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

CS Monitor, 21 November 2010 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 Jason Walsh, with additional reporting by Lenny Antonelli

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.

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.

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.

According to government statistics, unemployment is now above 13 percent and 27,700 people left the country in the first four months of this year, more than anytime since 1989. An estimated 5,000 Irish people leave every month, an increase of 81 percent on figures from 2009.

Things are so tough that even labor unions are telling members about prospects abroad. “As a result of the downturn we’re finding that a lot of members are finding it hard to get work and many are considering immigrating to the United States, Canada, and Australia,” says Sean Heading, spokesman for TEEU, a union for engineers and technicians.

‘Ghost estates’

The most striking aspect of the bust is the collapse of the housing market. Not only are houses not being sold, the Irish landscape is now littered with so-called “ghost estates,” housing complexes that are sparsely inhabited and often unfinished.

Architect Dominic Stevens says government policy fueled a boom in house building that could never be kept going. “As late as 2008 the average new house price was €375,000; €120,000 of that went straight into the government’s pockets in taxes and levies,” he says.

“These were being built for reasons that had nothing to do with making homes for people. In [rural County] Leitrim you had estates that were populated entirely by people working on building other estates,” he said.

An estimated 280,000 homes are unoccupied in the country, 23,000 of which are new homes that have never been lived in.

For homeowners who bought before the real estate bubble burst, foreclosure is a growing concern. In early November, the government reported that 1 in 10 Irish mortgage holders is failing to keep up with payments.

Michael Culloty, a spokesperson for the Money Advice and Budgeting Service, an Irish charity that provides independent advice to people with financial problems, says that people are seeking advice but that widespread foreclosures have not yet begun.

“We’re currently experiencing an increase in the volume of people we see,” he says. “People are getting into difficulty with consumer debt in particular.”

Mr. Culloty says the banks have not yet begun to force people out of their homes in large numbers: “Most people are hanging in there.”

Not all commentators paint the same picture. Economist Morgan Kelly wrote that mass home repossessions were on the horizon. “If you thought the bank bailout was bad, wait until the mortgage defaults hit home,” he wrote in the Irish Times.



Hackers seek physical space in a virtual world

The Irish Times, April 4 2009 Dublin will soon be home to a space for hackers to congregate and get creative, write Lenny Antonelli and Jason Walsh

It's not a word that's used much in polite company – mention the term hacker and it conjures up nothing but negative images. In today's wired world of interconnected computer networks, email, SMS messages, social networking and online banking the stereotype of the computer hacker hasn't kept-up with the times.

At best the outdated image of the 1983 film War Games comes to mind: intelligent kids getting into serious trouble while attempting mischievous pranks. At worst, hackers are only a step away from terrorists, intent on destroying important computer networks and collecting enough personal data to make Google blush.

The reality is, as always, rather different. The personal computer as we know it today would not exist without the work of hackers – mainframe computers share less DNA with a typical PC or Mac than a pocket calculator does and, famously, Apple Computer was founded by a pair of hackers, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs, in a Californian garage.  More recently, the Linux operating system currently revolutionising the business world is entirely the work of hackers. So much for tabloid visions of "cyber crime".

Dublin will soon be home to a permanent space for computer hackers to congregate and get creative. Named Tóg, Irish for build, this new space will be Ireland's contribution to the growing international movement of "hackerspaces".

Sat in the elegant, if incongruous, surroundings of Dubin's Westlin hotel explaining their plans to the Irish Times, Tóg's Jeff Rowe and Robert Fitzsimons emphasise that hacking is about curiosity: the desire to understand how technology works and the creative urge to build and modify gadgets. The only legal issue at stake here is the rather prosaic one of voiding warranties.

Fitzsimons is perfectly comfortable with the word hacker: "I'll use "hacker" and somebody else will use it and there'll be a completely different interpretation," he said. "My hacking is out in the open. I have the domain – If anybody wants to find out who the hackers in Ireland are, my name is plastered on the site."

Hacking, Fitzsimons says, is a form of self-education in a fast-moving world: "It's about learning things about the electronic environment we live in."

