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'Slowly but surely, people are returning – suddenly Ireland's not toxic any more'

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Liam Boggin used to leave from Dublin Airport every Sunday. Now he says people are returning and see Dublin as a 'credible place to work'. Photo: Steve Humphreys.

Liam Boggin used to leave from Dublin Airport every Sunday. Now he says people are returning and see Dublin as a 'credible place to work'. Photo: Steve Humphreys.

Liam Boggin used to leave from Dublin Airport every Sunday. Now he says people are returning and see Dublin as a 'credible place to work'. Photo: Steve Humphreys.

LIAM Boggan used to spend Sunday evenings traipsing to Dublin Airport to catch the 9.10pm flight to London for his job at State Street Corp. As Ireland recovers from recession, his commute is now 600 miles shorter.

A former head of equity research at Merrion, he left for the UK in 2011 after the global crisis swept through Dublin's finance houses. He moved back to work at Cantor Fitzgerald in September after it bought Irish brokers Dolmen Securities.

Boggan and London-based Irish friends "were increasingly resigned to the long-term nature of commuting," he said. "Over time, it became apparent there was a barely perceptible but actual shift in sentiment toward Ireland. Not only had Cantor arrived, but others were looking to hire."

Ireland exited its international bailout programme in December and financial services companies are starting to recover from the worst banking crisis and property market crash in western Europe.

Along with Cantor, companies such as fund manager Investec bought Dublin-based firms and some emigrants are slowly being drawn back across the Irish Sea.

Last week, Davy stockbrokers said it had hired Chantal Brennan from PineBridge Investments in London as chief investment officer at its asset management unit.

"This lady we've appointed, we wouldn't have had a hope of attracting a few years ago," said Joan McGrath, head of human resources at Davy, in an interview.

"People are returning from London, driven by Dublin being seen as a credible place to work again."

The numbers working in finance in Ireland rose 8 per cent to 67,300 in the third quarter of 2013 from the same period in 2011, according to the country's statistics office. Figures for the fourth quarter are due by the end of this month.

"Many Irish people who had made money in London moved back during the boom," said John Purcell, the Irish managing director of London-based executive search firm Purcell & Co. "Then it all unraveled, and it was back on the boat. Now we are beginning to see a trickle back."

It's a turnaround from the recession, when unemployment tripled and emigration rose to the highest since the poverty- stricken times of the 19th Century. On Sundays, Boggan joined the exodus, leaving his wife and three children, aged between 10 and 14, in Dublin to work as head of equity research sales in the UK and Ireland.

"Over two years, that last flight got busier and busier as more and more people started to do as I was doing," said Boggan, who declined to give his age. "The question that started to grate on me on Sunday evenings, was when the kids asked me when was I coming home. I explained I was home and was going back to London to work."

Boggan now works at Cantor's office on St Stephen's Green, about a 30-minute walk from his home.

Employment rose 3.2 per cent in the third quarter from the year before, the fourth straight increase. The number of new professional job vacancies rose 10 per cent in January from a year earlier, according to recruitment company Morgan McKinley, while KBC Groep NV's Irish unit in Dublin said yesterday it would hire 200 extra staff this year.

For Brian O'Reilly, head of research at UBS Wealth Management in London, the move came earlier and was more about opportunity than necessity.

He had left Ireland in 1999 to work in the City of London and as Dublin home prices plunged, he made a decision.

"We took a long-term view that our future was going to be in Ireland," said O'Reilly, 38, who bought a home in Killiney, south Dublin in 2010. At that point, real estate prices had dropped about 30 per cent from 2006.

"When you have sat crammed on the Tube for long enough, you start thinking about quality of life."

O'Reilly commuted on and off for six months of the next two years. Meanwhile, the Irish economy started to stabilise, under the shelter of the three-year rescue programme the country sought in the final months of 2010. House prices rose last year for the first time since 2007. International buyers began to buy Irish bonds, sending the yield on 10-year government bonds to 3.28 per cent from a peak of 14.2 per cent in July 2011.

In 2012, Cantor bought Dolmen and, last year, hired Boggan to lead its institutional equities and corporate broking business in Dublin after his role at State Street ended. O'Reilly moved back to Dublin full-time to work as head of global investment strategy at Davy, Ireland's largest securities firm. The company has increased its staff numbers to 550 over the last four years, and is now above its peak at the height of Ireland's Celtic Tiger boom.

While fund administration has thrived in Dublin, led by companies like Bank of New York Mellon Corp expanding in the city, other areas of finance are still struggling.

The two biggest lenders, AIB and Bank of Ireland, are cutting jobs. The former Anglo Irish is being liquidated, while overseas banks, such as Lloyds and Danske, have reduced their presence in Ireland.

Yet some 18 months on from moving, O'Reilly said he has no regrets. He's optimistic the Irish economy is turning.

It's a sentiment shared by Boggan: "Suddenly it's not a toxic place anymore," he said.

"When I used to drive around with State Street analysts here, they'd always say to me, listening to the radio, it was only the recession," said Boggan.

"Now, I take Cantor analysts around and recession isn't the topic of conversation. People seemed to have suddenly moved on."

©Bloomberg

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