In their own words: How Irish emigrants viewed the bailout

For those hoping for a quick economic recovery, the bailout was the final nail in their emigrant ship


As the date for Ireland’s exit from the EU/IMF bailout approaches, we asked Irish emigrants abroad through the Generation Emigration blog for their opinions on the financial crisis. Did it affect their decision to leave, or their opinion of Ireland from afar? Here’s a selection of responses.

Kate Kirwan (25) left Dublin three years ago, and works as a 3D modeller for a construction company in Vancouver.

I could see the writing on the wall during my last year in college in 2010. I studied architectural technology, and our lecturers knew there were no jobs for us; we were urged to move to London where there were more opportunities. I’d always wanted to go to Canada, and the construction industry was booming there.

My boyfriend and I moved to Vancouver in October that year, three weeks before the bailout. We’d never been to Canada, never lived together and never paid bills. We were 22 and this was our “year away” to gain some experience before returning to Ireland when our visas were up in 2011.

But when the bailout happened, we realised we didn’t have a chance of getting work in construction at home.

Three years later we’re still here, Canadian permanent residents.

When the bailout was agreed I wasn’t surprised, but it bothers me that the Irish people were put in such a position.

:We have followed the banking crisis since we left, online through The Irish Times and by streaming RTÉ news, as well as discussing it with friends and family on Skype.

If the economy recovered we would love to move back, but I honestly don’t know if we actually would. We both have great jobs here – my boyfriend is a carpenter’s apprentice, studying part-time in an IT with the backing of his employer. I work as a 3D computer modeller for a construction company, a job I love that simply doesn’t exist at home right now.

The bailout exit won’t affect me in the short term. I can’t see any real change occurring for years, especially in the construction sector.

We have so much opportunity here; good jobs, pensions, amazing healthcare that is heavily subsidised.

These are things we simply wouldn’t get at home.

Aoife McCarthy (26) left Dublin in 2010 for Perth, Australia, where she works as a speech and language therapist.

I left Ireland by choice. I had worked for a year and done some further study after my degree and I was looking for a bit of adventure. The recession had begun before I left, but I think people didn’t believe it would last as long as it has.

I have been watching what has been happening with sadness but also some hope. The recession has not prevented me from returning but has definitely caused me some worry about what will happen when I do. I am actually heading home, hopefully for good, this Christmas.

From the outside it seems like the economy is slowly improving in Ireland. Exiting the bailout seems positive, and I note the unemployment rate is slowly declining. But it will take a while for these changes to filter through to everyday lives and finances. It appears many are struggling to make ends meet. News stories often contradict each other; some celebrate the positives of Ireland, the “success story of the EU”, while others report an increase in homelessness.

I have met many people through my travels who report that they are done with Ireland and feel very hard done by. Many of them worked in construction so I can understand. After being unemployed, they’ve decided to make a go of it somewhere else which is brave, and in many cases they have been very successful.

But I am returning to Ireland upbeat and hopeful. I am coming home because I miss Ireland and most of all my family. As much as I love Australia, I don’t see myself living here forever. And the longer you stay, the harder it is to leave. Logically and financially it probably makes more sense for me to stay, but my heart has won out.

Eamon O’Hara (45) left Co Carlow in 2001. He now lives in France with his family where he works as a writer and consultant on European affairs .

I left Ireland in the early years of the Celtic Tiger in 2001. I was offered a job in Brussels and I wasn’t too unhappy about leaving as I found the quality of life had deteriorated significantly in Ireland. We could only afford to live in a not-so-good area and there was congestion everywhere. It was obvious a bubble was developing.

Watching the banking crisis and bailout from afar I felt disappointed. So much of the crisis seemed avoidable. Property was overpriced and both the government and the banks continued to fuel speculation through tax incentives and lax borrowing rules. I know some journalists in Ireland were drawing attention to this, but many others weren’t, and where were the opposition parties?

When the bailout happened I remember feeling quite emotional. I’m very proud to be Irish. I still consider Ireland to be my home, and I always will, and it was upsetting to see the country in that situation. While I had expected the property bubble to burst sooner or later, the scale of the problem when it happened was quite horrific

The blame was placed squarely on the banks and the government, and rightly so. But I guess there’s also a level of personal responsibility and the people who overstretched themselves buying second properties, or in some cases third and fourth properties, also have to accept their part.

Ireland has performed reasonably well since the bailout agreement. The terms were quite strict and by following these the country does seem to be finding its way back. But it’s a slow and difficult process, which is also heavily influenced by what happens outside of Ireland.

The Irish bailout was reported fairly extensively here in France when it was first agreed but not so much since then. The French really like the Irish, however, and there is a lot of goodwill towards Ireland.

Larry Carroll (31) left Co Wexford for New York in 2007, where he works as a real estate broker. He is married to a New Yorker.

I first heard of the impending bailout when I turned on a US news channel to see a ticker run across the bottom of the screen, “IMF chiefs in Dublin to negotiate terms of bailout for Irish economy”. Like most Irish people, I was despondent.

On the one hand, it makes it a little easier to be in a foreign land when you know there is severe economic turmoil at home. It almost validates the decision to leave and be so far away from your family. But there was also a massive sense of sadness and detachment. I remember feeling a little piece of the Ireland I grew up in had died that day, and home would never be the same again.

I was angry towards the establishment that had let this mess occur. I knew my family back home would bear the brunt of it and it hurt.

Ironically, interaction with the Irish community in New York over the next few months brought about the biggest U-turn imaginable for me and I became a huge advocate for our country. Most get-togethers within the community over that period were focused on the economic woes at home. I found comfort and a togetherness within the diaspora at that time. It was as if the guilt and shame of the bailout was only understood by our own people. After an initial period of self-reflection, a realisation arose that we as front-line ambassadors for the country abroad had to lead by example and begin to project Ireland in a positive manner.

In our everyday lives here in New York we are the people who showcase our country. So like many of the Irish diaspora when asked about Ireland, I speak of the scores of technology firms setting up there, the increased exports and success of the Gathering. I have seen the effects of austerity and I tell people it’s been hard, but I honestly feel the country is best served by accentuating our positives.

Ireland has made headlines in the US for the right reasons of late. The Government has been lauded for showing leadership and making huge sacrifices. On a personal note, the bailout taught me the value of a diaspora community in times of need. My faith has been restored in the Irish people and their resilience.

Niall McArdle is a freelance writer and bookseller based in the Ottawa Valley, Canada.

I left in 2002, when times were still good and people in Ireland still seemed obsessed by property prices and new cars. When I heard about the banking crisis, I was shocked to learn how far and how fast the country had fallen. I don’t remember when I first read the term “ghost estate”, but pretty soon you couldn’t help but hear it.

How it played out in the news in Canada was in the general context of the euro zone crisis, but most of the attention was on Greece. CBC News did eventually do a report on the Irish crisis, with one of their star reporters traipsing around a muddy, abandoned housing estate.

Not being in Ireland, I only got the headlines without much sense of how deep the crisis was. I followed as much as I could. Much of my understanding came from articles and the letters page in The Irish Times. I read Michael Lewis’s article in Vanity Fair (who didn’t?).

My family and friends back home were baffled and angry, but they kept a gallows humour, perhaps because the events were incomprehensible and just too much to contemplate (“We owe the Germans a hundred billion!”). When I went home, things were definitely subdued, as if someone had turned down a dimmer switch on the country.

It still amazes me that in only a few years a country can go from “a thousand new cars on the road every week” to “a thousand people emigrating every week”. I would love to go back home, of course, and I plan to do so. In spite of how awful it might be, it’s still home, and I have a belief (probably naive) that if more emigrants chose to go back, we could help make it better. I still believe - in spite of everything - that it’s the best place in the world to live.

Paul Bradfield (28) has lived in the Hague and Africa for the past three years. He now works with the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

In 2010, I felt compelled to emigrate from Ireland. The cement mixers had gone quiet, the banks were guaranteed, and the economy was in freefall. Leaving was something I had to do to pursue a career I was passionate about. Looking back, I was quite angry getting on the plane. I felt betrayed by a reckless government, and felt that my departure, along with many of my peers, was entirely preventable.

I closely followed events from the Hague; RTÉ player was my live stream to an economic horror show. The homeless hand outstretched to the IMF official said it all. Unable to follow Dutch media due to the language barrier, I looked to western media to get a sense of what they thought of us. They reported with a critical incredulity. The implication was the Irish were unable to govern themselves; as if assertions of incompetence were by extension directed towards all Irish people. Colleagues would ask me how it had come to this, as if I was complicit.

