Thursday 23 February 2017



IRELAND'S FINANCIAL crisis, and concerns over the Government's ability to steer the country through, means more and more people are being left with little choice but to look to pastures new in the hunt for employment.

In 2011, a total of 40,000 people emigrated to foreign shores, compared to only 42,000 over the the three-year period from 2006 to 2008, before the recession took hold. To put things into perspective - an estimated 86,000 of Irish people left the country from 2009 to 2011.

Indeed, Irish emigration is now considered to be at its highest level since before the famine, with 111 people quitting Ireland each day according to official figures.

Sean ' Smokey' Smullen of Wicklow town has first-hand experience of the affect this drain has on the Irish families left behind by loved ones desperately seeking some form of work abroad. Both his sons, 30-yearold Stephen and 28-yearold David, are now living in Australia having found work in Ireland all but impossible to come by.

Stephen firstly arrived in Australia on a year long holiday/work visa stay. He returned home, learnt his trade as a fitter and returned to Australia seven years ago, where he is now settled down and happily married.

'It was a big wrench for us,' admits Smokey.

' He would be well known around Wicklow town and was heavily involved in the GAA and soccer. He's well set up now and hasn't looked back but he is really missed.'

However, the onset of the recession in 2008 turned the Smullens's world upside down as David was forced to follow in his brothers footsteps, and try and establish a life for himself 'Down Under' as well. He had few options after a fruitless year and a half search for gainful employment.

'It was a big blow. They both live on the other side of the world. We flew over for the eldest's wedding but it's a big expense. He brought the grand-daughter home to Wicklow to visit in March but it's far too pricey to be expecting him to return home regularly, especially when you have a family to rear.

'David has been gone for two years now. It's a long-time. It's terrible but we did get custody of his dog. He has the feet walked off us, but everytime you look at him you can't help but think of the son.' The departure of his sons has also altered Smokey's plans for the future.

'I think myself and the wife will retire out in Australia. We can't have them paying up and heading home every summer or so. I think Australia is home for good for them now, so we probably will move over there to be closer to them.'

Not having Stephen and David in close proximity has also left a large void in Smokey's life.

'It's very lonesome in the house now. When the sons were there then there was always someone around visiting. There was a time, when you came home from work, there would be at least two or three young lads in one of the rooms. They always had friends around. It was a big change once they went.'

In particular Smokey struggles with not being able to watch his granddaughter grow up and develop, as any dotting grandfather would. While he regularly keeps in contact with both sons through Skype, it's not the same as being able to catch up regularly in person.

'We skype them a lot. You really start missing the grand daughter as well. She thinks we live in an i-pad. She looks around the back of the screen to see where granny and grandad are.'

Smokey, who also sits as an elected member of Wicklow Town Council, is fully aware of other families in the area going through similar ordeals.

' There are an awful lot of young Irish and Wicklow people over in Australia. There are at least five or six lads from the town living over in Melbourne that I know of. I'd say they are all likely to stay. They are all over there a few years now. Five of them all played for the same Wicklow Town side and headed off to Australia around the same time as one another. The town has lost some great players, both soccer and GAA.'

Sadly, he doesn't see the situation improving any time soon.

'Some mother and father are losing someone to emigration every eight minutes. There is a whole generation missing now. Who will be left to work and turn the country around? We were told initially that the recession would last only five years. Well next year is the fifth year and things seem to be getting worse.

'Yet the fat cats seem to be getting fatter. One bank director leaves, only to crop up as the head of another bank. There is a lot of bitterness out there, particularly among people who had to move abroad to get work. They would have loved to have stayed but just didn't have that option.'

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