Newry’s Lost Generation: A special report
This Sunday, Newry will lose another six members of the community.
Suitcases are almost packed, passports are stashed away safely, and money is changed into dollars.
Like the recession of the 1980’s – when many of Newry’s twenty-somethings left the Emerald Isle to find work around Britain in cities like London, Manchester, Glasgow and Cardiff – the start of 2012 is seeing more of Newry’s population leaving the city – and country – in search of work and a better life. But the similarities between the 1980’s generation and the 2012 generation end there.
A thirty minute flight or three hour boat journey took the 1980’s generation home frequently, some even coming home to Newry every single weekend. The 2012 generation often don’t enjoy such luxuries. Most of our younger generation are now opting for Australia, an excruciating 24 hour plane journey from home, not knowing when they will get to see their family and friends again.
Australia, with its hot weather, booming construction industry and beautiful cities is unsurprisingly the first choice for most, but it is a sad reflection on our country that our young, brightest and best are leaving in their droves week after week in search of a life that doesn’t involve taking a number and waiting for your turn at the local Jobs and Benefits office. For that seems to be the alternative for most.
We may not see the levels of emigration that characterised the Irish Famine of 1846-1851 – when two million people left Ireland in less than ten years – but the current number of people choosing to leave Newry is alarming and something which needs to be addressed.
They aren’t fleeing a humanitarian disaster or war, but economic uncertainty. The most startling evidence Newry Times has gleaned from speaking to those who have left our city over this past three years is that all are in agreement that Newry offers them little hope of a job or a career.
Many of those leaving Newry every week have degrees, Master’s degrees or are qualified and skilled tradesmen. Yet all see their immediate futures on the other side of the world.
Sinn Fein MLA Mickey Brady acknowledged the seriousness of the issue. Speaking to Newry Times he said, “The spectre of emigration, which has been Ireland’s greatest sadness since Famine times, has once again cast its shadow over the country. Sinn Fein believes that the only way to retain our talented, vibrant young people is to offer them the job prospects which they deserve.”
Brady continued, “This can only be done by providing a stimulus package to initiate growth in local industry and generate jobs. In the 26 counties the FG Labour government seem determined to cut their way out of recession. This will not work and indeed some of their recent comments regarding emigration as a ‘lifestyle choice’ betray their true views on the matter and their unwillingness to tackle youth unemployment.”
“Prospects for young people in the North of Ireland would be greatly enhanced if fiscal powers were devolved from Westminster to the Assembly so that local politicians, answerable to a local electorate, were in a position to make decisions,” he added.
SDLP Councillor Connaire McGreevy spoke to Newry Times of his sadness at the loss of many of our young people. “It is a sad element in modern Irish life when mothers and the rest of the family have to hug their loved ones at the airport or harbours as they set out to find work. Many will not return and this will have a detrimental impact on our communities, particularly in rural areas with Gaelic Clubs, especially already suffering as a result.”
Connaire knows that the only way to stop this mass movement is through job creation in our local community. “We need jobs. We need a programme for government that will deliver for the local economy. There are opportunities within tourism, within retro fitting of homes for energy efficiency works and within the ICT sector.”
The fact that many of the young people leaving Newry are skilled tradesmen and graduates concerns Connaire but he believes local businesses can be part of the solution.
He explained, “I would urge all employers locally to take someone on to give them a chance to reskill and retrain with maybe the possibility of longer term employment. It is demoralising to be out of work and sometimes the only solution is to leave if nothing is available locally. We have opportunities here, and the central government needs to take drastic action to curb the emigration of our people.”
Dominic Bradley MLA agreed with his colleague. He said, “We are alarmed that young people are being forced to emigrate in their droves to Australia and Canada in the hope of securing employment due to the lack of career development and employment opportunities here.
“Lots of young couples who bought homes at the height of the boom are now stretched to their limits and are facing serious difficulties in meeting their mortgage payments.”
On the issue of a severe lack of job opportunities he added, “Unemployment in our community is at an all time high with thousands of people, particularly tradesmen, struggling to get work for a sustained period of time and with rising living costs, so many families are under severe pressure in their attempts to simply make ends meet.
“We must bring out the best in our young people and give them realistic job opportunities and reasons to stay in Ireland.”
Newry Times caught up with three of the young men leaving in a group of six. William O’Hagan (22) is from the Derryleckagh part of the city. On why he decided to leave Newry, William says it was initially a desire to see the world.
He explained, “I’ve been to many places in Europe but I’ve always wanted to venture further than that but it’s never been possible due to commitments I’ve had here in Newry. That has now changed and I really want to make the most of the opportunity I have. A number of close friends are also either in Australia or moving to Australia so the opportunity was too good to turn down.