That Ireland can now regain much of its fiscal sovereignty can only be a positive thing. Being the poster boy for austerity does come at a painful price. Emigration is still high and domestic demand remains low. In post-bailout Ireland, the reality is that many graduates will still need to look abroad to gain experience. But they will grow and they will learn. They will make friends, some will find love, and they’ll equip themselves for the road ahead.

Recently, I’ve heard more and more about young Irish with some experience in their satchel returning home for jobs, but domestic policy still has much to do to address the needs of emerging graduates. I’ve lived and worked in northern Uganda, Tanzania and Malawi, seen what real austerity is. Some people don’t get bailouts. We Irish like to beat ourselves up, but we have a lot to offer to the world. And, being an emigrant is not always a bad thing, especially when you can fit a Gaelic football in your bag.

Andy McFarlane (26), from Shankill in Dublin, works as a freelance web developer in Malaysia.

I graduated in 2010 and the economic situation then, particularly as a young graduate, was dire. It was so bad in fact that I applied to only a handful of jobs before looking abroad and taking an internship overseas in Malaysia. After the internship, I returned to Germany before finally coming home in 2011.

I returned because on previous visits while living in Germany, there was finally evidence that the cost of living in terms of supermarket groceries, rent, and utilities were becoming manageable, while in Germany Ireland was regularly being praised in the media for sticking so rigidly and closely to the terms of the bailout. It seemed, in a way, like the cards were lining up and the country was on the right road to recovery.

I left Ireland four weeks ago to return to Malaysia, a booming and developing Asian economy. I didn’t particularly want to leave, but successive austerity budgets and the affect on my salary and cost of living, coupled with a stark increase in prices for things like rent in Dublin, meant that as a young person in Ireland, there was very little money to do anything at the end of the month after paying bills. I might have had enough for the odd trip to the cinema or a night out once or twice a month, but that was literally it. That seems a very grim way for young people to be living. I know from being abroad previously that it doesn’t have to be like that.

Thinking about whether or when I’d like to return home, I’d be less worried about the wider economy – it’ll be tough for sure, but I believe gradually and slowly improving these next few years – and more with the greed that’s already resurfacing; house prices and rents leaping back to sky-high levels, companies raising their prices the second they get a chance. We need to give the economy a chance to catch its breath.

Sean Goulding (38) left Co Kerry to work as a school principal in Saudi Arabia

I left Ireland and a full time job as a teacher in 2011 because I grew tired of paying extra taxes to pay off the gambling debts of assorted bankers and developers. There was a horrible mood of despair and despondency in the country. I now work as a principal of a private school in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. I do not regret leaving.

The aptitude of the civil service and political class can best be summed up by the controversy surrounding the introduction of the local property tax. This tax will not be spent on local services I believe, but to pay off the interest on our bailout loans.

Similarly, the referendum on the abolition of the Seanad was brought about to give people the impression that our sovereignty had not been compromised by the terms of our bailout arrangements and that we could make a saving of perhaps €20 million by abolishing the upper house. It was a feeble political stunt. And it failed.

The German parliament is aware of the terms of our budget before our political representatives. Our politicians have profited from the fact that so many Irish people have silently given up and left the country. Their remittances continue to service debts at home and help families members left struggling behind. Politicians in France, Greece, Spain and Portugal had to put up with strikes, riots and marches from a citizenry unwilling to emigrate.

Craig Carey (29) left Dublin in October 2010. He now works in aboriginal relations for a government agency in Vancouver.

I was away travelling when the crash happened and returned home in the middle of it. Before leaving I had turned down a pretty good job opportunity, presuming I would get one no bother when I got home. That blissfully ignorant sense of entitlement most graduates had during the Celtic Tiger quickly disappeared when I was another body in the dole queues.

I choose what to read and expose myself to in respect to the Irish economy. Away from the oppressive “doom and gloom” so pervasive in Ireland, I had the freedom to pick and choose the stories I wanted to be informed on and my perspective of the Irish economy changed. I interpreted the recession in Ireland to be a readjustment following the insupportable bubble of the Celtic Tiger.

Yes, times are hard, and the nasty legacy of the boom will continue to resonate for many years to come, especially for those in negative equity. But we aren’t in a depression. We have an educated work force who are talented and ambitious. Unfortunately the inability to gain experience has pushed some to emigrate. But this generation of emigrants are likely to return home in three to five years with an increased skill set and international exposure that will benefit the Irish economy greatly.

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