7:04am

Sat December 21, 2013
Parallels

Once Again, Irish Youth Are Leaving For A Better Life Overseas

Originally published on Sat December 21, 2013 5:10 pm

Sharon O'Flaherty is riding the bus to Limerick, a no-frills city in western Ireland. She's going to see her dying grandmother this Christmas. She hasn't been home in two years.

"I was working for a company for five and a half years," she says. "I got made redundant, and couldn't find a job at an equal level. So the options were immigration, and it was basically take your pick: Europe, Canada or Australia. So I chose Australia."

The 29-year-old now works as a recruitment manager in Perth.

"I have a mortgage in Limerick, being rented out, that I bought in the recession, and it still has dropped another $50,000," O'Flaherty says. "I'm sitting in negative equity, working in Australia, to pay a mortgage in Ireland. It's not a desirable situation."

It's also not uncommon. Ireland ended its dependence on bailout loans last weekend, the first euro zone country to do so. As eurocrats in Brussels celebrated the Irish success story, leaders in Dublin declared that unemployment was finally dropping, especially for young people.

But the drop has more to do with the exodus of Irish people in their 20s and 30s.

Piaras MacEinri, a migration expert at University College Cork, says more than 70 percent of people who have left Ireland since 2006 are in their 20s.

"They're just drawing on a very long, embedded tradition that, if things were bad, you just get out, you move on," MacEinri says. "Of course, in a globalized economy, your debts follow you."

The Irish have been emigrating for hundreds of years — through famines, wars and economic depressions.

The latest exodus began after the property market crashed in 2008. Ireland needed bailout loans — but the loans came with drastic spending cuts.

Stephen Kinsella, a senior lecturer in economics at the University of Limerick, says Ireland is now recovering slowly after the bailout but that many people are still drowning in mortgage debt and are facing a tight job market.

He says his students realize that — and that's why up to 80 percent of them are planning to leave.

"My generation was the only generation that didn't have to emigrate," Kinsella says. "I think it's a sign, a sign of something important in the structure of our economy, that the only time we were able to prevent mass emigration of our youth was during a construction bubble."

The government is encouraging students to go into growing sectors such as technology — people like Chris Kelly, who lost his auto repair shop in the recession. He's now 30 and majoring in technology management.

"To get any sort of a job now, you need a degree in something," Kelly says. "So I decided to return to education and hopefully sharpen my skills."

Others, like 20-year-old Stephen McGuinness, are sticking with traditional skills like carpentry. He knows he can't get a job in Ireland — the industry has hit rock bottom — but he's heard that Australia is eager to hire Irish woodworkers.

"You go out there, they're looking for people to work in construction work on farms," he says. "It's just what we'll do. It's a job, at the end of the day. If we have to travel halfway across the world, we have to."

Many students on the University of Limerick campus say they plan to leave for Australia, Canada or even Dubai.

But not Sean O'Meara, a 20-year-old studying Irish music and dance. He likes to play nostalgic songs on his guitar.

O'Meara is an optimist, and he says that after the pain of the crash, Ireland can only go up.

"I'd like to go abroad to experience it, but I don't think I could move away," he says. "I'd be a bit homesick, you know?"

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Ireland formally ended its dependence on bailout loans last weekend - the first eurozone country to do that. Bureaucrats in Brussels celebrated the Irish success story; leaders in Dublin declared that unemployment is finally dropping, especially for young people. But reporter Joanna Kakissis found the picture may not be so rosy when she spoke with young people in the city of Limerick.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Sharon O'Flaherty is riding the bus to Limerick. Her grandmother is dying and she wants to see her this Christmas. She hasn't been home in two years.

SHARON O'FLAHERTY: I was working for a company for five and a half years, and I got made redundant, and couldn't find a job at an equal level. So, the options were immigration, and it was basically take your pick: Europe, Canada, or Australia. So, I chose Australia.

KAKISSIS: The 29-year-old now works as a recruitment manager in Perth.

O'FLAHERTY: I have a mortgage in Limerick, being rented out, that I bought in the recession, and it's still has dropped another $50,000. I'm sitting in negative equity working in Australia to pay a mortgage in Ireland. It's not a desirable situation.

KAKISSIS: It's also not uncommon, says Piaras MacEinri, a migration expert at University College Cork.

PIARAS MACEINRI: Because, of course, in a globalized economy, your debts follow you.

KAKISSIS: MacEinri says more than 70 percent of people who have left Ireland since 2006 are in their twenties.

MACEINRI: They are just, I suppose, drawing on a very long embedded tradition that, if things were bad, you just get out, you move on.

KAKISSIS: The latest exodus came after a banking crash in 2008. Ireland needed bailout loans, but the loans came with drastic spending cuts.

STEPHEN KINSELLA: I'm Stephen Kinsella. I'm a senior lecturer in economics at the University of Limerick.

KAKISSIS: Kinsella says Ireland may be free of those loans, but many people are still drowning in mortgage debt and facing a tight job market. He says his students realize that and that's why up to 80 percent are planning to leave.

KINSELLA: My generation was the only generation that didn't have to emigrate. And I think it's a sign of something important in the structure of our economy that the only time we were able to prevent mass immigration of our youth was during a construction bubble.

KAKISSIS: The government is encouraging students to go into growing sectors, such as technology. It's also offering back to school grants to people like 30-year-old Chris Kelly, who lost his auto repair shop in the recession.

CHRIS KELLY: To get any sort of a job now, you need a degree in something. So, I decided to return to education and hopefully sharpen my skills.

KAKISSIS: Others, like 20-year-old Stephen McGinnis, are sticking with traditional skills like carpentry. The construction industry has hit rock bottom in Ireland after the property market crash, but he's heard that Australia is eager to hire Irish woodworkers.

KELLY: You go out there, they're looking for people to work in construction work on farms. And it's just what we'll do. It's a job, at the end of the day. If we have to travel halfway across the world, we have to.

KAKISSIS: I spoke to at least 20 students on the University of Limerick's campus. Most said they planned to leave for Australia, Canada or even Dubai.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KAKISSIS: But not 20-year-old music student Sean O'Mara.

SEAN O'MARA: Well, I thought about going maybe for a couple of months, but nothing in the long-term really. I'd like to go abroad to experience it but I don't think I could move away. I don't know, I'm a bit of home bird. I'd be a bit homesick, you know.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KAKISSIS: He's playing a song on his guitar that would make you a little homesick if you were Irish. Sean is an optimist, and he says that after the pain of the crash, Ireland can only go up. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.