Irish families face grim future as unemployment soars
The Republic's dramatic decline from boom to near-bust has left some of its population with a reasonable standard of living but others in deep financial trouble.
One of the crucial factors is, of course, hanging on to a job. One professional said he had taken a pay cut, an experience which he described as "not pleasant but not a major pain".
But a cabinet-maker, John Noonan from Dublin, who has been out of work for years, and has a wife and three children, said glumly: "It's pretty hard with the cuts, they keep cutting the dole money. Children's allowance has been cut too, and child benefit has gone completely.
"You look for work but there's nothing really there, there's basically no work there. I have hope, but I don't know how many years it will take to get the country back on track."
Mr Noonan is just one of 466,000 unemployed people who throng the labour exchanges: queues regularly snake around the block. "You don't usually talk in the queues," said another jobless man, "though the other day a guy got very agitated, kept saying he couldn't sleep."
Irish unemployment, at more than 13 per cent, is exceeded within the EU only by Spain and Slovakia.
But a working IT professional, married with two children, said that life was not too hard. "The wife and myself are both employed," he said, "and we're not in negative equity, though there isn't as much cash flowing through. Still, the weekly shopping has got cheaper over the past few years – you don't have to hunt out bargains quite so much because generally prices have come down."
But everyone was fearful about becoming unemployed, he added. He said "my heart goes out" to couples with children who during the boom years had paid high prices for new homes in housing estates miles from Dublin and had since lost their jobs.
Since then house prices have slumped, often by more than 40 per cent, since the property bubble burst. Far fewer sales now go through, leaving families effectively stranded in sometimes quite remote locations where they had intended to stay for just a few years.
Some of those in the worst predicaments live in what are known as ghost estates, unfinished developments often on the outskirts of provincial towns. There are 650 ghost estates, with a recent report concluding that 120,000 homes in them are unlikely ever to be sold. The authorities have yet to come to grips with this unwelcome phenomenon: some may eventually be demolished.
There has also been a sharp rise in the number of families unable to repay their mortgages. Credit unions report that ¤900m paid out by them have not had repayments made on them for 10 weeks or more.
Meanwhile many unhappy couples are staying together because they cannot afford to separate since they cannot sell the family home. This is illustrated by a fall in the numbers seeking annulments.
At the same time the Courts Service has warned it is being stretched to "maximum capacity" by a surge in bankruptcies, company closures and re-possessions.