A failing housing market, austerity, unemployment, and multiple recessions has been affecting the growth of Irish society for years. Now, the Irish youth still remain highly affected by the 2008 recession. Youth migration is back on the rise. Despite predictions from the European Commission (in 2017) that the economy is projected to remain “robust”.

IS IMMIGRATION A NEW TREND?

Ireland has always had a high net migration, dating back to the 19th century, when the Irish formed a very significant part of the immigrant population of New York City.

During the famine, roughly one million people died and a further million emigrated from Ireland causing the island’s population to plummet. By 1840, Ireland’s population had peaked at 8 million, but by 2017 the population was nearly half of what it was, with just over 4.5 million people remaining in the country according to the CSO (Central Statistics Office).

During the 2008 recession, over 30,000 young people aged between 15 and 24 migrated. This equated to 10% of Ireland’s younger generation at the time. Emigration proceeded to increase and the crisis continued to unfold.

Inspired by the country’s long history of high outward net migration, Des O’regen, a 69-year-old Irish artist, found himself creating a piece of art that “10,790 people had viewed it in about 5 hours” referring to his famous painting ‘Ballinasloe 1956 railway station’

Ballinasloe 1956 railway station

 

The comment section is full of people’s stories about leaving Ireland. “I had to switch the computer off because I just started crying…I couldn’t look (at the comment section) for 3 or 4 days”. Overwhelmed by the tear jerking accounts from across the world, Des struggled to process the reaction to his painting.

According to the Washington post there are 34.5 million Americans who list their heritage as either primarily or partially Irish. That number is, incidentally, seven times larger than the population of Ireland itself (4.68 million).

Comparing what Ireland is like now to what it was like when Des was growing up: “When I was a young boy there was poverty, my friends went around bare foot. That disappeared about 30 years ago” Having lived through those hard times, Des is now trying to see all the positives that are taking place: “With one great thing happening in Ireland at the moment is the amount of non-nationals coming in, it’s good for the gene pool at least”

Inwards immigration impacts the social and economic aspects of life throughout the world. There are countless reasons for people deciding to migrate, family and humanitarian issues being among the biggest. The best way to determine the quality of a country’s labor force is by looking at the education and training programs. However, with migration playing an increasingly large part, particularly in a globalizing world, qualifications and skills of those arriving play an important part in the economy.

WHERE DID IT ALL GO WRONG?

Until about twenty years ago, having faced years of bad governing, Ireland was regarded as an economic failure. Tormented by a concoction of high unemployment, towering inflation, slow growth and heavy taxation, Ireland had to deal with towering public debts. But, during the golden years of the “Celtic Tiger“, Ireland was seen as a unique example of a developed country with a growth record matching East Asia’s. During these promising times, Ireland had unemployment rates complimented by a low tax burden, desirably low inflation, and a tiny public debt.

As we know, the golden years didn’t last long. Back in 2008, all parts of Irish society was hit extremely hard by the credit crunch, that which marked the fall of the Celtic Tiger. The country fell from one of the highest rates of growth to bust. The government, with their hands tied, were forced to intervene with guarantees. However, a large number of the Irish believe the situation was not handled well, with the government making poor deals and decisions.

HOW DID IRELAND COLLAPSE SO QUICKLY 

Banks, such as American Bank ‘Lehman brothers’, were providing cheap credit to almost anyone who wanted to buy or build houses. The boom lasted for more than 10 years, but when the recession took over the world in 2008, home prices in Ireland collapsed and people didn’t have the money to pay back their loans. As a result, the banks holding the debts got negatively affected, forcing the government to borrow more and more money to support budget deficits.

 

Ireland’s GDP (The Gross Domestic Product: the monetary value of all the finished goods and services produced within a country’s borders and one of the primary indicators used to measure the health of a country’s economy.) It was predicted by the European Commission in 2017 that Ireland’s GDP growth is projected to remain “robust” up to 2019.

Despite it being ten years after the crash, and with good predictions for the future why do so many of the Irish youth still feel pushed out?

Ireland is currently facing two huge housing problems: too few houses and soaring rents. According to the Irish Times, work had started on more than 75,000 new homes each year from 2006 to 2008, but following the crash, building sites across Ireland were left to Mother Nature. Thus, creating a sea of ghost estates that littered the country; nowadays, the unfinished estates are an eerie reminder of how devastating the recession was.

Prior to me traveling to Ireland this January, I thought it would be a long shot finding a ghost estate. Various reports, such as thejournal.ie (2017) and the Department of Housing, state that “the last seven years have seen those issues almost eradicated” and there are just over 420 remaining unfinished developments, which is a huge step forward compared with 2,846 in 2010.

Damien English, the Minister for Housing and Urban Renewal, noted that nearly 250 estates were resolved last year, with 2,000 homes being used for social housing. Councils are allegedly taking legal action against owners to bring the estates up to a safe standard and in line with planning permission.

