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Ireland bailout: Young Irish flee 'Celtic Tiger' for a better life

Young Irish, in particular, hope that the economic cycle makes just one more click – and that emigration isn't their only option. But amid news of the Ireland bailout, some aren't waiting around.

By Correspondent / November 21, 2010

A man asks for money in Dublin City Centre, Ireland, Friday, Nov. 12. Amid news of the Ireland bailout, young Irish are leaving the island nation.

Peter Morrison/AP

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Dublin, Ireland

While top European officials and Ireland's beleaguered politicians work out the details of an Ireland bailout package meant to save the country from collapse, the Irish Main Street is reeling, desperate for some sense of stability and a glimmer of hope that some semblance of the roaring "Celtic Tiger" will return.

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The boom years that began here in the mid-1990s and made Ireland the envy of Europe for its rapid growth and virtual full employment are over. Today, unemployment, personal debt, and a lack of optimism dominate the country.

The Irish have come to terms with accepting a life preserver in the form of European Union and International Monetary Fund aid, which may reach $120 billion. Still, many are bracing themselves for a wave of austerity cuts that have already swept Europe.

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Ireland will likely have to raise taxes and cut public services, including the unemployment benefits and, according to some sources, retirement pensions that many are now relying on.

Young Irish adults in particular are expressing deep concerns about their futures. Andrew Murphy, a recent university graduate, has taken an internship at the European Commission in Brussels and doubts he will find permanent work at home.

"I'd like to come back to Dublin; I'd like to get a job in Ireland. I like living there. I still think it's a good country. It's kind of a strange feeling having left Ireland and knowing that even if I wanted to go back perhaps I couldn't, perhaps I couldn't find a job," he says.

Ruth McNally, another recent graduate, is living on unemployment benefits. "My friends thought they definitely weren't going to get jobs, but I was more positive and I thought, 'We'll be fine, we'll get something.' But then there didn't seem to be anything. I couldn't find anything."

Ms. McNally says her friends are all "pretty much" in the same position. "Two of my friends are going to teach English in Korea."

Despair and humiliation

Indeed, there is a sense of despair that has taken hold here and a feeling of humiliation among many as Ireland seeks help from the rest of Europe.

"There is a very real sense of shame at the failures of government and the business class," says novelist Gerry Feehily, a native of County Donegal who now lives and works in Paris. During good times, Ireland, for the first time in its history, was a destination for migrants seeking to make their fortune. Now, Ireland is again supplying labor to the rest of the world.

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