Off to New York with the iPaddies


GENERATION EMIGRATION:AT 53 YEARS of age I’m planning on leaving the country again, returning to New York city where I worked for more than a decade. I will be taking my carpentry tools, my arms, my shoulders, my back – the legs will follow. There’s nothing in Ireland left to build, and no money left to pay for it. Strangely enough, everybody says they’re “tipping along”.

“Are you busy?”

“I’m tipping along.”

It’s like something a blind man does on a pavement filled with potholes.

We’re coming to a ferocious intersection full of honking horns, raised voices, sirens and bicycle bells. Beware the kindly German woman who offers to help you across the street; it’s Angela Merkel. You’ll be abandoned in the middle of speeding traffic. Watch out for the Renault with bad brakes; that’s Sarkozy.

We keep hearing about the “brightest and the best” streaming out of the country in a blaze of Victorinox luggage and Trinity scarves: the young things with confidence and purpose. These are not emigrants of your father’s generation; these kids have seen the world before they even get there, through Facebook and MySpace and LinkedIn. They network, and they work the Net. These aren’t just Paddies, these are iPaddies. These are the highly educated, highly motivated, highly driven, relentlessly high-spirited A-students of today.

And I’m one of the other guys.

Mind you, when I left school in 1977, being stupid wasn’t considered such a bad thing; in fact, there was a certain demand for the dumb. Who else was going to work with asbestos, fibreglass insulation and lead-based paint? If you didn’t have a whole lot up top to start out with, there really wasn’t that much to lose. And let’s face it, if you’re going to make a career out of sawing up sheets of MDF, it’s probably better that you can’t even pronounce the word formaldehyde.

We are told that the quality of our human exports is constantly improving. Our emigrants are hip and ironic and work for Microsoft, but there are 50,000 people leaving the country this year, four planeloads every week, and not all of them will be firing up the particle accelerator at Stanford.

Some of us will work with drywall, oak flooring and rebars. Some of us will wash windows and sweep floors on construction sites. Some of us will erect scaffolding, and a few of us will fall from it, like birds weighed down by hammers.

Most newspaper reports talk about the cleverness trickling away, but nobody seems to care about the muscle wastage. Books are fine, but they’re not worth a damn without decent shelves, and right now a lot of the shelf-makers are packing their bags.

Good riddance to the yobbos who robbed us during the boom years, you might say, but in five years’ time, when the last of the electricians is gone and your electric blanket turns into a smouldering defibrillator, you might have a different tune to hum.

The thing is this: you won’t even notice us as we slip away because we don’t stand out. Gone are the donkey jackets and the muddy boots and the sideburns that look like giant upended apostrophes. Rare are the wind-burned cheeks and muddy fists the size of bowling balls.

As we take our seats on the Airbus, we look much like everybody else, and although its unlikely we will ever be confused with the brightest and the best, we’re not exactly the dullest and the worst. We won’t pinch the stewardess, hijack the plane, or demand an in-flight breakfast roll wrapped in a copy of the Sun. Most of us won’t bend to pick up our luggage and reveal ass-cracks, hairy backs and Manchester United underpants.

We will behave, and then we will be gone.

The last great wave of unemployment peaked in 1989; I remember it well because I surfed it, and it didn’t feel like this. It didn’t feel historic or epic in proportion. It felt like it would end, sooner rather than later, and then we would all come home and live happily ever after. We would have kids and they would be educated and the cycle would be broken.

It was an interesting theory. I might share it with the bright young man beside me when we touch down in JFK airport.

Outside the terminal, the bright young man will look around excitedly and shout, “I’ve arrived.” “I’m back,” I’ll whisper. He will probably pay $90 to a limo driver and get dropped off in the wrong neighbourhood. I’ll pay $15 for the bus to Port Authority. Twenty-four hours later he will be trading bonds on Wall Street and I will be riding upwards in a service elevator on Park Avenue.

The lift operator will most likely be Irish, same age as me, and when I sign my name on his clipboard he will ask: “How are you doing?”

“Tipping along,” I will say, “tipping along.”

Rates debate: What are you paying abroad?

This week on the Generation Emigration blog, we asked readers what rates they were paying abroad, and if they would be willing to pay the household charge in Ireland

Average property tax where I’m at in the US is around $3,000 a year. Water rates are around $70-$100 a month and garbage runs at $50 every three months. No, I wouldn’t pay the €100 levy if I was still there simply out of principle. What has any Irish government really done in the last few years, apart from line their own pockets while fleecing everyone else?

– Al, US

I recently moved to Horsham in western Victoria. Property owners pay rates to the local council according to the value of the property. An additional municipal charge of $237 is levied on all rateable properties. Garbage charges are levied on all residential properties. Water charges vary in different cities. I am happy to pay for the services provided in this beautiful town. If I returned to Ireland, I am not so sure. I think my trust has gone.

– Triki Victoria, Australia

I live in Brussels. Every year we pay almost €1,000 property tax to cover local services. We also have a house in Ireland and I have paid the household tax and the NPPR (though I consider it slightly unfair to have to pay both).

– Sarah Ironside, Belgium

The relationship between what you pay and what you get is completely out of balance. Ireland is coming in line with so-called western society by charging premium rates for poor-quality services.

– Martin Cooney

In Italy we pay about €1,000 for this service per year. They are also about to re-introduce a house tax based on the value of the house. For the average house that will be about €500 per year. I really don’t know what the fuss is all about in Ireland.

– Orla, Italy

We have lived in Canada for more than 24 years and have been paying property tax all along. It is currently $4,800 annually. It goes primarily to the local municipality and the school system. It should have been introduced years ago in Ireland, as it represents a reliable stream of income and is not transaction-based, as is stamp duty.

– Patrick Timmons

I have been living in Paris for almost 20 years. For eight of those years, when I rented a 40 sq m apartment in a nice part of Paris, I paid €800 a year in tax. I can’t understand why everyone in Ireland is moaning about paying €100. I guess the problem in Ireland is that no one ever invested in this type of infrastructure, and now are playing catch-up with the rest of the world.

– Carorueil, France