Australia is becoming the new home for thousands of Irish each year, as they leave behind economic stagnation.
By
Kate Stowell

2 Nov 2012 - 9:08 AM  UPDATED 26 Aug 2013 - 10:48 AM

When the global financial crisis hit Europe in 2008, one of the first countries to fall into recession was Ireland.

Two years later in 2010, Ireland accepted a financial bailout from the European Union and International Monetary Fund, as its once famous "Celtic Tiger" economy crashed.

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

Thousands of jobs were lost and the domestic property market collapsed.

Today, unemployment remains high at nearly 15 per cent.

The high rates of joblessness saw more than 87,000 people emigrate from Ireland last year.

Australia is becoming the new home for thousands of Irish each year.

" In 2009 when my husband lost his job, he was getting just that little bit more depressed it was always my dream to come to Australia but he never wanted to move. So one day when I came home from work, he said that he was ready to make the move to Australia. But at that time, I was getting older and my kids were grown, and I didn't really want to leave, but then it's like, when somebody plants a seed in your head I though 'maybe he lost his job for a reason' and it was always my dream to go to Australia' and then was when I started looking into the process of the five of us coming over here. So that would have been the start, September 2009."

Mother of three Christine Craig and her family arrived in Western Australia in late 2010.

They are among the thousands of Irish who've come to Australia to escape Ireland's economic collapse over the past four years.

And there's no sign of the flow of migrants slowing.

In one recent two-month period alone, more than two thousand Irish citizens applied for employer-sponsored temporary 457 visas.

Last financial year, more than 19,000 came on working holiday visas.

Many others have become permanent settlers.

Before moving to Australia, Christine Craig worked as a hairdresser in Dublin - and she says the high unemployment levels meant living there had become too hard.

"I had a lot of business people, a lot of wives, their husbands would have been very successful. They were coming in, someone every week, husbands had lost their jobs, and their business had gone bust. I was listening to these people and these people were listening to me, because my husband had lost his job. I was just getting so frustrated with the government in Ireland, they just sat back, did absolutely nothing, they did nothing for my husband's company, there was 1100 people working for them. I got to the point where I really hated Ireland, I really hated the politics behind it. The negativity was really getting to 'ya, everyday someone was worse off than me."

David Monahan is a Dublin-based photographer.

He's in Melbourne this month launching an exhibition of his photographic works that features Irish people packing their bags as they prepare to move overseas.

"Right now, as people leave, they are looking at the short-term. They know that where they are right now, at the moment, is not a good place. Therefore they want to leave that place. Now, in general, on a world basis, we are now much more mobile and it is far easier to move from one part of the world to another, once you have the blessing of the whatever authorities, the border controls. So it's easier to do, and its a lot more affordable."

Part of his new exhibition shows Irish people telling their own emigration stories - and why they chose Australia over other popular migration destinations like Canada, the United Kingdom or New Zealand.

"Why did I chose Australia? I don't know. Since I was a young fella it's always seemed. It's the last stop, it's on the far side of the world. You kind of get to Australia, and there isn't any further you can go.

One of the most striking factors in the Irish emigration wave is the numbers of young people.

21-year-old Daniel Montgomery had a job back in County Donegal, but says the chances for career progression were almost non-existent.

He's now working as a hairdresser in Perth.

"It's the best decision I've ever made. In the past 9 months I've done so well in my career than I have done in the past 5 years. So it's all up from here."

Daniel Montgomery says the hardest thing is missing his family.

"I'm very close with my family. I haven't seen them in nine months. We try and Skype as much as possible. The hardest thing was leaving my own routine, leaving my old work place, probably most of all family."

Western Australia has proven a popular destination for Irish migrants - many believe because of the mining boom.

Daniel Montgomery says he's settled well, and there are signs of home all around.

"Yeah I've met a lot of Irish people actually. Mostly through work and socialising. At work we do have a big Irish clientele. And when I'm out as well, if I go to an Irish bar or something, there's such a big Irish community here. They had no work at home."

He says he has no plans to go home.

"I can't see the situation in Ireland getting any better in the next 10 to 15 years. I think that if I want to further my career more, and get to where I want to be than it is in Australia."

There's a growing concern in Ireland that many young emigrants leaving now may never return home.

Ciara Kenny is a journalist with the Irish Times newspaper, where she edits a new section called 'Generation Emigration'.

She says the current emigration wave is different to that seen in Ireland in the 1980s - and it' caughtt te atteniton of the country's political leaders.

"That is definitely a concern that a lot of people are expressing at the moment. I think there is a general consensus as well that the longer they stay away, the less likely they are to come home. Now with the 1980s cohort they were quite lucky in a way becasue the 1980s recession was followed by Celtic Tiger boom of the mid-90s and 2000s. They had a reason to come back, there were a huge amount of jobs, the economy was booming, there were lots of opportunities for them here in Ireland. Now the worry is that if the economy doesn't recover to that same extent, there will be less to draw them back."

Christine Craig says she has no plans to move her family back to Ireland.

"No, no, as much as I suffer really badly with homesickness, I don't want to go back to Ireland. I'd love to just go back for a holiday to see my family and friends. It would be great if my family came out and visited, but that's not going to happen. We just want to give the kids a better future. I don't think the future is rosy for the kids in Ireland, and the kids love it here."

But it hasn't always been easy.

Christine Craig says the family has had difficulties with costs such as medical insurance and house buying, but she's looking to long-term benefits.

"I do get frustrated and I cry my eyes out at times, and then I think 'we're here for the kids'. Hopefully in 10 years' time, the kids will have a decent job, and hopefully they'll learn something out of their Daddy losing their job and not saving, you know, we never saved a penny, we just spent our money back at home."

The problems faced by temporary and permanent immigrants are prominent in the small, but active Irish-Australian media sector.

Luke O'Neil is the editor of the 25-year old newspaper, the Irish Echo.

"Irish 457 holders don't have that access to health care so that is an expense that will become a concern for people. There was also a recent decision that would have affected quite a few people, which was a change to a tax perk called, knowns as the LAFH allowance, Living Away From Home Allowance, that was a salary packaging perk that people could have access to. It would boost your income. That was cut in the previous MYEFO (mid-year economic and fiscal outlook] by Wayne Swan, that took effect last month, so a lot of people are looking at their pay and seeing a drop."

Photographer David Monahan says of the emigrants he's met, it's hard to tell how many will return to Ireland.

"Everybody thinks that they might come, try it out, spend a few years, have a better situation and then when everything reverts, they might think about going back again. But I suppose invariably what happens is you come to a place, you lay down roots and you become part of a community more years and the more bedded you become in a society the more difficult it is to leave."