Francis Gossens made the tough decision to leave Ireland in January 1990, “purely for economic reasons”. The 46-year-old teacher regularly visits her family “four times a year” and disagrees with what the Minister for Housing and Urban Renewal had said: “by no means is the housing any better at the moment, I think all they are doing is fixing the problems that are there, I don’t think its anything they should be proud of at the moment.”

Francis speaks to me about the condition of the country now, what reminds her of home, and what it was like for her to leave.

I visited multiple estates and abandoned houses whilst driving along the west coast of Ireland. But it was the appalling sights across Shannon Valley estate, demonstrating to me the lack of attention given to these estates.

Upon driving into the not-so-hidden estate, the first thing I saw was the distressing site of a poorly cared-for horse, trotting around the partly occupied estate. The fronts of the houses were all boarded up, with shattered glass everywhere. Drain holes and sewage pipes left uncovered. Glass from windows and patio doors lay there strewn on the ground; the inside of the trashed houses were not in any better condition.

Walking closer to the houses, I noticed rat infestations due to the build up of litter and rubble all alongside and inside houses, that have families living next door.

But it gets worse. Being curious to see if the government have been keeping an eye on the houses, I walked in -– it was easy get inside as the glass windows and doors were mainly (already) kicked in. The houses were absolutely trashed; the inside of what would have been a beautiful house, reminded me of a crack den (yes, some did have syringes on the floor). Entering the house, the smell of urine and dirt was overwhelming; at first I thought it could be the large amount of litter in big piles across the floor, which is clearly what attracted lots of rats. Alas, when I realized what it was my heart broke – I had stumbled upon a puppy farm.

A lot of the other abandoned properties I saw, resembled what the world would look if the humans just disappeared and let the nature take over: letters, personal belongings, children’s toys; it was unsettling to see – I half expected the builders to come back from lunch. One house was full of expensive building materials left to rot, the other houses looked completely finished, with furniture still inside. Multiple streets of wasted homes and investments – a humbling site to see, knowing that a lot of these people lost their homes over night.

Ballaghaderren is a perfect example of the mistakes made by the planners and government policy. It was the most westerly town to “benefit” from the Shannon Valley tax relief scheme, which brought the building of hundreds of new houses during the Celtic Tiger era.

The plan was seemingly inspired solely by the slogan “If you build it, they will come”. Well, you did build, and they did not come, now so many homes are now left abandoned, in the midst’s of a housing shortage you can understand why the people I spoke to are disappointed by the government so far.

In all honesty, was there enough employment opportunities in any of those towns and villages to sustain a population necessary to fill all those homes? There is not and there never was. In fact, the opposite had happened: now the towns are facing further job cuts, the streets littered with the memory of what could have happened to the town with long roads of rubble and regret.

Des, who lived in Ireland during the Celtic Tiger years, recalls telling a friend prior to the collapse of the northern rock bank: “shits going to hit the fan”. Now after having all three of his kids left “to get out” Des tells me what it was like to be a father left behind. Believing “Greed is what swallowed up so may people in this country”

“I can bring you up roads of houses that are half finished that have been there for 10 years, and will never be finished” and that there is a “Big housing shortage, and there are 5,000 homeless children who don’t have homes”

 

According to the Irish Times: Focus Ireland Director of Advocacy Mike Allen sympathises “We know that young people aged 18-24…have been hit hard by the reduced rate of welfare.”

Is there any opportunities for young people left?

Is the country improving from the collapse of the Celtic Tiger? These were just a few questions that went through my mind as I found myself hearing horrifying stories regarding the countries disappointing job market.

A study by the department of geography at the University College Cork showed most emigrants were aged between 20 and 29 and the majority of whom decided to leave due to work opportunities. With almost 70% of all Irish emigrants having a third- level qualification (such as valuable health professional skills) which can really affect a country’s economy.

Figures released by CSO in September 2017 disclosed that more Irish people are leaving rather than returning. With approximately 31,700 people ageing from 15 – 24 emigrating in the year to April 2016, showing an increase of 1,300 young people from 2015. The figure for inward migration among the same age group is 19,700 – meaning 12,000 young people are leaving.

Marie-Claire McAleer, head of research and policy at the National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI) said in reaction to the statistics: “It is worth noting that among those aged 15 to 24 we have net outward migration, despite the fact that overall the figures show net inward migration for first time in seven years.”

McAleer went on to explain that while she welcomes the increase in the number of Irish nationals returning, she also admits to “many impediments” when those do decide to return to Ireland. “It is important to emphasise that provision of quality jobs with career progression opportunities and decent wages, affordable accommodation and access to quality services are key factors in young emigrants’ decision to return to Ireland and to remain living here,” she said.

Fianna Fáil’s Jobs spokesperson Niall Collins, responded “Can our country really afford to be losing 500 graduates every week, many of whom are medical and nursing graduates who are desperately needed in the Irish health service?”

