Absent shoppers out of sight, soon out of country

You've read so many times about how bad Ireland's economy is that if you don't live here I'm sure you're sick and tired of hearing it. Well, regardless, it's true. Things are really bad here. The IMF bailout is only a part of the story. It's BAD.

Yet, yet, yet ...

Twice recently as I've walked around Dublin with my head up and eyes open (not always the case) I've been struck by how many people seem to be out shopping, spending money. Maybe there are fewer than in prior years. I don't know, but by no means is Dublin a ghost town this Christmas.

The streets were busy with shoppers, the stores seemed crowded - no way I was going into one of those! - and the people on the train had loads of shopping bags.

So what's going on? I don't know. I've heard people talking about this Christmas as a 'last big blowout' before they have to live with smaller 2011 paychecks (thanks to new taxes in last week's budget). I guess that's possible. I really hope it's not a case of the people following the government's lead, taking on more debt when they already have more than they can repay.

I don't really think that's the case. I think it's just a clear demonstration as to how uneven the pain of a recession (depression, really) is spread. This is a 'tough time' for Ireland, but for each of those who have lost their jobs or businesses it's a tragedy, a crushing blow.

There are tens of thousands of people in the Dublin area who have been laid off over the past two years. I presume they were not among the mass of people I saw shopping in the city. They're just absent, out of sight, possibly nearly in hiding. Soon they will be not so much out-of-sight as out of the country.

This is Ireland after all and many of these laid-off people will not be sitting around waiting for things to improve while their skills and self-esteem atrophy. They're heading for the exit. Niall O'Dowd's column on the two young women emigrating two weeks before Christmas speaks volumes. A gut-wrenching decision especially with Christmas looming, but staying was too big a gamble on their future.

Sure it's only one case, but one that's being played out time and again all over Ireland. We don't have the statistics yet, but everyone knows someone who has left or is going just after Christmas. The numbers leaving are significant and if things pick up elsewhere, the numbers will explode. The press in America, Britain and Canada is already noticing the increasing numbers of young Irish around.

For the middle-age unemployed it's a nightmare. Families are harder to relocate. My daughters know girls their age whose fathers are now working in Britain, France, the Middle East and traveling home to see their families when they can.

Many in the media speak about a decade of correction before the current problems are resolved. That's a nightmare without end for the middle-aged unemployed.

The economy is bad, very bad, but it's a lot worse for some than others.

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