Our brightest and best pack their bags as dole queue lengthens
IMPECCABLY dressed in an expensive-looking patterned shift dress, her make-up carefully applied and her hair beautifully groomed, the woman looked as if she were off to the Dublin Horse Show rather than down to the Social Welfare office to sign on.
She left the offices quickly, eyes downcast, not wanting to be seen -- and certainly not wanting to talk.
With full employment now just a memory this is the new reality being endured by almost half-a-million people in this country, most of whom never dreamed they would ever be in the situation where they were forced to depend upon the pittance provided by the State for their very survival.
Most of the new "poor" are professionals, accounting for more than a fifth of the Live Register figures; while women account for more than half of the increase. These are desperate times -- and at the Pearse Street Social Welfare Office in Dublin yesterday it was evident that despite the rising numbers being forced to sign on a certain stigma still lingers.
A well-spoken blonde woman shook her head rapidly and politely replied "no thank you" when asked if she would speak to the Irish Independent.
Most others we approached simply ducked their heads and left without a word, horrified at the very idea of talking about their personal circumstances.
The office was full and the queue moved slowly. And with no sign yet of a "rising tide" to lift all boats, the Social Welfare office may yet figure in the future of thousands more people over the coming months.
In these straitened times, even having a volley of letters after your name offers scant hope of employment and our brightest and best are having to consider all their options.
Highly qualified graduate Sarah Egan (27) from Trim, Co Meath, says she must have sent off "20 or 30" applications for teaching jobs without even receiving a single response.
Every morning she would open her computer to start the trawl again, checking recruitment sites, then going down through the newspaper advertisements before printing off CVs and cover letters to dispatch -- with little hope of the courtesy of a reply.
Sarah graduated with a degree in geology from UCD in 2005, hoping for a career in the mining, oil or natural resources industries. But out of a total of more than 30 geology graduates from Trinity and UCD that year, only one from Trinity got a job in this country. Most of the others went to the UK and some to Australia.
"I was just coming to the end of my degree when I realised there was never a chance of getting a job here," she said.
Sarah applied for a job on an oil rig in the North Sea -- but was having second thoughts about her career path. "I couldn't see myself ending up on an oil rig," she explained, adding that she really wanted to stay in Ireland.
Instead, she got a qualification in TEFL -- teaching English as a foreign language -- and "ran away" to Korea where she spent a year teaching English.
"It was an amazing country and I really enjoyed it but I wouldn't stay there," she said. In Korea, as well as discovering the joys of the local cuisine, she also discovered that her real joy lay in teaching.
Returning home, she applied to Bangor University in Wales and went off to study for a teaching qualification.
"Financially I survived because they pay you to train in the UK -- I got £7,000 for the year and I was able to live on that. Things were cheap and we had no social life -- it was quite sedate and they spoke Welsh," she smiled.
Now qualified to teach science and physics, Sarah returned home to Ireland to set out again on her search for a job here.
Moving into a flat with friends in Dublin, she got by teaching TEFL while frantically trying to find a teaching post in a school here.
"Mostly, teaching jobs are advertised through the newspapers so my dad would post them all up to me," she said.
However, Sarah found that most of the teaching jobs advertised seemed to be already gone.
"I think it's the case that they've already been offered but they need to advertise them legally," she revealed, adding that she is hearing this from "a lot of people". She also found that schools were advertising for positions that "may" arise, covering themselves so that they have a handful of CVs to choose from in case a staff member leaves. With her boyfriend, Coleman, already working in a geology museum in Cardiff, Sarah decided that her best option was to pack her bags again.
Though with no job lined up, she believes she has a better chance of getting supply work.
But settling down in the UK is not something she wants to even consider. "I don't mind going away for a year or two but I want to come back here and raise a family here -- I just don't know if it's an option," she said, admitting that the future is a worry.
As new Live Register figures were released yesterday, Sarah loaded her suitcase into the back of the family car and her father drove her to Dublin Airport, escaping the fate that has already befallen hundreds of thousands of others in this country.