| 12.4°C Belfast

Irish emigration soars as Celtic Tiger’s cubs hunt for jobs

The number of people leaving the Republic has swelled far beyond those of every other country in the European Union, says research.

An estimated 40,000 people emigrated last year, according to the EU's statistics office, Eurostat, a rate almost twice as high as that of Lithuania, the next most affected country.

It is expected the flow may worsen as the Republic faces years of severe financial difficulties. A research institute has warned that 200,000 people, in a country of 4.5 million, may be forced to emigrate by 2015 if job opportunities do not improve.

The unprecedented prosperity of the so-called Celtic Tiger years seemed to have consigned emigration to the history books. Its reappearance is regarded with dismay.

Some of those leaving are thought to be immigrants who came to Ireland in large numbers from mainland Europe over the last decade and who, unable to find jobs, are returning home.

But a large proportion are young Irish men who, with unemployment at over 13%, see little prospect of work in the near future.

Large numbers in the building industry — so important to the economy — are on the dole. Many are contemplating leaving the country as construction has almost shuddered to a halt.

The return of high levels of emigration is just one of many negative factors in a country which considers itself among those hardest hit by the global recession. It has not been plunged into poverty — some say that it has merely returned to the economic standards of 2000.

But its debt is huge and the general population has been hit hard by government cuts and raised taxes. Many more cuts are on the way, the government has warned, over the next few years.

House prices have tumbled, while there has been a dramatic rise in debt, insolvency and winding-up of companies.

In another indicator, the average cost of hotel rooms has dropped back to 1999 levels, with one third of hotels having difficulty meeting interest repayments on their bank loans. A spate of building, encouraged by the government with generous tax breaks during the boom years, means Ireland has an excess capacity of some 10,000 hotel rooms.

All this has produced huge public anger against bankers, developers and politicians. Fianna Fail, which has been in power for more than a decade and presided over the boom years, is deemed to have no chance of re-election.

Belfast Telegraph