Ireland's working emigrants reluctant to return home

Thu Nov 28, 2013 4:41am EST
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By Padraic Halpin

DUBLIN (Reuters) - When Toby Gilbert decided to emigrate last year, he did not choose Australia over Dublin for sunshine and sandy beaches. He just wanted a few more free hours to see his wife.

Fed up with working punishing hours and barely seeing each other, the two doctors were among almost 50,000 Irish people who left the country permanently last year, a near four-fold increase since Ireland's economic crisis began in 2008.

But just as worrying for a country keen to turn another chapter in its painful history of emigration around, the couple are part of a growing cohort of graduates who are leaving jobs, rather than benefits, to seek better opportunities abroad.

"It was becoming an unliveable situation," said Gilbert, 31, of the grueling hours that saw Ireland referred to the European Court of Justice last week for breaking EU working time directives for junior doctors.

"You could walk into any hospital at 10am and find a dozen doctors who had been working from 8am the previous morning and who likely would be there until 5pm. They were absolutely Victorian work practices, it defied belief."

Like the Gilberts, almost half of Irish emigrants were in full-time jobs before leaving, a recent study at University College Cork (UCC) found, suggesting that the damage wrought by Ireland's economic crash and resulting sharp budget cuts may play just as key a role in emigration as high unemployment.

The health sector is an especially acute example of where the severe cutbacks that followed a spending spree during the 'Celtic Tiger' boom years have led to an exodus, often dejected doctors. Almost one-in-ten emigrants had qualified or worked in the health and social work sectors, UCC's study said.

Hospitals have been left struggling to fill consultant vacancies while overworked junior doctors went on strike for the first time in 25 years last month. With over a third of next year's government spending cuts to come from the health budget, there is little appetite to return home.   Continued...

Irish emigrant Ciara Freeman poses for a photograph in her North London neighbourhood November 27, 2013. Almost 500,000 Irish people left the country permanently last year, a near four-fold increase since Ireland's economic crisis began in 2008. Picture taken November 27, 2013. To match story IRELAND-EMIGRATION/ REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett