Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

‘All we want is a decent standard of living’

‘Myself and my girfriend used to talk about settling down, but now our conversations revolve around money worries and emigration’

Wed, Oct 30, 2013, 16:52



My situation is no different from a lot of people, but I would still like to write about the reasons why I am now, as a man in my early 30s, planning to emigrate.

As a couple, myself and my girlfriend are applying for work abroad. Whether we find it breaking rocks in the Yukon, teaching English in the Himalayas or picking fruit in Australia, all we want is a decent standard of living that we’ve tried our best but failed to find in Ireland.

I have been unemployed since 2009, and from then until now I have spent most of the time completing my degree as a mature student. I was just a few days short of being eligible for the Back to Education scheme, so I had to sign off the dole and apply to the local authority for a grant. Over the three years I was in college, this was cut back from over €3,000 to a little over €1,000.

I had to make dwindling savings and a summer social welfare payment, along with the grant money, stretch for a whole year. Receiving €500 from a student assistance fund was like winning the lotto.

In an effort to make ends meet, I applied for rent allowance (twice, you never know!) and was told I should be paying 30 per cent less a month than my current rent in order to be eligible. Since 2009 I have had to move three times, but for nothing near the magical number I apparently should be paying.

I moved in with my girlfriend in the last house move. I declared it when reapplying for social welfare during the summer months, only to have my dole cut neatly in half. It barely covers my half of the rent. My girlfriend is left to cover all the other bills. It is an emasculating and depressing situation.

My girlfriend works just 20.5 hours a week on a nine month rolling contract. Her job is relatively secure, but she would never get a loan of the back of it. She works any extra shifts she can get. I would love to say any extra money brought in is going on a holiday, or even a weekend away somewhere for her. But it all goes on paying the phone bill or putting petrol in the car.

I was delighted to be offered a place on a Masters programme, but without work, and knowing I shouldn’t be claiming welfare and going to college, I had to pull out a few weeks into the course before incurring fees. I applied to SUSI in June, By October I was none the wiser as to if they were covering none, half, or all of the fees. I handed back my college ID with great regret, but it seemed forces were determined to keep me from doing anything constructive, intent that I should sit at home and do nothing.

I applied for a JobBridge internship for an extra €50 a week on top of my half dole. Despite being willing to work for just €4 an hour, I didn’t get the job. I tried to apply for a number of positions under the Community Employment Scheme for longterm unemployed people, and although the employers offered me interviews I was told by Fas I wasn’t eligible to apply. I hadn’t worked since 2009, but needed to have been receiving a continuous dole payment for at least 12 months in a row. It didn’t matter that I had been in college, or that all my weeks receiving the dole since 2009 added up to more than 12 months.

I was angry and disillusioned. Collecting the post on my way home from the Fas office that day I opened a letter from the social welfare office asking me to show I had been looking for work or else they would cut me off.

So that brings me to where we are now. Myself and my girfriend used to talk about starting a family and settling down, but now our conversations revolve around money worries and emigration. She can’t get enough hours, and is not even working in the field she is qualified in.

With all our free time we both volunteer in the local community with youths and the elderly. I have participated in Fas courses, evening classes and online courses rather than sit around doing nothing. But it seems that’s what the system would rather us do. It’s as if they wouldn’t be happy to help you until you are living on the streets. Your pride and sense of self-worth are one of the first things to go when the drudgery of unemployment rolls on and on.

I can see the sense in offering more to people the longer they are on welfare, but if you have had to wait a year just to get a €20 fuel allowance, what motivation is there to pick up any work if you would immediately lose it and have to start all over again if the job doesn’t last?

After another short sighted-budget and with no sign of the political classes turning things around anytime soon, it is with a heavy heart that we as a couple will leave. We have both applied for posts around the world and hope to move away in the New Year. It will be hard to leave our family and friends. Honestly it is something I never thought I would be doing.

It’s a struggle to squirrel away enough for a ticket out. It means no going out, no meals out, no cinema tickets, no haircuts, no Christmas presents or luxuries at all. Being over 30 means I won’t get a visa to some places, and not being married means we will not be able to live together in other places. I feel as if I have been holding my girlfriend back, I wish I could give her everything she wants, or even a fraction of what she deserves for putting up with me.

Each person who leaves is not simply another person off the dole queue, but a willing worker, with a family, with friends, with drive and ambition, with dreams, hopes and aspirations. That is what the country is losing, regardless of the qualifications these people have. It is losing their spirit, their zeal, their love for their country. These are things that can’t be collected in tax or borrowed from the IMF.

The author has asked to remain anonymous.