Thursday, 19 August 2010

Mass Emigration Returns To Ireland...

Big move is abroad as market stagnates...

MASS EMIGRATION may be an unwelcome throwback to the past for many Irish people but for the removals industry the growing exodus of workers to far-flung destinations means business is booming once again.

Some of the sector’s largest firms are reporting dramatic increases in the numbers of people moving lock, stock and barrel to Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK. Most of these migrants are families who have cut their losses on property at home or are renting out their homes in the expectation of a return in three to five years’ time.

Last month, a report from the EU Commission showed more people were leaving Ireland than anywhere else in the European Union and commentators attributed these rising emigration levels to departing non-nationals and young Irish males in search of better job prospects.

But according to Eamonn Finn, of Allen Removals, the “overwhelming majority of clients are Irish families who have decided to move overseas permanently” to escape the deepening economic crisis at home. He claims he is moving five to six families a week and says more than 80 per cent of his business is now focused on “deep-sea shipping”.

It’s a radical turnaround from the halcyon days of the Celtic Tiger, when spiralling property prices meant overseas removals was a niche business.

Now it’s “our bread and butter” says Finn. “It’s not a business we would have chased in the boom times,” he says, but he concedes the resurgence in emigration has delivered a valuable lifeline to an industry that threatened to go the way of many other property-related companies .

Although the company has reduced its workforce, it is still going and, Finn claims, “we would have gone to the wall” without the rise in migration.

Aubrey McCarthy, managing director of AMC Removals and Storage, tells a similar story. “During the property boom, about 80 per cent of our business was in the domestic market and about 20 per cent was in exports. That situation has been completely reversed.”

He maintains the sharp increase in families leaving the country – AMC moves an average of seven families a week – has driven up profits at the firm and led him to expand his fleet.

Demand for storage has also jumped. According to McCarthy, many families will “put their furniture into storage and rent out their homes” before committing to a more permanent move. “We do have some clients who like to get a feel for a country first.

“They usually wait for three to six months and then ship out their furniture.”

But Deirdre Fitzgerald of Move Masters, a company that specialises in international relocations, warns that not all families find the grass greener on the other side of the world. While overseas removals now, in the wake of the property market crash, account for 85 per cent of her firm’s business, she points out that “two out of every five clients” decide to return home within a year of moving.

Moving to Australia causes the most serious adjustment problems, according to Fitzgerald, “The Irish tend to regard Australia as an easygoing country, with good weather and a booming jobs market.

“Then when they get there they discover the cost of living is too high, many of them end up double-jobbing and then return disillusioned. Unfortunately it means these families bear the cost of moving twice in a short period of time and of course they go through the trauma of moving children from one side of the world to the other and back again.”

McCarthy concedes that some families find the relocation to Australia and Canada – the two most popular countries for emigrants – “stressful” but points out that “today’s migrants are very different to “the panicked people” forced to leave in the 1970s and 1980s. “Back then,” he says, “many fled to New York and the UK with little more than a suitcase, whereas these days people are going further afield, they’re more educated and they’re wealthier because they have either sold or are renting out property here.”

While many may feel sad at this growing exodus, a return to the Celtic Tiger era, when mass emigration looked like it had been consigned to the history books, looks unlikely. A report issued by the Economic and Social Research Institute last month predicted up to 200,000 people will have left these shores by 2015.

Report by Gretchen Friemann - Irish Times

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