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Foreign Correspondent -

View in ParlView

Goodbye, My Ireland

Broadcast: 22/02/2011

Reporter: Emma Alberici

Alan Niland is leaving his home in County Mayo to work in Australia.

You can see them every day at Dublin's International Airport. Couples locked in teary embraces,
damp-eyed mums and dads farewelling sons and daughters. Friends promising to stay in touch.

1000 people are leaving each week, heading to the four corners of the world in search of work and a
better life. Many, like electrician Alan Niland and chef Sean Sherry are going to Australia.

"Leaving here is a big thing and everyone doesn't want to go. It's a last resort really." ALAN
NILAND Irish Electrician

Alan's heading to Melbourne and the promise of a job with an Irish electrician. Sean Sherry has
been unemployed for the first time in a 25 year career and his fruitless job search has dragged on
for 12 months. He now has no choice but to leave his girlfriend and her daughter and take up a job
offer on a cruise ship operating from Australia. He has to work to service the mortgage on a house
that has crashed in value.

"I was driving home one day and I just had a panic attack. What will I do? (I was) on the motorway.
I had to pull in. I was just panicking: 'what will I do?' My God, I can't get a job." SEAN SHERRY
Irish Chef

Sean and Alan are the human faces of a savagely battered economy. Ireland flew fast and high on the
back of easy money and a contrived real estate boom. When the GFC hit, highly leveraged economies
like Iceland, Greece and Ireland were disasters waiting to happen.

"We went from being a country with a banking system to a banking system with a country stuck onto
it because the banks became three times bigger than the gross national product of the country"
DAVID McWILLIAMS Economist

As Ireland prepares to go to the polls looking to punish politicians complicit in the economic
failure and hoping for a government that can lead them out of the mess, reporter Emma Alberici
examines the harrowing human experiences surrounding Ireland's Generation Exit.

"All our young people are going. It's not only the immigrants that have come into the country and
gone home. It's all our young people, all our own are going." RITA NILAND Alan Niland's mum

_____________________________________

Transcript

ALBERICI: The stunning landscapes of County Mayo in Ireland's wild west. It's hard to believe the
grass could be greener anywhere else.

ALAN NILAND: "I was working for a while and I thought things might pick up and I thought I'd sail
along and see what happens, but it wasn't really working out so I came to the conclusion then that
I'd go. There was nothing else really here for me so I just thought I'd go abroad".

ALBERICI: In a few days time, Alan Niland will leave the bitter cold of Mayo and head for what
remains of summer in Melbourne and a brand new life.

And that means leaving friends and family behind.

RITA NILAND: (Alan's mother) "I knew there was something bothering him for a few days...... so I
dragged it out of him".

ALBERICI: "He was too worried to tell you?"

RITA NILAND: "Yeah so he said he was going to Australia (crying) and I just gave him a big hug and
said that we'd support him in any way we could".

ALBERICI: In the six years since he left school, Alan Niland has earned good money as an
electrician but he's now among the one in three Irish men under 25 who can't find work. It's futile
looking for work here. To kill the boredom he heads out into the countryside with his younger
brother, Aden.

The keen sports shooter will be the first in his family to leave home, and the country, in search
of work overseas.

(to Alan's mother) "Did you try and convince him not to go?"

RITA NILAND: "No. No. It's very hard to see young people.... not getting up in the morning.....
lying in bed until 12 o'clock so it was the right decision for him. It'll be a good experience
....... It'll be hard to see him go, but it's the right thing to do".

ALAN NILAND: "I'd imagine it to be an awful lot harder if I didn't know anyone over there, you
know? If you're going, just going out there and didn't know anyone. I don't think I'd do it then".

ALBERICI: He's never been to Melbourne but it won't be entirely foreign to him. Many of the players
from his local sports club have already made the trip. Gaelic football may be played with a round
ball, but it's the closest game in the world to Aussie Rules and his expat friends have found their
skills are in high demand by AFL teams.

The Aghamore Club in Mayo, just like any other in Ireland is as much about the sport as it is a
social centre where lifelong friendships are made and held. Alan and his mate Donal Bryne have
known each other since they were in little league. But soon it will be time to say goodbye.

