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Social welfare line in Dublin City

A brain drain for Ireland as economy buckles

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Social welfare line in Dublin City

Armed with a great Irish education and a willingness to work hard, Molly Muldoon found the job market at home to be virtually non-existent, so she applied for a U.S. visa to escape the doom and gloom. This is her story.

It’s the Monday morning of Memorial weekend and my alarm goes off at 6 a.m.  Through my bedroom window I can see the CITI building which dominates the Queens skyline.

I reach for my uniform and go into the kitchen to make some coffee before I walk the nine blocks to work. I’m a waitress in New York City.

A communications graduate, I moved here from Ireland last September in search of opportunity, experience and a piece of Willy Loman’s American dream. While I haven’t landed the perfect job just yet, how could I ever regret a move to a city like New York? Culture personified.

Growing up in Ireland amidst the success of the Celtic Tiger, the future seemed like a secure place filled with hope and opportunity. Business was thriving as our indigenous, highly educated workforce attracted large scale foreign investment.

Hotels, industrial estates, shopping centers, and housing estates sprung up in towns and villages overnight where supply far outreached demand. Immigration increased with an influx of our fellow Europeans eager to fill gaps in the labor market. 
Ostentatious mansions adorned the country, and families were no longer limited to mere one or two holidays a year. Excessiveness exploded.

Meanwhile, Ireland’s educational institutions continued to churn out highly motivated and professional young people. My classmates and I were satisfied that our hard work would pay dividends.

My five-year plan was firmly set in place. I would study, maintain good grades, achieve an education and eventually graduate into a yuppie’s existence doing a job that I was passionate about.

In November 2008, 23 of my classmates walked across the stage in the Helix, Dublin City University to receive our master’s degrees. At that point we were all employed, some had contracts and everyone had prospects.

I told my boss when he hired me that I didn’t want to be in the same position in a year’s time. I wanted to climb the corporate ladder.
The interview panel consisted of three members of senior management. Within three months each of us would be made redundant.

Three weeks after my graduation I got laid off from a job that I loved, a job that I was good at and had worked extremely hard to attain. And so I found myself standing in line at the social welfare office in Bishop Square in Dublin asking myself where it all went wrong.

I tried in vain for almost six months in an impossible job market to find secure employment. I was adamant I would do almost anything.

When I asked too many questions in the interview for the direct marketing position they never called back. I was told by employers I was too inexperienced, I was too young, I was overqualified.

When one prospective employer asked for my salary range, she scoffed at me down the phone insisting someone as young as me couldn’t expect to be earning anywhere above 23,000.

For the first time in my life I felt like my work ethic, my morals and my determination were null and void. Deflated, disheartened and not content with erratic freelance shifts, I like so many other disillusioned graduates made a decision.
I went online and applied for a U.S. visa.  It was time to cut my losses and leave.

In Ireland today over 400,000 people are signing on the live register for unemployment benefits. That in itself is an incentive to stay away. One common sentiment echoed among my family and friends is at home is, “Stay where you are.”

Mainly due to Ireland’s economic disarray, I have enough college friends around the globe to keep me couch surfing for a year. Eoin in Winnipeg; Sinead in Vancouver; Alan in Hong Kong; Victoria in Melbourne; Yvonne in South Korea; Sophia in Barcelona; Antoinette in Frankfurt; David in London.

Modern day technology means we are only a mouse click away. All conscious of Ireland’s state of affairs, we often discuss our musings about prospects back home.

Eoin had been working with a host of reputable radio stations in Dublin before he applied for the Canadian year-long visa. He acknowledges that like so many other graduates, he was very focused on career goals.

“I had been working extensively in the media industry since I was 19 and had been taken up with the job ladder for the next four years. I devoted my life to working towards a pretty unattainable place for someone my age,” he said.

“In the process, I became very cynical about everything and in my early twenties found I'd become someone who I didn't enjoy being. I wanted to do something about that and so I decided to head to Vancouver.”

Like your average Irish person, he has very plain views about the cause of Ireland’s economic downfall.

“The economic crisis didn't just appear 'because of America,' as I've heard many-a supposedly educated person say. Our country is the way it is now because of the people in it. We created the mess,” he says.

“Mistakes were made, trusted professionals committed spectacular errors of judgment. Their legacy is there for all to see at the moment.”

Eoin recently got offered a job with FOX Soccer Channel as an anchor and reporter in Winnipeg. This Irish export will be broadcast nightly across the U.S. and Canada on FOX. Yet another Irish graduate that got away.

For many of us ex-pats the prospect of returning home to become another statistic in the dole queue is not very appealing.
Eimear graduated with a degree in journalism from Dublin City University and spent the last year living in New York City. She interned with a publishing house while in New York, and admits that the job market here in New York is also very competitive.

“There's fierce competition for internships in New York, but there's also so many opportunities that it's hard to get disheartened -- there's always something else to apply for,” she feels.

“And there's so much variety that you can really specialize and do what you love. The flipside to the thriving internship culture is that paid jobs are really hard to come by.”

She recently returned home to Ireland. Not disheartened by the lack of career opportunities, she is currently job-hunting.
“Right now, I'm sending my CV everywhere -- publishing houses, arts organizations, bookshops. There isn't much being advertised but I'm hoping I'll just be lucky with timing,” Eimear says.

“I'll move anywhere in the country I can get a job. Next year, I hope to do an MA in creative writing.”

Due to the lack of job stimulus in Ireland, there is a common consensus among many of my Irish friends abroad that home has very little to offer us. I sincerely hope that this will change in the future.

So for now my five year plan is on hold.  I’m content busing tables, pouring Cosmos and listening to Americans tell me about their Irish heritage when they order a Smithwicks.

In an Irish context, it seems that the next rung on my career ladder remains unattainable. My generation was fortunate enough to have been given access to world class education, to have grown up in the boom era but the country that gave us so much cannot provide us with the one thing we really need -- opportunity.

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