Protesters on streets as family and friends leave in search of work

Sat, Nov 24, 2012, 00:00

IRISH LIVES A series on how we liveMarchers want to highlight opposition to emigration forced by cuts

Johnny Ryan (60) says he was never one to protest in the past. Having returned to Ireland in the early 1980s from Britain, Ryan benefited during the Celtic Tiger years when he worked in construction as an engineer. “I remember queues outside the American embassy in 1983 and I thought we’d never see that era again. But here we are,” he says.

Earlier this week, Ryan’s daughter, Eimear, a recently qualified nurse, emigrated to Canada because she found it impossible to get full-time work in Ireland.

This is one of the reasons he will take to the streets today as part of an anti-austerity march organised by the Dublin Council of Trade Unions, the Campaign Against Household and Water Taxes, the Communities Against Cuts Campaign and the Spectacle of Defiance and Hope group.

Ryan will join members of the Ballyhea Bondholder Protest Group, and he says he wants to march so that an awareness is created in Ireland and internationally of just how unhappy some people are.

“My daughter emigrated last Monday morning because of a lack of work. My other girl has a degree in electrical engineering and went back and did a postgraduate so she is around for two more years, but probably not much more than that. That’s why I’m marching.”

Ryan’s engineering work has been particularly affected by the downturn, given the way the construction industry has fared.

Did he object to Government policies in relation to property during the good times? “Unfortunately, no,” he says. “I suppose you could say that the market was being primed with 100 per cent mortgages and talk of housing shortages. To a degree, I got caught up in the general hype.”

The last time Ryan protested was before an All-Ireland semi-final at Croke Park between Cork and Galway last August. Before the match, he and several friends decided to march with placards from the Garden of Remembrance to the stadium, and along the way, one onlooker jeered: “Have ye nothing better to do?”

On the day we spoke, Ryan was in Brussels for a series of meetings, and he talks about a conversation he had with a Portuguese national. “I was talking to this guy from Portugal at dinner and he was telling me they had one million people on the streets last September.

“I mentioned the march organised for today and said we’d be lucky if we get 4,000 marching. He laughed.”

Another person taking part today is graduate Julianne Cox (24), who recently completed an MPhil in race, ethnicity and conflict at Trinity College Dublin. She estimates that just one-third of her postgraduate class has gained employment, while she has been fortunate to secure an internship with the Irish Traveller Movement.

Cox is a member of the Labour Party and is unhappy with the way Labour is performing in Government, especially in relation to social welfare and education.

“I come from a lower socio- economic background. My mother is a lone parent and cuts in her allowances have hurt a lot. Coming from that background, my family is entitled to access third-level maintenance grants but they have been cut also.

“It makes no sense. In my experience, the only way to remove yourself from a lower socio-economic group is through education. I am one of the last that qualified for a maintenance grant for postgraduate studies. I would have emigrated by now if that grant wasn’t there, which is something I don’t want to do.”

Cox says that warm socks are essential for any protester in this weather, and despite her commitment, she is undecided if protesting has any real impact. “I am not sure marching makes a difference. I think it is a legitimate form of exercising a democratic right to free speech. The protest demonstrates how upset people are and how unreceptive I believe the political system is to hearing our views. I want to remain a member of the Labour Party, but I am critical of the way Labour is accommodating Fine Gael in pushing through policy that is in no way progressive.”

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