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‘Dublin rents are just bonkers’: The reluctant exiles forced out of Ireland

Almost 60 per cent of 18-29-year-olds in Ireland would consider emigrating to lower their cost of living

Lisa Rogers (27), a radiation therapist from Clontarf, Dublin emigrated to Australia in July, with her boyfriend, on a working holiday visa.

“We were both living at home with our parents,” she says, “and we realised if we rented an apartment we couldn’t save to buy a house.” While they wanted to live abroad, “and Covid made that clearer”, if they stayed with their parents, they would merely be saving to pay “an extortionate amount” for a house.

The contrast between Ireland and Australia quickly became apparent. “Only when we got here, we realised how difficult it is at home,” she says.

The couple are renting a two bed apartment in “quite a popular area” in Sydney, for the equivalent of €2,100 per month, she says, “which would get you a one bed, way out of Dublin city”.


“There are a lot of Irish here,” she adds, “a lot of healthcare workers, teachers”.

Almost 60 per cent of 18-29-year-olds in Ireland would consider emigrating to lower their cost of living, according to the Our Lives, Our Money report published by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) at the beginning of December.

Everything from my research pulls me to London, especially the wages-to-rent ratio

Similarly research carried out by Red C in September for the National Youth Council of Ireland indicated more than 70 per cent of 18-24 year olds were considering moving abroad for a better quality of life elsewhere.

Although the rental market in Sydney is challenging, everyone Rogers knows got an apartment. “We got our apartment within 10 days of arriving in Sydney.”

“In the last year, six of the people in my field, which is a small field, have moved over,” she says. “Within three months of arriving in Australia, all of my friends had come out.

“I hate giving out,” she adds, “but, no, I don’t think the Government is doing enough.

“There needs to be more of a balance in Ireland between wages and the cost of living.”

Her family and friends did not want her to go, but “they can see I’m a lot more independent and things are a lot easier”.

“The plan always was to go back,” she says, “but now that we’re here, it’ll be very hard to go back. Mam won’t like hearing that!”

Gavin Walmsley (25) from Westport, Co Mayo, who had been working from home as a travel claims handler, is emigrating to London this month.

He weighed up whether moving to Dublin or London made more sense. “Everything from my research pulls me to London, especially the wages-to-rent ratio,” he says.

His primary reason for emigrating is job opportunity, having secured an entry level data analyst role. “I’ll be on €40,000,” he says, “as opposed to in Dublin maybe 35.”

He also feels there are options to eat out more cheaply in London, “whereas Dublin, most things are expensive”.

Leisure is another draw for Walmsley. “There’s much more things to do in London,” he says, “and I’ll have more disposable income.”

He also feels the Government is not paying enough attention to cost of rent. “There’s clearly a problem there,” he says. “I just care where my money is going on rent, and in Dublin, it’s just bonkers. The wages-to-rent ratio is truly horrendous.”

He compares his accommodation, a room in Bow, northeast London, for £700 (€791) per month, with bills, and close to the Tube, which he found in a couple of days, to that of his friend in Dublin. “She’s not even near a Luas line and she’s paying €800 a month without bills,” he says.

Most of Walmsley’s friends are in a similar situation, with some planning to go to London and Sydney. “They are finishing up their one or two years’ experience so that they can bargain for a better deal abroad,” he says.

“One of my friends is going to Canada in February. My other friend just went back to New York, he’s living with his uncle. The wages there can be huge.”

The remarks of then tánaiste and now Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in November, identifying New York as a place where emigrants will not find lower rents was “not the best example, really”, Walmsley laughs. “Most people aren’t going there. It doesn’t help when he makes these statements about how the grass looks greener when, objectively, it is greener.”

Brian Garvey (24), from Salthill, Galway, is living in Maynooth, with his uncle, while commuting to his banking job in Grand Canal Dock, Dublin.

“That’s a trek in every morning and evening,” he says.

After his 2017 Leaving Cert he studied Finance and Economics at Loyola University of Chicago for three years, and worked for a year before returning to Ireland in September. He did not find the cost of living in Chicago to be higher than in Dublin and “there was a massive range and supply of rental properties,” he says. “There were great places for $800 [a month].”

