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Fleeing the country

November 26, 2010

As Ireland's austerity measures bite, many of the country's young businesspeople are considering leaving the country. In fact, many have already left, looking for better prospects overseas.

Businessman holding a briefcase
200,000 people are expected to emigrate by 2015Image: Fotolia/Andres Rodriguez

At a 'Show Your Business Week' fair in the center of Dublin, Irish entrepreneurs have been showcasing their products and services, hoping to give their businesses a boost. Right in the middle of town, the exhibition gave these firms a prime spot to advertise. But that won't be enough to change their fortunes as trading conditions in Ireland have become incredibly difficult.

Jimmy O'Reilly is one of them. He has had to cut his workforce of laborers from eight to two at the small building firm he runs.

He has considered moving his business abroad. But for now, he's staying.

"Unfortunately we have two kids here, and I'm a bit loyal to Ireland," he said. "I think we'll stick with it and make an effort to keep it afloat."

Chef cutting parsley
In the food industry, you move where the work isImage: Fotolia/Esther Hildebrandt

It's easy for people to move their businesses within the European Union, says Neil Barrett, who owns a food start-up. "It's a common market, so it's as close to London as it is to Cork, so you'll move wherever it works. Because you have to."

Things are so bad, Barrett says that it's understandable that entrepreneurs would consider emigrating. "This is a food business, and the food business is probably the toughest business around anyway, and this is probably the roughest year that any of us has ever lived through, and next year's probably going to be worse."

All talk?

Just how many people will up and leave Ireland for better prospects elsewhere is impossible to say, but James Wickham, a migration expert at Trinity College Dublin, says almost everyone is talking about it.

"It's an absolutely standard thing for us in education to say, 'well all my students are talking about leaving.' How many people have actually left is not clear, although it's unambiguous that the number is rising. There is a sort of general atmosphere of 'oh my God, I'm getting out.' "

Those statistics that are available suggest the numbers are already high. According to the Economic and Social Research Institute, Irish emigration jumped by 40 percent to 65,000 in the year to April 2010. It predicts 200,000 people will emigrate by 2015.

Student exodus

The economic downturn in Ireland is particularly worrying for students who wonder whether they will find jobs once they've finished their studies. Ireland's Union of Students predicts 150,000 young people will choose to leave the country to find work in the next five years.

Students in a lecture hall
Students are expected to leave Ireland in drovesImage: picture-alliance/dpa/dpaweb

Professor Wickham says emigrating is not seen as a big deal by young Irish people. "This has happened before. In the 1980s I can remember saying to my students 'last one out, turn out the light.' "

He pointed out that Ireland, like Poland, has for a long time been a country where "young people don't think twice - or they think twice but not three times - before they emigrate."

"We are a society where it is normal to leave. If you talk to young Germans in the middle of a recession - they don't leave," he said.

But Wickham put a positive spin on the possibility of thousands of skilled workers leaving the country.

"One of the things we've learnt from the last mass emigration is that people come back, and people travel backwards and forwards," he said. "The gains from emigration - from people coming back, from people setting up new concepts from business contacts, intellectual contacts, cultural contacts, professional contacts - you know those are real benefits."

Author: Olly Barratt, Dublin
Editor: Nancy Isenson

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