australia and six months in New Zealand and South America," he explains. "We both had a lot of savings and originally only planned to work in Australia for three or four months, then move on."

Stafford had gone straight into AIB after graduating college with a degree in international business and languages, and liked working there.

When they first arrived in Australia, they travelled around for a while before deciding to settle in Sydney.

"When I got to Sydney I started applying for financial work. But this was in the height of the financial crisis, and even though Australia didn't officially go into recession, businesses were very conservative about hiring people, especially people on working holiday visas," he says. "So I ended up working as an orderly in the operating theatres of a large private hospital in Sydney. Although the work itself was no fun, it was a great place to work and I made so many great friends there."

He is currently working on a contract basis for a large investment bank, and has a good mix of Irish, English and Australian friends. But he is aware that his options for returning home to Ireland are limited. His situation is further complicated by the fact that he can only stay in Australia if he is sponsored by his current employer. The clock is ticking for him as his current visa is due to expire in October.

"If I can't get sponsored before then, I'll have to leave Australia," he says. "I don't know if I'd stay here forever, I suppose if things picked up in Ireland and there were plenty of jobs a few years down the line then I would like to go back."

Aisling Reihill, New Zealand - 'I always wanted to go away. But I would have stayed at home if I had got a job'

When Aisling Reihill (23) graduated with a degree in physiotherapy from the University of Ulster last year, she already suspected the prospects of work at home were slim.

The British National Health Service was not hiring, and the situation south of the border was no better.

She arrived in New Zealand at the end of October and started work within a matter of days at a private practice based in Auckland.

Reihill says that one of the reasons the group chose New Zealand was because it is easier to be registered for work there than in Australia, where you usually need a company to sponsor your visa.

"I actually had the job set up before I arrived. I had got on the internet and sent my details to places which said they needed physios," she says. "There is a really good lifestyle here – the people are very laid back. It's a bit like at home. But there is also loads to do at the weekends, and, of course, there is the weather."

Since she and her friends arrived in New Zealand, several others from her class have followed suit.

Some of them have struggled to find work, however, amid increasing competition for posts.

"I planned to come out here for a year. I've been away six months and the job situation back home is not getting any better," she says. "I'm going to stay here for a year, and once I finish here, I can go straight to Australia, which I probably will do as the money is way better there.

"I'd say that, in the last year of college, I always wanted to go away. I don't know if that was because I knew the job situation was so bad or not. But I would probably have stayed at home if I had got a job.

"I definitely would like to move back home in the future but the jobs just aren't there at the moment."

Report - Tribune News.

See The New Zealand Report: How To Migrate, Live, Work Or Invest In New Zealand

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