Due to the lack of available housing and sublets, the high cost of living including rents, and because everything is centred around Dublin, Garvey is now considering emigrating again: “There’s no housing market in Ireland.” He is looking out for apartments or sublets, and scouring posts on Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram for possible leads, and “the only possibility is ... I’m the lucky one picked for viewing”.

This time around he is thinking of the Netherlands, Spain – possibly Barcelona, or London. “I’ve some friends in the Netherlands, in the young cities, like Groningen and Utrecht”, he says, “and I know a good number of people in London.”

Some of my friends in Galway are working from home even though they’re dying to become independent, but they’re using the excuse that they’re saving money even though they’re 24, 25 now

He too is critical of Mr Varadkar’s comments regarding young people considering emigration. “He’s scaring people into [not] emigrating,” Garvey says.

In a radio interview in November, Mr Varadkar said: “You’re not going to find that rents are lower in New York or that it’s easier to buy a house in Sydney. Sometimes the grass looks greener.” Clarifying his comments afterwards, he accepted that on rental costs “we compare unfavourably with most other European capital cities, perhaps all” but he held to his view that housing was a problem in many countries and that rents were more expensive in the cities he named.

“Everyone knows rents in New York, Manhattan are sky-high, but that’s one of the densest places on the planet. I feel like he’s gas-lighting the situation here,” says Garvey.

“I also don’t think that’s true that many Irish people are returning home to Ireland, especially with Covid in the past couple of years, the draconian laws. It’s the opposite, the doctors, the nurses [are emigrating].

“Some of my friends in Galway are working from home,” Garvey adds, “even though they’re dying to become independent, but they’re using the excuse that they’re saving money even though they’re 24, 25 now”.

Although he feels the severe housing challenges are “not all the Government’s fault”, he also thinks they are “definitely not” doing enough to improve the situation. “In the last two years they’ve started rebuilding the social housing, but it’s at a snail’s pace. An Bord Pleanála is a joke. It takes years and years to get anything done in this country. More urgency is definitely needed.”

Shauna Kehoe (30), from near Navan, Co Meath, but living in Berlin since 2017, is a PhD biology student at the Freie Universität, researching ovarian cell development.

She is due to defend her thesis in February, and so needs to very shortly decide where she will continue her research.

“Ideally, I would like to bring my skill set back to Ireland and find a project similar to what I’ve been doing here,” she says, “but I’ve become very hesitant about looking for opportunities as I hear about the competition in housing, with Australia perhaps being on the horizon instead.”

Kehoe rents an apartment in Berlin for €486 per month. “It has only ever increased by €51, and that was in the last two months due to the rise in heating costs,” she adds, “and I can also stay there indefinitely.”

Even though her stipend is lower than what she would receive in Ireland, “I feel free to do additional things in my life,” she says. “I can pay for my own transport and socialise and I’m also able to make savings.”

If there was some actionable change happening, I would feel more positive and realistic about returning to Ireland, but I don’t see that happening

This is in marked contrast to her friends in Ireland. “They are picking and choosing what to spend their money on, and many of them are not paying into a pension,” she says. “When I speak to my colleagues in Germany about insurances or their pension plans and also even discussing children, it’s a very different conversation.”

Kehoe is also trying to take the long-term view. “Where will I settle, and when am I going to really start building my life? I don’t see myself settling in Berlin, because I don’t feel like it’s my home,” she says, “and settling in Ireland may financially cripple me. It’s really frustrating to feel like you’re exiled.”

She is “in denial” about realising that a life in Ireland may not be possible, and wonders what that will mean for her and her family, particularly if one of them becomes sick or there is an emergency. “It’s really tough to have that kind of conversation,” she says.

The Government “is not taking the housing crisis seriously”, she adds. “If there was some actionable change happening, I would feel more positive and realistic about returning, but I don’t see that happening.

“I really want to be a voice, that there are people abroad who want to come back,” she adds, “and they are staying away because of the renting crisis and I am one of those people. I think those voices can get lost because once we go abroad we usually stay abroad.”