September 30, 2012 4:45 pm

Ireland’s emigration highest for 25 years

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An anti-austerity protest in Dublin©Getty

Outside Croke Park stadium in the centre of Dublin a day before the all-Ireland hurling final, young people are queueing up to get inside. They aren’t seeking tickets, however. Instead, they are attending a jobs expo, where most hope to secure a position with a foreign company and leave the country.

“Virtually all my friends have left to find work. Some are in New York, Toronto, Australia and London,” says Tommy Flynn, a 24-year-old civil engineering graduate who can’t find a job at home.

Irish emigration chart

Irish emigration chart

“I sent out about 60 CVs in Ireland and got very few replies. I may try Canada,” he says.

The latest emigration data provide a stark reflection of the economic crisis facing Ireland. A record 87,000 people left the country in the year to April, up from 80,600 a year earlier.

Young people aged between 15 and 29 are worst affected with 182,900 in this age group leaving to live abroad since the crisis struck in 2008.

Almost a third of 15 to 24 year olds, who grew up during Ireland’s Celtic Tiger boom when highly paid jobs were plentiful, are out of work and even those with jobs have seen their wages slashed.

“People are voting with their feet either because they can’t find work or the only jobs they can get are precarious and there are better opportunities abroad,” says Brid O’Brien, head of policy at the Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed.

For 25 to 40 year olds, huge mortgages and negative equity are a poisonous legacy of the property crash. Money problems are forcing adult children to move back into the family home with 91,000 of those over the age of 30 living with their parents.

“Everything that could go wrong is going wrong. The public sector is cutting jobs when the private sector is pulling back investment and small businesses face a credit crunch,” says Ms O’Brien.

Dublin implemented a recruitment embargo in 2010 covering most parts of the public sector in an effort to tackle a budget deficit, which in 2011 was the highest in the EU at 13 per cent. It plans to cut the number of people working in the public sector by 37,500 to 282,500 by 2015 to meet targets in its international bailout.

“Almost no new graduate will land a permanent teaching job this year. The average wait for a permanent job after qualifying is eight or more years,” says Art McCarrick, a 25-year-old graduate living in County Cavan who qualified in June as a history and geography teacher.

He is critical of an agreement reached between the government and trade unions in 2010 that promised no mandatory redundancies or extra pay cuts in the public sector in return for industrial peace and changes to work practices until 2014. This is creating a two-tier system in teaching and other parts of the public service, says Mr McCarrick.

The agreement is credited with preventing strikes and public unrest during a period when Dublin has hiked taxes and cut services. But it has meant young people entering the public sector (teachers and some other professions are exempt from the recruitment moratorium) have had their pay and conditions slashed while existing workers are protected.

“The current crop of teachers are the best trained in the history of the state yet we will be paid 30 per cent less than others who are older doing the exact same job down the hallway,” says Mr McCarrick, who is now considering moving to the UK to find work as a teacher.

Several commentators have labelled Ireland “no country for young men”, pointing to the government’s refusal to cut pensions and tackle high public sector wages, while it continues to target people entering the workforce.

Dublin said this week it would use its presidency of the EU beginning in January to advance plans for a “youth guarantee” scheme to ensure young people are directed into employment, education or training. But with a further €3.5bn in austerity measures planned in December’s budget there is very little funding available for new initiatives.

“We really need to see more energy from government. From the work we have done talking to a lot of the young people who are emigrating many are very frustrated and disillusioned,” says James Doorley, assistant director of the National Youth Council of Ireland.

“Some say they have lost faith in Ireland and won’t be back,” he says.

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