Something has to give in ‘This Land of Saints and Scholars’

Our well-educated young people are streaming out the departure lounges in search of a better life abroad, writes Ailin Quinlan
Something has to give in ‘This Land of Saints and Scholars’

There were just 33 properties for rent in Cork - with rents of between €1,800 for a one bed, to €2,500 for a two bed house, says Ailin.

HERE’S the ironic thing about Ireland. This Land of Saints and Scholars has - rightly - welcomed thousands of war-refugees and asylum-seekers of all kinds over many years, and in unprecedented numbers over the past 12 months. As we should.

Irish people have sought opportunity, economic independence and religious freedom in countries all over the world. Back in the recessions of the ’30s, ’40s ’50s, ’80s, ’90s, and 2007-2012, Irish people left this country in hordes because there were no jobs.

Though I don’t recall hearing about our desperate emigrants being greeted by free accommodation, generous social welfare benefits and access to free health and education services on an indefinite basis – they were left to make their own luck.

Still, it’s good that Ireland has welcomed so many of those fleeing the savagery of Putin and other despots.

The problem is that continuing to allow more and more of these fleeing people into Ireland, and looking after them, is proving to be a great strain on our economy, our education and health services. It’s also exacerbating our existing and utterly appalling housing crisis. And, it must be admitted, there is a visible social and cultural cost as well. The social and cultural impact on beautiful tourism destinations like Killarney and Kilkenny, and the potential negative impact on our tourism, given the fact many hotels remain crammed with refugees as the summer approaches, cannot be denied.

These are talking points up and down the country. Yet the government appears oblivious to the enormous and growing strain on our economy, or to the fact that its ongoing open door policy is having unforeseen and definitely extreme consequences for many ordinary Irish people.

While there is no doubt that Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar have earned their places in heaven, and Pure Saints they are for it, (saints who, by the way, will never have a problem maintaining a roof over their own heads), the worry for the rest of us is that the Saints don’t seem to know when to stop.

The scale of our homelessness problem is mind-boggling. The sheer lack of affordable accommodation, for sale or rent, for every level of the workforce is terrifying. The basic costs of living and staying warm is becoming impossible for many families. Highly qualified young Irish taxpayers are quietly leaving because the growing strain on our housing, health and welfare services mean Ireland is no longer an affordable or comfortable place to live for many Irish people.

So we have a situation in this Land of Saints and Scholars where our well-educated young people (we’ll call them The Scholars) - among them much- needed nurses, teachers, chefs, doctors and engineers - are streaming through out the departure lounges in search of better or just affordable lifestyles abroad.

Meanwhile, war-refugees and asylum-seekers continue to stream in through the arrivals lounges, many in the expectation that they will be housed and fed by the State.

Imagine some kind of metaphorical scales; a scales where the balance is tipping. This country has become unaffordable for many ordinary working people, while an optics-conscious government continues to squeeze the Exchequer for housing and welfare payments for people coming in from abroad.

There’s no help for the working Irishman or Irishwoman; many are surviving by the skin of their teeth, and yet we’re so low on the government priority list that the Greens were even talking about blocking the introduction of a €200 electricity credit this summer for hard-pressed taxpaying families stuck with sky-high power bills. Really, Eamon?

I had an unsettling conversation with two young people in their mid-twenties. They both have degrees and good jobs. They live in rented accommodation in Cork city. Within the next few months, however, and for reasons to do with their landlord’s future plans for the property, they must leave the accommodation for which they currently pay close on €1800 a month. They’re emigrating.

They said to me: “How many properties do you think are up for rent on at the moment in the entirety of Cork city?” They pulled the website up on their phones and showed me. On the day we looked, this go-to property website had a total of 33 properties for rent in the entire city of Cork. One of these was for students only, and one was actually out in the county, so we’ll say that in actuality, at that point in time, there were 31 places to rent in Cork city.

Here’s a selection of the monthly rent for the apartments and houses on offer in various locations in and around our city: €1,800 for a one-bed apartment. €2,000 for a two-bedroomed house. €2,400 for a two-bedroomed apartment. €1,700 for a two-bed apartment. €2,200 for a four-bedroomed house. €2,200 for a two-bed apartment. €2,500 for a two-bed house.

The young couple know other people about their age, similarly well-qualified and also employed in good jobs, who have been forced to return to live with family because of the shortage of housing and the spiralling cost of rent. This young couple don’t wish to do this. They want to build a life for themselves. Add to the rent costs, they said, the sheer cost of just living or rearing a young family in Ireland is becoming unmanageable. The price of everything; groceries, fuel, household goods, building materials has shot up. Electricity is sky-high and, we’re told, won’t be coming down in price anytime soon, not matter how careful we are to turn everything off, use as little power as possible, and leave absolutely nothing on standby.

This young couple have done their homework. They’re confident they’ll find jobs abroad. They’re confident they’ll find affordable housing without the kind of stress would-be renters experience in Ireland.

“What was it like here when you were our age?” they asked.

“Well,” I said, “there was a lot of unemployment but if you had a job, the cost of rent wasn’t a big issue, even though we were young and at the very start of our careers.”

So here’s the thing. The Scholars this land needs so badly for its schools, health service, engineering, roads and God only knows what else, are leaving because they can’t make a life here. Meanwhile, the political Saints hold the door open to vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers who need support and housing… but whom we, realistically, this small State, can’t continue to afford to maintain. Something has to give. I wonder what it will be.

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