“Last and certainly not least is the work situation both in Northern Ireland and Australia. The lack of jobs here is the main reason people here are deciding to leave. Why stay in a less enjoyable country to make less money?”
When questioned about how his parents felt about his imminent departure, he acknowledges that they will be upset that he is going but also happy that he is getting to see the world.
On how he plans to find employment in Australia he continued, “We have quite a few friends already in Australia who have been looking out for jobs for us and seem to have been successful. In preparation for not getting a job straight away we have of course saved up in case we have to support ourselves at the beginning without an income.”
William explained that he plans to stay away for at least two years if all goes to plan. “The establishment we are planning to start work with at the end of February qualifies us for a second years’ visa after three months of labour so we will be looking to get that out of the way as quickly as possible. I may come back for a brief visit to friends and family back home if the opportunity presents itself.”
William struggles to pinpoint exactly who is to blame for the poor situation in which he and his friends currently find themselves and which prompted them to make the big move.
He believes though that the government should do more. “I find it hard to put the blame on any particular person, however there are very little opportunities for younger people to find work in this country and the government could do a lot more to help. A lot of 18-24 year olds are having to settle for retail jobs and can’t get the chance to further themselves or their career.”
After hearing good reports from friends already in Australia, William doesn’t hesitate when he explains why he chose this particular country. “It was mainly due to having good friends out there already who have given nothing but outstanding opinions of the place. The ease of finding work along with the good wages that they offer made it a no-brainer for me.”
The job opportunities, great weather and possibility of having a great time in the process appeals to William but he admits he will miss Newry. “I will of course. I’ve lived here for many years and have plenty of friends here who I will miss. There literally is nothing here I haven’t done now though and I cannot wait to leave to explore new things.”
So what would William say to other young people reading this and thinking about making the big move? “If you aren’t getting what you want here, don’t be afraid to take the chance and go.
“Everyone says they will go travelling but a lot of people just end up doing nothing and spending their lives at home. Take the chance and have the time of your life. You’re only young once!”
And with that final rallying call to the remaining young people in Newry William goes back to planning his journey to the other side of the world.
Daniel Guiney (25) and Jason Lennon (23) are both from the Glenn area of Newry and they will join William on the voyage. Both admit that they will be there indefinitely, with the worst case scenario being a two year sabbatical. Daniel cites his main reason for leaving Newry as lack of work.
“The only work I have been doing since I obtained my master’s in June is voluntary work which is related to my degree. Jobs are very hard to come by in Ireland and almost every employer demands that you have ‘x’ amount of years experience regardless of your qualifications.”
Jason’s reasons are similar, but a visit to Down Under four years ago convinced him to go back. “I was in Australia four years ago and fell in love with the place and always said I would go back.
“I’m also fed up working in a job that I don’t like for pay that is not great. I have always wanted to buy my own house and I believe I will never achieve this if I stay here. I also have family and friends there so it’s the perfect time to go.”
So, what does Daniel and Jason’s family think of their decision? Daniel said, “A few mixed emotions, they will miss me but they know it is only temporary and I will move back home in a few years. My Dad is also very encouraging, saying it is the perfect opportunity to go and see that side of the world.”
Jason’s parents are sad and happy in equal measures. “They will be sad to see me go but they understand my reasons for leaving and are happy for me.”
Although it seems apparent that Australia does offer the prospect of a well paid job – judging by our popular feature ‘Newry’s Lost Generation’ – a job is not guaranteed. Daniel agrees but insists he is ready for any scenario. “I have obtained a list of Planning Consultancies in Sydney and I have forwarded dozens of my CV’s. I have received a couple of replies but nothing is concrete yet.
“I know that it will be hard to find a job immediately but in my field there is a lot of work all over Australia. I also intend to do a bit of causal labour work or bar work until I find a permanent job in Urban Planning.” Jason believes that preparation is key and not being too picky will be beneficial, “I like to think I have prepared for every scenario but I’m not worried because if you’re willing to work you will find work anywhere.”
Does Daniel blame the global recession on their lack of opportunities? “I do believe that employers in Newry could do a lot more for our generation. There is a lot of exploitation and employers looking cheap labour in the Newry area.”
Both Jason and Daniel described missing their friends and families as their main concerns but both agree that leaving Newry is their only realistic option in order to secure a job and a good lifestyle. Jason is adamant about this fact, declaring, “Leaving Newry is my only option because I believe I’m stuck in a rut in the same job and if I don’t leave now things will only get worse.”
Adding humour to the solemn occasion Daniel proclaims, “Good luck and this time next year I’ll be a millionaire,” and with those defiant and ambitious last words Jason and Daniel get ready to leave Newry.
To read our weekly feature – Newry’s Lost Generation – click here: http://newrytimes.com/category/newrys-lost-generation/
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