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'We were scrounging for the price of a sliced pan in Ireland... now we have a pool in our back garden' - mum who'll never return home

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Matt and Jen, with their children Caitlin, Emily and Anderson, and the childrens' grandmother Betty

Matt and Jen, with their children Caitlin, Emily and Anderson, and the childrens' grandmother Betty

Matt and Jen, with their children Caitlin, Emily and Anderson, and the childrens' grandmother Betty

Jen Hislop (36) and her husband Matt lost their home in Ireland ten years ago when their mortgage went into arrears.

They bought their home in what would later become a ghost estate, in Killucan, Co Westmeath in 2008.

Matt lost his apprenticeship, and began to work for free just to get his qualification, and Jen’s wage was no longer enough to sustain them.

A decade on, the couple are living in Perth, Australia with their three children Caitlin (10) Emily (8) and Anderson (4). By the poolside in their rented home, they read stories on homelessness in Ireland with chagrin.

Memories of the hardship of the recession haven't yet faded, despite the oceans and years separating then and now.

“Nothing has changed since 2010 when we had to make a choice between working, paying childcare and an awful commute, or staying home. Either way we couldn’t cover the mortgage.”

“We bought this house in the middle of a housing estate that ended up being a ghost estate. When we bought it everything was go-go-go, then suddenly it was all gone.”

“My first child was born in 2008; we had just had bought a house, which wasn’t the best time to buy a house, I was on maternity leave when the banks really hit the wall. My husband was doing an apprenticeship in refrigeration and air conditioning."

"Our income just dropped. My pay went down 30pc and Matt was on €90 a week.”

“We were doing an awful commute everyday. We were driving from Killucan to Dublin, leaving at 5am, putting the kids in crèche by 6.30am or 7am in Lucan. Then I’d get the bus into town and go to work.”

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“Then I got pregnant with Emily. I got really sick during the pregnancy and Matt lost his job. Matt went back to work for free just to get his apprenticeship done."

"I can’t tell you what a stressful time it was. One night we couldn’t even put the heating on; another week we borrowed money just to buy essentials for the kids; we were scrounging just to get the price of a sliced pan so that we could make sandwiches for the tea.”

Creche fees for two children were €1600 a month while their mortgage was €1200 per month.

“Once we paid for the day care that only left us about €700 a month. Then we had to pay for car and petrol. So we just had to stop paying the mortgage in 2012. I quit work the year before we left. We wanted Matt to finish his apprenticeship so we could get the hell out of Ireland. He finished it at the end of 2011 and we were gone by the following March.”

Australia, not without its problems, she says, has been a safe haven however. The family feel so welcomed that they may never return to Ireland.

Jen, who graduated as a midwife after studying for three years in Australia, says life has gotten better for the family. She is now an Australian citizen.

“We would be homeless now if we hadn’t emigrated.”

“When we moved over here first I came over on 457 visa, which was my husband’s visa… When we first moved here, Matt was on $56,000 a year which is a low wage in Australia but we felt we were living like kings. We could pay the rent, bills, we lived in a Rathmines type of area - close enough to the city that you could walk into town.”

“You could live there on a single income; the girls had swimming lessons; we could go to the park, have coffees in the morning.”

“The relief of it was unbelievable, and it’s just gotten better. Since then we’ve moved to an area, the kids go to fourth best school in the state.”

“I decided to go back to uni. That was amazing. Because I wasn’t a citizen back then, it was $3,000 a semester, but we were well able to pay that. But there’s no way we would have been able to do that back home. Because I was in university full time, we got subsidised day care. It was $700 a month for the three of them.”

Now, in Australia the couple pays the equivalent of €1,700 in rent for a four-bed house, which has a swimming pool, and which is 15 minutes from the beach

“Just the idea of having a swimming pool in your garden; even now it blows my mind.”

“I remember saying to my mam and dad [when we were in Ireland], ‘we’re so unlucky’. Dad said the harder you work, the luckier you’ll get. It was my life’s work to get us to Australia. Then the midwifery thing had a chance to grow.”

“[Being so far away from home] is hard and my dad has been unwell and Matt’s mam has been unwell. My eldest dad remembers Ireland, and it is always just us [to support each other]. Even last night, we wanted to get to the movies but we couldn’t because we’ve no support.”

But Jen added: “I don’t think we’ll ever go back. Even if we wanted to we couldn’t. We just looked at it a few months ago. Just to rent, my friend was telling me she pays €1700 a month for a one-bed in Clonskeagh.”


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