'For me, it's not a lifestyle choice, it's a necessity'
THE Irish community in Australia has reacted furiously to comments by Finance Minister Michael Noonan that many of them are there simply to enjoy the lifestyle.
A family forced to resettle in Sydney last November called his comments "derogatory".
"There is uproar here in Australia about what he has said. I have a lot of Irish friends here and they are disgusted by what he said, absolutely disgusted," said Gavin Dunne (40), from Dublin.
Mr Noonan sparked the controversy on Wednesday when he claimed thousands of Irish emigrants left to "see another part of the world", and not because of the economy.
"(Some) simply want to get off the island for a while. You know, a lot of the people who go to Australia. . . it's not being driven by unemployment at home, it's driven by a desire to see another part of the world and live there."
But Irish ex-pats reacted with fury when his comments were picked up by the 'Irish Echo' in Sydney.
"If you went down to the Rocks in Circular Quay, this will be the topic of conversation tonight, big time," said Mr Dunne, who works in the city's construction sector.
"Friends of mine have said, 'why don't we ask for his resignation and have him leave government and see how easy he finds it to get a job'."
Mr Dunne -- who met his Tipperary-born wife Mary in Australia in the 90s -- returned to Ireland in 2001. But he felt they had no option but to return to Australia with their children Ryan (5) and Zoe (2) when the economy here nosedived.
But it wasn't an easy decision, he said, noting it costs a typical family up to €50,000 to resettle while rents are astronomical there, costing his family €725 a week to live in a remote Sydney suburb.
"It's not a choice of lifestyle for me; it's a necessity.
"We had to get up off our arses and move country because the standard of living in Ireland wasn't feasible," he said.
"I have two young children who I want to bring up in a good environment. Ireland wasn't a good environment.
"I was working six days a week and I would have been better off on the dole for what I was being paid."
His friend, chef Frank O'Callaghan (39), from Blackrock, Co Louth, returned to Australia last year with his nurse wife Deirdre (39), after having lived in Sydney between 2000 and 2004.
They decided to return after they had a son, Evan, (4), due to the lack of opportunities here.
"What we want is stability. We're not lying on the beach three to four days a week," said Mr O'Callaghan.
Although he earns good money as a chef in Sydney, he said the exorbitant cost of living there was forcing them to move to Perth in the coming months.
"It's not all rosy in the garden here, believe me. Life is very hard, it's not just for the lifestyle, you're working to pay for your lifestyle," he said, noting the family barely spends two weekends together each month due to work commitments.
"We're not living a lavish lifestyle. It's not about Bondi Beach.
"The sun does help but it (emigrating) was one of the hardest things we've ever done," he said.
He said there are also a lot of middle-aged people there like themselves who had no choice but to emigrate.
"We never thought we'd have to leave our families at 40.
"There are so many of our age group here and they're not out here for the lifestyle, they have nowhere else to go," he added.