Straining for a last look at her son as he boarded a flight at Dublin airport, Kate Meredith struggled to hold back the tears at the sight of another of her children leaving Ireland to work abroad.
On the eve of yesterday’s elections, Darragh, 22, left for South Korea to work as a teacher after failing to find a job at home. His brother, Conor, is already in Australia and a third sibling, Bryan, has his eye on Canada.
“There’s nothing here for them,” their mother said, wiping her eyes. “It’s not his choice to go. He couldn’t even get voluntary work. It’s dreadful. I’m very angry with the country at the moment.”
Emigration has returned to the Emerald Isle following the economic crisis, which has sent unemployment soaring and consigned those in work to years of low wages as the country seeks to pay off billions of euros in international loans.
Angry voters were expected to oust the ruling Fianna Fail party in yesterday’s parliamentary elections, but many people have already left, heading mainly to Australia, Canada and New Zealand, where they can get short-term visas.
About 1,000 people are leaving Ireland every week, according to the Economic and Social Research Institute, in what Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny — who is set to become prime minister in the vote — called a “national heartbreak.”
“Every week, a thousand mothers and fathers watch their children pack up their lives, put their degrees in beside their dollars and their bitter disappointment, and head for Sydney, Brisbane and Vancouver,” he said on Thursday. “Today, another generation of Irish is building the future of another country.”
Unemployment is particularly bad among the trades following the collapse of the construction industry, which accounted for a quarter of Ireland’s economic growth at the height of the “Celtic Tiger” boom.
Electrician Bobby Prendeville, 24, is trying his luck in Germany after struggling to find a decent job in Ireland. He has work lined up in sales in Nuremberg, but hopes to find something using his training when he is settled.
“I’m the last one of my friends to leave,” he said, saying most of them have gone to Australia or Canada.
Prendeville wants to stay in Europe, admitting that leaving his close-knit family in north Dublin will be a wrench.
“It’s a big step for me, moving, but I don’t think there’s any other options. There’s nothing here,” he said.
His case is far from unique.
In the southern town of Cork, a seminar this month providing advice on emigrating to Australia attracted 97 electricians and Kathleen Lucey, a Dublin-based consultant who helps people from all backgrounds find work in Australia, said: “We’ve been extremely busy since January — I think everyone woke up after New Year and decided they want out.”
When the Irish economy was booming, many hoped emigration would no longer be a defining feature of the country, as it has been since the 19th century famine sent millions on overcrowded boats to Britain and the US.
Many emigrants had returned home and Ireland saw for the first time a wave of migration into the country from eastern Europe, but then the recession hit.
Prendeville’s father and grandfather were electricians and he entered the trade because he saw it as a well-paid career. Their contacts kept him in work longer than most, but even he must now go elsewhere.