The stories behind Ireland's jobless boom

Posted by Kelly Fincham at 6/10/2009 6:31 AM EDT
 
I was up in the Lourdes hospital in Drogheda, County Louth, this morning bringing my mother to an eye appointment. This referral from the original €130 consultation was free.
 
A day earlier, a friend of mine saw a dermatologist for a six-minute consultation.
The fee was €180.
 
It seems as if both the U.S. and Irish health care systems need to make up their minds if they're about people or profit. Maybe they should both look at some other system to keep us well. The Netherlands anyone?
 
Anyway, on the way back from the hospital we drove down the fearsome Constitution Hill and as we rounded the corner my heart nearly stopped as I saw something I haven't seen since the 1980s. A huge queue outside the social welfare office. The queue, which snaked back along the quay, wasn't going anywhere in a hurry.
 
Stopping the car, I was going to take a photograph but then I thought that's just too intrusive. So I spoke to people instead.
 
Paddy, 54, has worked in Drogheda all his life. He used to have a "good job" in one of the town's big factories. But the factory closed down in 2006 taking his permanent pensionable job with it.
 
Since then he's been working for a construction firm as a general driver. He got laid off last September. "I've given up looking," he said. "I'd rather see the younger kids get the work... if they can find it." Paddy's lucky - sort of. He bought his house through a corporation loan years ago and doesn't owe anything on it. But he still needs money to live.
 
"My daughter's getting married this year and we've nothing for her. My wife's in the waiting list for an eye exam because they think she has glaucoma. The appointment's in 17 months."
 
Neither of us need to point out that glaucoma won't wait for the health care service.
 
And if he was working he could afford to bypass the waiting list.
 
But he's not working. He's queuing.
 
Behind him, a younger woman isn't happy about talking. But I assure her I won't be using names or taking photographs.
 
"It's just so humiliating," she says. "It's almost like we're standing here with big marks on us. Branded. Failures. Rejects."
 
Mary's in her mid-30s and she's been working her way up the corporate ladder since she left college. "And then I was made redundant last year. No warning. Nothing. We got some redundancy money and I didn't think I would need it. I assumed I would find another job quickly. But there's no work out there. My husband's salary's been cut 10 per cent and we are up to our neck in debt."
 
Mary and her husband bought their house in 2005. "We've got a mortgage of €3,500 a month which we were well able to pay but now we're barely able to make the payments. We can't sell it because we'll never get what we paid for it and we'll never be able to pay the outstanding debt."
 
"And now I have to stand here and it feels like I am admitting to the world that we failed. We probably won't be able to keep the roof over our head
 
Mary's sister lives in the U.S. "She's been there for 12 years without a green card and I kept at her to come home. The one thing that keeps me sane is that she didn't listen to me."
 
"There's nothing here for people to come home too."
 
It's a refrain I've been hearing all week now. People here are worried sick. It's a wonder anyone actually WANTS to run the country.
 
Today's Irish Independent ran a story which showed how the unemployment rate has DOUBLED over the past year with commuter counties like Louth bearing the brunt of it.
 
The report said that 195,115 people joined the nation's dole queue for the year to May bringing the total to 396,871.
 
Louth alone has seen almost a 100 percent increase in the jobless rate up from 8,060 people to 15,870 over the past 12 months.
 
But you don't need to read the papers to find this out - just drive down the quays in Drogheda on a Wednesday morning and you'll see for yourself.
 
 

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