DONAL BRYNE: "It's you know terrible times. I've been to the train station in Ballyhaunis and I've
seen all these lads leave and come back and think oh, they'll be back in two years - but things get
worse and more are going. Of course Alan's going on the 22nd so I'll have another trip to the train
station. There'll be no one left soon".

ALBERICI: Two years ago the Aghamore Footballers were the County's reigning champions - now they
can barely field a team.

DONAL BYRNE: (pointing to pictures) Stephen Leneghan was in Melbourne. He's in Melbourne. Stephen
Brady's in England. Shane Morley was in Melbourne. David Kilkenny is still here..... Gordon
Cribbin..... Paul Hunt, his brother James who's under subs is in Melbourne. Colm Garvey was in
Melbourne and Sydney. He's only home. Stephen Coyne is still there. So if you take any ace out of a
fifteen squad team you can see the difference (shows picture of boys in Australia shirts off, Santa
hats on celebrating Christmas). It's a massive, massive loss. There's no work here. There's nothing
round, we've nothing to look forward to. I'm nearly the last man standing and that's the way it
is".

ALBERICI: Irish musicians have been writing about the pain of emigration for as long as anyone can
remember and it's these upbeat but bittersweet songs that are the soundtrack for a struggling
community preparing to farewell another one of its sons.

ALAN NILAND: Leaving here, it's still a big thing too and all like, you know. Everyone doesn't want
to go like, you know. It's you know, last resort really.

RITA NILAND: All our young people are going. It's not only the immigrants that have come over to
the country. Some of them are gone home... some of them aren't. It's all our young people. All our
own are going.

ALBERICI: At 43 Sean Sherry's a lot older but the problem's the same. He's been unemployed for more
than a year.

At an age when he thought he'd be well established, he's had to move back in with his mum on the
outskirts of Dublin.

It's the first time he's been out of work since he qualified as a chef 25 years ago. Now the only
cooking he's doing is for the family and for his long-term girlfriend Ann and her ten year old
daughter, Natasha.

Sean Sherry has been offered a job on a cruise ship based in Australia and he just can't afford to
turn it down.

ANN O'CONNOR: "I don't think he likes to admit that it's hard. He puts on a brave face in front of
everybody, saying yeah, it's great, it's brilliant but lying with him at night, it's not. The
reality hits home with his mum, his family, his friends and everybody".

ALBERICI: Sean is one of four sons, he'll be the third to leave the country to find work.

The Irish have a history of fleeing the country when times are tough. It dates back to the 1840s
when the potato famine drove one million people away. There was another wave of emigration in the
80's, a hunger for work saw 400,000 people leave. They say the numbers this time are worse than
that.

A group of foreign visa experts are dispensing advice to people sick of life in Ireland. In the
past 12 months, Australian visa requests from Dublin have jumped 60 per cent.

DECLAN CLUNE: "We used to get quite a number of people inquiring about heading out to Australia and
other countries on the type of a working holiday visa, but now what we're seeing is quite a
dramatic change from that type of a profile to a more family orientated migration".

ALBERICI: Not so long ago these monthly information nights might have drawn a couple of hundred.
Tonight more than three times that number have shown up.

VISA EXPERT: (addressing crowd) "Unfortunately for the likes of Queensland that got devastated with
the floods, they're going to need 28,000 houses over the next year. We have all the guys here -
carpenters, plumbers, block layers - the whole lot that can go out and take these jobs".

ALBERICI: In this jam-packed room just outside Dublin, Australia really does sound like a lucky
country where jobs and opportunities abound.

IRISH WOMAN: "We've been interested in going to Australia for the last couple of years because the
way the country's been going. We just want to get out and give the kids a better life".

IRISH MAN #1: "I've been working for the last 25 years and it's the first time in my life I'm
unemployed and to be honest, I don't see any prospect of employment in the near future".

ALBERICI: "Do you have a family?"

IRISH MAN #1: "I have two young children, yes - one just three weeks old".

IRISH MAN #2: "We've never been out of work since we left school. Even in the 80s I was never out
of work. I had 3 part time jobs, but I was always working and now to not have, to not be able to
get an actual part time job - that's just not.....

ALBERICI: Until three years ago, the Emerald Isle was turning the rest of the world green with
envy. Its company tax rates were among the lowest in the world, attracting the likes of Google and
other big name foreign firms. This country saw its economy grow at close to 6% a year. There was an
abundance of jobs and cranes dominated the skyline.