“Our economy, our health system and our communities cannot afford to lose any more graduates. It’s time to arrest it to ensure that our country can continue to prosper and develop.” Placing some of the blame into the failing housing market “The cost of housing in particular is damaging Ireland’s ability to hold onto its graduates. We are already hearing about a severe lack of graduates in IT and in science and technology.”

“There is a romantic feeling towards the country (Ireland), it doesn’t matter what shit it throws your way” 25-year-old- Helen Curren told me. After opting to study ophthalmic Dispensing at Glasgow Caledonian University, Helen is now working as a dispensing optician and the store manager, she spoke to me with a pain stricken face: “I moved back to Ireland for a year, and I found it extremely difficult… Staying was made very difficult”. After heading overseas for further education, Helen had high hopes of returning home to put her degree to use. But she found herself in the midst of a very competitive job market: “You’re going up against people who in the Celtic Tiger were probably made redundant and they have years of experience… You’re expected to have four years of experience but you’re an undergrad.”

A lot of her school friends felt the same and could not face being left behind in Ireland. Helen told me: “Jobs still aren’t there, and if you find a job the competition for it is crazy…even if I had managed to get a job that paid fairly with decent hours (in Ireland), I wouldn’t be able to progress within the role.” Throughout the whole time speaking to Helen, the theme that kept coming up was that had she stayed in Ireland she would not have the opportunities she has now, whilst living in London.

But the country is improving. Irish unemployment rate has decreased to 6.0% in February 2018 (in 2009 it was 13.7%). Ireland now has its lowest unemployment rate since May 2008.  Between February 2017 –2018 28,000 people gained jobs. With youth unemployment rate decreasing to 13.2% in February, again it was the lowest unemployment rate since June 2008, showing the world that there could be a bright future for Ireland. According to reports from CSO.

Although the country’s employment rates have increased, potential workers still face under-employment – low pay, non-fixe contracts and a not-so stable career market. On top of that, the public-sector reduction in recruitment levels and pay for new entrants keeps adding fuel to the forever burning fire. By speaking to the numerous young Irish migrants living here in London, it really resonates how many choose to move away and how many stories are crossing over in these similarities.

Further helping me to understand why Irelands young and working generation are feeling so pressured to leave Francis noted “they (the youth) have worked they can own their own homes rather than renting in Ireland” and that “unfortunately the wheel has started to turn again and the young people have started to move away again”

WHAT IS THE NEW PROPERTY BUBBLE?

This time the property bubble is different, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still threatening. There is not a bubble in house prices (rising prices now are being caused by a lack of supply, not the kind of crazy bank lending that helped kill the Celtic Tiger). Ireland no longer has a credit-driven housing bubble, but the country is still at high risk of watching prices increase above sustainable levels. The public finances are better but remain vulnerable to volatile corporate-tax receipts. Inflation is low, but prices still make Ireland an expensive place to live, hitting people’s lives and threatening competitiveness.

Graph showing the fall and rise of house prices. Photo taken in Kinvara, West coast of Ireland

It is important to say that prices are still well below peak in terms of average incomes. A recent study by Davy stockbrokers showed that even Dublin house prices (relative to incomes) are much lower than many parts of the UK.

History won’t repeat itself completely the same. But, lets hope the crash of 2008 was, fingers crossed, a onetime event. The world will change a lot over the next few years. The UK will leave the EU; interest rates will start to rise from rock bottom. The challenge is to be sensible, the Irish need to accept that the taxes they pay are not going to fall much from current levels.

COMPETATIVE HOUSING MARKET

A lot of people are even asking if Ireland has given up owning their own homes, the number of people buying rather than renting has fallen to a near 50-year low. According to unpublished figures from the Central Statistics Office, Irish society has been changing a lot over the last decade. People are now turning away from the dream of being homeowners in favour of the increasingly tough and cruel rental market. Frances understands that “they (the youth) have worked out they can own their own homes rather than renting in Ireland” blaming lack of jobs and poor housing for the drive for the youth too leave.

Why should we care that people are now renting over buying? Why should Irish people, as a society, as an economy, care? The main economic argument for home ownership is that, in the words of Thomas Shapiro of Brandeis University, “it is by far the single most important way families accumulate wealth”. A 2013 US survey, found that a typical homeowner’s net worth was $195,400 (€184,280) while that of renter’s was just $5,400.

So with sky rocketing property prices during the boom years, triggering the rise in the demand for rented accommodation on the back of tax breaks, poor social wellfare, and, an influx of investors into urban regeneration projects means that ownership figures are falling. Years of dancing with economic collapse followed by a slow recovery have done nothing to end the trend.

With Ireland struggling to house and provide jobs for its young people it truly does seem like Ireland has a long road to recovery before the lost generations can feel comfortable enough, and have the amenities to return home.

Hopefully des was right and it: “will be a fantastic year for this country.”