Poor Economy Forces Irish To Find Work Elsewhere

At least 100,000 people are expected to emigrate from Ireland over the next year. Tens of thousands already have gone this year. The ratio between the number leaving, and those moving in, is wider now that any time since the late 1980s.

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Many people in Ireland are taking the risk of traveling away from their country. They're leaving in search of work, just as millions of Irish did in generations past, when they moved everywhere from America to Argentina. Some years ago, Ireland's economic boom seemed to end the need for that kind of exodus. But now the Irish economy is in trouble, and the migration has begun again.

NPR's Philip Reeves reports.

PHILIP REEVES: This year, Clare Smith qualified as a science teacher. She's 22. She should be about to begin a fulfilling career in her home country. But in debt-ridden Ireland, Smith can't get a job. She's decided to pack up and leave.

REEVES: And why have you come here today?

CLARE SMITH: To emigrate. No jobs here, so...

REEVES: You actually made your mind up, have you?

SMITH: Yup. Yeah.

REEVES: At least 100,000 people are expected to emigrate from Ireland over the next year. Tens of thousands have already gone this year. The ratio between the number leaving and those moving in is wider now than at any time since the late 1980s. A fair number of those going are other Europeans, returning home - to Poland, for example. A lot are well-educated, young Irish people, like Smith.

SMITH: Yeah, it's pretty annoying. Like, we've spent all our time and effort studying here and spending money here and going through the education system, and then there's no jobs at the end of it, like, so it's kind of frustrating, I suppose.

REEVES: Smith's standing in a big hall in Ireland's capital, Dublin. She's come to an event called the Working Abroad Expo. So have many others. There are hundreds of young Irish men and women here, lining up for advice about emigrating to greener pastures: to Canada, to New Zealand. Smith's in a line for Australia. A couple of days ago, Ireland's government revealed the cost of bailing out the nation's banks could be as much as $68 billion. That's roughly a third of GDP, an enormous burden for a population of just four and a half million. That's hardened Smith's resolve to leave.

SMITH: My reaction is why would I stay here and start working for this, when I have nothing to pay for it? I didn't do any of it. So, you know, why should I be taxed to the hilt for it? So I might as well go where I won't be.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

Unidentified Woman #1 (Announcer): Welcome to the Working Abroad Expo. The next seminar starts in a few minutes.

REEVES: Among this crowd, there are engineers, IT specialists, plumbers and plasterers, young people with big dreams. They listen attentively to stories of a new life on the other side of the planet.

Unidentified Woman #2: Education and (unintelligible).

REEVES: Robert Coile is 24. He's a civil engineering graduate, and he's also leaving.

ROBERT COILE: It's really hard in the way the country, the situation it's in now, and the banks, and the billions of money. And the debt keeps going up every week, so...

REEVES: Do your friends feel similar?

COILE: A lot of friends are out there already.

DANIELLE WHELAN: A lot of them have left already. They've gone to LA and places like that. So they've gone. Everybody's going.

REEVES: That's Danielle Whelan, Coile's girlfriend. She's going, too.

WHELAN: I have a degree in English and History, and a Masters in Political History. I can't even get sub-work in this country.

REEVES: Sub-work meaning?

WHELAN: As in teaching, sub-teaching. Mm-hmm.

REEVES: Is that what you want to be, a teacher?

WHELAN: Or a lecturer, yeah. But there's a whole embargo. No recruitment in the public sector. So...

REEVES: This is a sensitive issue in Ireland. This small nation hasn't forgotten its long history of mass emigration, particularly after its devastating famine in the mid-nineteenth century. There's a huge Irish Diaspora, especially in the United States and Britain.

FINTAN O: You know, I'm of a generation that grew up in the 1960s. And we grew up - it was the last Irish economic boom, in the 1960s. You know, we were told as kids: You are the first generation of Irish people in 200 years that will not have to emigrate. And that was a fantastic feeling.

REEVES: Fintan O'Toole is a writer and columnist.

TOOLE: And I didn't, and my generation didn't emigrate. And actually, to have it coming back, it's just like this kind of return of the repressed, you know. It is depressing in itself.

REEVES: O'Toole has two sons in their early twenties.

TOOLE: They're not even talking about staying here. You know, it just doesn't seem to them to be a realistic possibility. And that's - it's - you know, there's a terrible sense of failure to have to say that, you know, that your kids can't expect to be able to make their livelihoods, make their lives in their own country.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, Dublin.

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