But in a flash, it was over. Ireland was forced to go cap in hand to the international community
for a one hundred billion dollar bail out - all down to its obsession with real estate.

For most of the past decade, Ireland has been in the grip of a housing boom. Not buying and
selling, but building. Construction got so big it employed one in four workers. Estates like this
one began springing up everywhere - not only in the cities but in places like this where houses
soon outnumbered families. Now the boom's over, there are three hundred thousand houses empty.

At this development in the capital, the advertising boards promised a luxury lifestyle. Homes that
were for sale in 2006 for half a million Euros, five years later can't attract buyers at even half
that price. They've been dubbed ghost estates. They're a haunting reminder of how Irish banks
binged and how the government lost all sense of proportion.

DAVID MCWILLIAMS: "We were borrowing loads and loads of other people's money and putting it into
houses and that gave me, as an economist, a big alarm saying wow, this thing is going to end
badly".

ALBERICI: Ten years ago, former Central Bank Economist David McWilliams was the first in Ireland to
warn that the Celtic Tiger was about to experience a slow and painful death.

DAVID MCWILLIAMS: "I just said the housing market is going to not only weaken, but it's going to
collapse and when it collapses, the banks will collapse and more to the point when all this
happens, a generation will be stuck with huge mortgages in negative equity and that generation is
the generation that is now emigrating".

ALBERICI: Sean Sherry can only show us his apartment from the outside. It's rented. He was forced
to move out more than a year ago after he lost his job and couldn't afford the 1000 Euros a month
in mortgage repayments.

SEAN SHERRY: "I paid 320 for mine so you know when I was renting mine out recently, again I was
told that if I wanted to sell it I'd be lucky to get 190. So I've lost quite a lot of money".

ALBERICI: And with that loss came overwhelming anxiety.

SEAN SHERRY: "I was driving home one day and I just had a panic attack. I just.... what will I do?
It was on the motorway and I had to pull in and I was just ... just panicking, what will I do? My
God, I can't get a job".

ANN O'CONNOR: "He realised there and then that this is what it is - I'm unemployed, I have an
apartment I can't afford, I have car insurance which I can't afford anymore, tax for the car,
everything hit him and the outlook was grim".

DAVID MCWILLIAMS: "We've never had a boom before, so in a way our boom was much more amplified
because it was totally new and unfortunately our bust is much more degenerate".

ALBERICI: "What was particularly unique about the Irish experience?"

DAVID MCWILLIAMS: "We went from being a country with a banking system to a banking system with a
country stuck onto it because the banking system became three times bigger than the gross national
product of the country which is kind of phenomenal".

(SHERRY PLAYING GAME OF MONOPOLY)

ALBERICI: Even the trusty old game of Monopoly got caught up in Ireland's housing hoopla. Paper
money's been replaced by a credit card machine so players can access millions of Euros for prime
real estate.

It's as if Ireland's bankers and politicians were playing from the same rulebook - fantasy property
plays and funny money for everyone.

SEAN SHERRY: "These are the things what the bankers won't talk about. They were literally throwing
away money. I was getting cheques, you know if you want to refinance your car or buy a new car,
here's a cheque for twenty thousand. You've already been approved. I got four or five of those
cheques".

ALBERICI: It was on for young and old.

ALAN NILAND: "It was just too easy to get money.

ALBERICI: "So is part of the reason you're going, to try to pay those back?"

ALAN NILAND: Try and pay them off, yeah. I want to get rid of them all so if you tell the banks
that you've no money, you've no work they don't really care less. They just want their money every
week or every month or whatever it is".

RITA NILAND: "You know the man in the street could see something wasn't right. But no, the banks
dished out the money and developers built these houses. It's awful sad. They've destroyed.... the
whole fabric of rural society and urban society. The whole fabric is just totally different".

DAVID MCWILLIAMS: "What you had was a golfocracy here. Not a democracy, a golfocracy. The people
who played golf around the country and they all seemed to hang out together on golf courses. The
banks, the developers and the government in cahoots took over the country. And what.... by that I
mean the government allowed the developers to do anything. It allowed the banks to do anything
because they were getting 28% of the cost of the price of every new house in taxation, which
allowed them to look brilliant".

