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Irish workers trying their luck overseas

Marketplace Staff Nov 10, 2010

Irish workers trying their luck overseas

Marketplace Staff Nov 10, 2010


Kai Ryssdal: This is going to sound like it’s coming a little out of left field, but if you haven’t been keeping an eye on the Irish bond market lately, you might want to start. Borrowing costs have been shooting up all week. It’s the same kind of squeeze the Greeks got caught in earlier this year, right before that huge bailout courtesy of the European Union.

Not that long ago Ireland’s economic was ripping right along — the “Celtic Tiger,” it was called. Then the housing market took a dive, banks lost billions and unemployment rose to almost 14 percent. Now tens of thousands of Irish are leaving the country and trying their luck overseas.

Anne-Marie McNerney reports.

Anne-Marie McNerney: A group of young Dubliners meet up for a few drinks and chat in their local bar. It could be anywhere in Ireland on a Saturday night. But this isn’t Ireland. It’s Vancouver, Canada — one of the top destinations for the thousands of Irish emigrants who’ve recently had to quit the Emerald Isle.

People like Derek Kavanagh, an electrician whose work dried up when Ireland’s property bubble burst about two years ago.

Derek Kavanagh: The construction industry is pretty dormant at home. With no prospects of getting a job. Like, any time you read a newspaper or look at the news, it’s all about the failing economy and about job cuts, about tax increases and it’s great to be over here.

The prospect of a better lifestyle and new opportunities drew another victim of Ireland’s construction implosion here, 30-year-old architect Aileen Igoe.

Aileen Igoe: There was always that kind of dagger hanging over your head that you could be out of work, you know, within the next couple of weeks.

It’s estimated about 5,000 people a month are quitting Ireland. Those emigration levels haven’t been seen since the 1980s.

Jim Power: During the 1980s, there was a lot of blue collar or low-skilled emigration.

In Dublin, economist Jim Power of the Friends First financial services group says there’s a big difference between this latest exodus and the last one 20 years ago.

Power: This time ’round, they’re largely skilled workers: Engineers, architects, a lot of people that were involved in the construction industry, which has collapsed, but also people in financial services have been forced to leave the country.

And they’re not all from the private sector. Cuts in public spending have hit many people working in Ireland’s publicly-funded health service. The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organization says all of Ireland’s nursing graduates will have to go abroad if they want full-time positions.

Twenty-two-year-old Tadgh Gately has just qualified as a nurse. He’s planning to move to London.

Tadgh Gately: When I started the degree, it was one of the only jobs out there that you could be safe. There was always gonna be sick people, so there was always going to be jobs, and it felt like it was a real safety net that I would be employed and I wouldn’t have to face the prospect of unemployment.

But not all the emigrants are jobless. Deep cuts in public spending have blocked the prospects for many Irish workers to train or move up the career ladder. That’s why physiotherapist Sarah Gannon quit Ireland for Canada.

Sarah Gannon: Things had gotten very static. There’s a sense at home that if you had a job that you should have been, you know, happy to have a job and happy to stay in it, and really that wasn’t enough for me.

Traditionally, ambitious Irish emigrants have headed for the United States, but that’s changing. Stephen McLarnon is the chief executive of, an organization that links would-be emigrants with recruiters and visa experts from other countries.

Stephen McLarnon: The U.S. has become a lot stricter on illegal immigrants coming in. Also, there’s a greater awareness now of what visa opportunities there might be across Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

The influx of skilled Irish labor will bring immediate benefits to those countries, but the damage to Ireland could be long-lasting.

In Dublin, I’m Anne-Marie McNerney for Marketplace.

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