Once upon a time in this country, people used to queue to slap down €50,000 cash deposits on new homes, they queued to ogle the latest showhouse in the latest shiny new housing estate, and they queued for €5,000 designer handbags.
In Cork yesterday, people started queuing at the Silversprings Hotel to reach the Silversprings Conference Centre, 150m away. Another queue began at the conference centre door, snaking around the car park before tapering off at the front of the centre.
Outside the Silversprings complex, a company had been drafted in to look after traffic management. The hotel carparks were full since 8am and cars were backed up all the way from Tivoli to Mayfield and on to Glanmire, two miles away. Some people said they had been queuing since 6am. Others weren’t prepared to take a chance and had slept in their cars overnight.
When the rain started to bucket down at about midday, umbrellas sprung up, hoodies were unfurled and jackets were quickly zipped up. But nobody ducked off.
There wasn’t any sadness at the Workingabroad expo. Instead, there was an overriding eagerness. These estimated 3,500 people desperately wanted jobs in engineering, construction and agriculture in Canada, New Zealand or Australia.
Person after person told us Ireland had nothing for them. The only future here was unemployment, relentless wage cuts, the grinding pain of austerity and an utter lack of hope.
As Tracy McCormack from Wexford said: “If they gave me a job and a visa today, I’d be on a plane tonight.”
What was startling about the profile of those in the queue was that they weren’t all unemployed people in their 20s. A great many were the working poor, and they were the working poor in their 30s, 40s and 50s.
One couple in their 30s from Cork had three children aged six, four, and two. Mum is a nurse and dad an engineer. Both were working full-time but said they “just couldn’t cover their outgoings”.
They wouldn’t be named or photographed as their families weren’t aware of their plans. It won’t be easy telling the grandparents that their grandchildren will be reared on the other side of the world.
“We just want to get some money. We both have jobs but it’s just getting harder and harder all the time.
“We can’t cover our outgoings. We’d like to go, make some decent money and come back in time.
“It’s not good for people like us, at our age, to be scraping like this. It’s now that we need to be making some money. We can’t afford childcare here or anything. We’re just depending on the goodwill of family and for how long can we do that? We just want to stand on our own two feet and make a bit of money,” the woman said.
Out of the 3,500 who attended the expo in Cork, just 1,200 had tickets guaranteeing them entry. The others were queuing in hope.
A 59-year-old marine engineer from Co Kerry told us how he was planning to go to Canada. With two children in university and a third due to finish school next year, his family couldn’t be more costly.
“I’m thinking Canada as it’s nearer than Australia. I have lots of costs and it’s the only way that I’ll be able to bring in the money that my family need ,” he said scratching his head. “I’m hoping to get short-term contract work. It’s the only option right now.”
Canada calls for couple
Tracy McCormack is an unemployed hairdresser. Her boyfriend, Vincent Healy is an unemployed chef. Their verdict on this country couldn’t be clearer.
“It’s absolutely terrible here in this country, so it is. It’s just depressing. What’s the future here? Live off the welfare for the next years,” said Tracy
Vincent worked constantly for 15 years until he was laid off last October. He’s tried unsuccessfully to get work for the past four months. He doesn’t want to sit around for another six months, waiting for a job that he believes will never come.
The couple, who live in Wexford, travelled to Cork for the expo. They’d like to go to Canada, as Tracy’s brother is there and “everything he says about the place is positive”.
“We can’t just sit around here. We want to work. This place is finished. There will be nobody left in a few years time”.
‘I just want to get out’
Richard and Brett Maher: The Tipperary brothers are seeking a better quality of life.
Brothers Richard and Brett Maher live in Templemore, Co Tipperary. They had been queuing at the expo for six hours when we met them.
Brett, a father of two, has been unemployed for two years. He reckons he’s applied for at least 20 jobs and got nowhere.
“I’ve lost the house and everything at this stage,” he said.
“There’s nothing here for me now. I just want to get out and start somewhere new”.
Brett was working for Tailormade Glass before being made redundant. His brother, Richard, is working. He’s an airline mechanic but says that after repeated wage cuts, going to work is like “being kicked in the teeth day after day”.
“I’m pin to collar. I’m mortgaged up to my ears and I just want a decent wage. I didn’t spend years training to end up with a life like this. My quality of life is just shite.”
Their friend Andrew Foley from Limerick travelled down with them. He’s also still working, as a self-employed plumber — well, just about.
“I spend my time pricing work now and not getting most of it. Then when you do get the work, getting paid is another story. You do the job for half nothing and then they’ll be back to you when it’s done trying to renegotiate the prices down again.
“Back five years ago, I was flying. I employed six people. I paid loads in taxes. Now I’m left with nothing. I just want to get out.”
Hurleys going for long haul
Naomi and Barry Hurley with children Isaac and Zoe say they will go anywhere there are jobs.
Naomi and Barry Hurley brought their three-week-old baby to the working abroad jobs expo yesterday.
They don’t see any kind of decent future here for Zoe, nor for her brother Isaac, who is 20 months old.
Barry, 30, says they have been “toying with the idea of emigrating” for the past two years but have finally made up their minds to go.
They’re going to go “for the long haul.” They don’t plan on returning.
Barry is a marine engineer in Galway. Like many of the other self-employed people here, he says he spends his day “pricing jobs that I don’t get and then chasing people for money”.
The couple would like to go to Sydney but “will go anywhere where’s there’s jobs and money”.
Naomi, 29, a housewife, says they have no disposable income even though her husband is working.
“We have no life here. We have no money and this country is so expensive. You can’t take the kids out on a family day out without spending €50 and we don’t have that €50. All we’re doing is treading water at the moment.”
“We don’t want the kids paying off a debt for the next 20 years that they didn’t create,” said Barry. “The way this country is going, you’ll have to work until you’re 70 and your wages will be taxed to hell. Then when you retire, there’ll be no state pension.”
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