‘Ireland is a great place as long as you don’t have health problems’
New to the Parish: Michael Leather arrived from Spain, via Poland, in 2014
Michael Leather hopes to move back to Spain some day. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
‘I don’t have many Irish friends. It’s really difficult to break through to Irish people,’ says Leather, pictured by the Tolka River in Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
‘Ireland is a good place for opportunities if you have the right skills and the right attitude,’ says Leather. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
In March of this year Michael Leather visited an Irish A&E department as a patient for the first time. He was worried when the stomach pain he had been experiencing intermittently suddenly became more severe and rushed to the hospital. Leather, who has lived in Dublin for three years, assumed his health insurance would cover the cost of the appointment. He was shocked to discover he had to pay €100 before seeing a doctor. He was less impressed when, eight hours later, he was still waiting to be assessed.
“They told me ‘you don’t have an emergency’ but I said ‘how do you know I don’t have an emergency if no one has checked me’? I was bottom of the queue and could be waiting another eight hours.”
Leather decided to go home and returned the following day when he finally met a doctor. He was told they would need to do tests. Four months later, the stomach pain has subsided but Leather still has no idea what happened.
“I think if you pay for a service you have the right to say this is good or bad. I was one full month with pain going to a GP who was telling me to just take paracetamol while I waited to see a consultant.
“For me this is really bad – it’s meant to be a public service. I work here, I pay my taxes and I understand the need to wait but it should be under certain limits. I think living in Ireland is great but there are different things that make you think, how long do I actually want to stay here? I don’t have the pain right now but I don’t know if next month it’s going to come back. That’s what worries me.”
Leather first came to Ireland in 2005 in his late teens eager to explore a new country. Growing up in the tourist hub of Marbella in the south of Spain, he developed a fascination with different nationalities and cultures. “Hanging around with Germans, Americans, French, Italians or Russians, for me it was normal. Each person would tell you different stories about their home and that obviously makes you curious.”
Leather had very little interest in continuing his studies and left school to spend eight months working odd jobs in Dublin. One of these jobs was at a call centre in Blanchardstown where he met people from around the world. “They were highly educated with masters which made me realise I had no studies. It made me ask, ‘what am I doing over here?’ I then felt the pressure and decided it was the right time to go home and study.”
Leather returned to Marbella where he completed his final school exams. He then moved to Seville to do an undergraduate degree and masters in economics. He spent the final year of his studies in Poland through the study-abroad Erasmus programme and lived in the city of Krakow. “It was like another experience of meeting more people from different backgrounds. What we had in common was we were studying and living the experience together in this foreign country and that makes a very good vibe.”
His studies were completed in 2013 but the economic instability and high youth unemployment in Spain made him reluctant to return home. “I knew since I started studying that it would be difficult to find work in Spain. There was a big group of companies moving to Krakow so I applied for jobs and got two offers.”
He enjoyed his work but struggled to get by on his low starting salary. He was aware of the economic growth in Ireland and after eight months working in Poland decided it was time to move back to Dublin. He found a job with a start-up and moved into a house near St Stephen’s Green with four Irish people.
“Working with Irish people is more friendly and human. They can be strict at work but there’s a flexibility and awareness that we are all human and learning from the experience. Ireland is a good place for opportunities if you have the right skills and the right attitude.”
Three years later, Leather now works as an energy analyst at a large electricity company. He says he’s happy here and lives with “fantastic” housemates from Ireland, but like so many others interviewed for this series, he struggles to build meaningful friendships with Irish people.
“I don’t have many Irish friends to be honest. It’s really difficult to break through to Irish people. Going for a pint is fantastic but it’s difficult to go beyond that.”
He says his recent experience of the health service has negatively impacted his perception of this island. “Ireland is known to be one of the examples of economic growth but how are they planning to keep the population healthy in order to maintain that growth? We pay a lot of taxes here and get no services.”
He admits that Spain’s health service is far from perfect but says waiting lists are much shorter and queues in A&E departments are not eight hours long.
“Ireland a really great place to live as long as you don’t have health problems. I don’t want to see myself grow old or retire here because who is going to look after me? Where is all the money going?”
Leather also struggles with the lack of public transport infrastructure and says the Government could learn from countries like Poland or Belgium in how to implement a functioning, sustainable transport system. “They invest a lot of money in public transport whereas here, you can see that infrastructure is very poor and they don’t respect cyclists.”
Leather knows that finding work in Spain would be a struggle but hopes to move back someday. “The situation of young people in Spain below 30 years and without much experience is dramatic. For most people, if you don’t have contacts, you don’t get anything. I miss my hometown and my friends and would like to live somewhere with good weather and strong infrastructure in terms of health.”
We would like to hear from people who have moved to Ireland in the past five years. To get involved, email email@example.com. @newtotheparish