ALBERICI: Bankrupt, bollixed and bewildered - it sums up the sentiment towards Irish politics as
the country heads to an election. Those who leave lose their right to vote, but the exodus has
become the defining issue in this campaign.

LABOUR LEADER: (in Parliament) "So many people are facing the pain of unemployment, the pain of
emigration".

SINN FEIN LEADER: "Well where are those jobs now? Clearly for so many of our young people, they're
in Australia and elsewhere across the globe".

ALBERICI: Fianna Fail has been ruling Ireland for thirteen years. A centre left party that became a
beacon for the so-called Irich in the boom, but in the bust it's been piling debt on debt. Last
year it spent 25 billion dollars more than it collected in taxes. With unemployment now at 14%,
it's little wonder people are heading for the exits.

(IN PRESS CONFERENCE WITH FINANCE MINISTER, BRIAN LENIHAN)

"Emma Alberici from ABC Australia. It would appear that one of your biggest exports right now is
skilled labour. As we move around the country can we see the profile seems to have changed. It's
husbands, it's wives... children being wrenched away from families where they would perhaps prefer
to stay".

BRIAN LENIHAN: (Finance Minister) "Not all of them are being wrenched from their families. Many of
their families are continuing to reside here in Ireland while they work abroad because they're of
an older age if you like. But it is of course regrettable. We had an unsustainable building boom, a
construction boom in this country from 2003 to 2008. My party leader has taken full responsibility
for this, so have I".

ALBERICI: Voters will soon decide the cost of that responsibility but it's people like Sean Sherry
who are paying the highest price, leaving behind the life he's loved and those who've become a part
of it.

SEAN SHERRY: 'I've met someone. I like her very much. I see a future with Ann. You know what future
do we have now when I go away like. She's got a young child. She wants to keep her daughter here.

ALBERICI: Ann O'Connor, Sean's girlfriend of three years and her daughter, Natasha, are staying
put. Ann won't be making the move to Australia even though she was made redundant just last week.

"Why don't you go to Australia with him?"

ANN O'CONNOR: "I don't think I can take Natasha from her nanny. I mean my mum has been great to me
and everything and the case is that my mum is like 74 this year. I would go, if I wasn't a single
parent I would be gone in the morning without a care".

SEAN SHERRY: "It's very hard. It's very hard listening to someone you know that really cares for
you and wants the best for you but at the same time they know they have to let you go. I'm you know
43 now and you know you just, you don't get that much opportunity to meet people again and like -
that's the thing".

COLM O'REGAN: (Comedy Club) "I bought a house at the height of the boom and now it's worth
nothing".

ALBERICI: The Irish have made laughing at themselves a national sport, even in a crisis.

COLM O'REGAN: (Comedy Club) Wonderful so now I'm in negative equity. For those of you who don't
know what that is, negative equity means that what you owe the bank is far more than what the house
is worth and if you don't know what that feels like, I would say that buying a house at the height
of the boom and then going into negative equity, it's a bit like marrying somebody who's then very
quickly lets themselves go. In that you were never going to leave anyway but for some reason now
you feel more trapped".

ALBERICI: If he had any choice Sean would be staying and building a life with Ann, but he's in
negative equity too, and sees no option but to head for opportunity on the other side of the world.

SEAN SHERRY: "I'm just hoping down the road, maybe in a year, maybe two years there'll be an
opportunity to come back to Ireland or something or I'm just kind of hoping that Ann will come to
Australia".

(Alan Niland packing and saying goodbye to his mum)

ALAN NILAND: I've got the Mayo hoody here.... so they'll know where I'm from.

RITA NILAND: (LOOKING AT BAG OF CLOTHES) Now Alan, this doesn't seem right... you're going to
Australia, you're not going away to Galway for the weekend. You know? You're going to need more
than one.... you're going to need more than one bag.

ALBERICI: Alan Niland is packing for Melbourne. He's already found a job there working for an Irish
electrician.

RITA NILAND: "It takes an awful lot of courage for somebody to uproot themselves, not to mention a
family. There's an awful lot of young families going. That takes a huge amount of courage. They
wouldn't be going unless they had to, it's as simple as that.

ALBERICI: Once Alan Niland leaves, Rita doesn't know when she'll see her son again.

ALAN NILAND: (to mother) Are you okay?

(tearful goodbye - Rita sobbing)