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the omnipresence of technology today, talk among the group does turns to political issues. Hackers, as a group, tend opposed to technology for technology's sake if it doesn't bring anything to the table. E-voting, for example, has been roundly rejected by hackers as needlessly complex and fundamentally unsafe: "The thing that gets me about e-voting is that these computers are essentially black boxes, but a vote isn't a black box. Physical voting is a very transparent process – with electronic devices it's a bit of magnetism somewhere, it's a bit, a 1 or a 0 somewhere," said Rowe.

Speaking to the Irish Times, technology consultant Colin Sweetman explained the term hackers needs to be approached with caution: "The prehistory of even some Microsoft products shows there were developed by hackers working for fun in garages and then bought-out," he said. "A lot of the actual malicious "hacking" is done by what are called "script kiddies" messing around with software they didn't write and don't really understand."

Sweetman also poses an interesting question about the source of malicious computer viruses and scams: "Nobody knows how many "black-hat" hackers in former Soviet states and in China are actually, at least tacitly, supported by their governments," he said.

Scams, industrial espionage and schemes for geopolitical domination are a world away from the reality of computer hacking as practiced in Ireland. Tóg's Jeff Rowe, who spends his days researching devices for the visually-impaired at Dublin City University, is a walking, talking example of the kind of self-motivated learning and playing that hackers engage in. Rowe's work is useful, interesting, technical and difficult. His play may be less important but it shares all of the other characteristics: he is currently designing an exact replica of a 1980s arcade machine in order to play old video games. "I want it to look and feel authentic," he said. "There's no point in just having a desktop unit. Half of the fun is two people standing up against the unit."

An avid cyclist, Fitzsimons, perhaps unsurprisingly a computer programmer by profession, is working on various gadgets for his bike: "Because I cycle and there's potholes everywhere, I'm interested in putting sensors on my bike so you can measure the road surface and how closely cars overtake you," he said.

Fitzsimons and Rowe are among 16 technology enthusiasts, many of them supporters of 2600 magazine, the technology underground's premier periodical, planning to open the Tóg hackerspace in Dublin – a home for hackers to work on projects, collaborate and socialise.

As unlikely as it sounds, similar spaces have sprung up across Europe and the US in recent years. For Fitzsimons, Rowe and the rest of the Irish group it was a trip to the 25th congress of Germany's Chaos Computer Club, one of the most influential hacker groups, that crystallised the idea.

"It really gave us the final push," said Rowe "We decided to get a group and start planning and get it in motion."

Fitzsimons sees the space being conducive to technological creativity and collaboration, but also a place for hackers to relax: "I'd like to see an area with couches and TVs and X-Boxes or whatever, and you wouldn't necessarily have computers in there. And then you'd have another room with computers; people [will] have somewhere to go and get away from computers."

In terms of technological projects, Rowe stresses it will be a learning curve for everyone. "Maybe just one or two people know how to do complex projects [so] it'll start off with making an LED display that flashes different lights and you can program different messages, and then it'll slowly build up and up."

Fitzsimons would also like to see woodwork and kitchen facilities in the space – allowing members to partake in other creative, hands-on activities unrelated to computers. "Some of us like cooking and some of the hacker spaces even have a Sunday dinner," Fitzsimons said, mentioning woodwork, paper-craft and baking as other possible activities. "I hope it wouldn't be the case where people would just hang out and play computer games and not actually participate in the idea of making something or doing something slightly creative with their time and space."

For now, the group will have to settle for "booting-up" in a single room – with 16 members paying €50 a month towards rent, the group is hoping to find a suitable space in central Dublin by May 1. Once the space is up and running the group will hold weekly public meetings for prospective members. "We're at the point where we feel that no new people are going to join until we actually have the space," Rowe said. Once the space is up and running, the group is confident it can quickly attract new members – and enough income to start looking for larger premises.

At a time when more and more communication is moving online, it is ironic that a group of technology enthusiasts would be so anxious to find a physical space to communicate in but Tóg has a rationale: "The highest bandwidth [mode of communication] is obviously fact to face," Rowe said. "It's all about the community. It's the community that drives all these sorts of things. We'd be nothing if it was just a space and there was no community, and no-one knew each other in the space."

Fitzsimons elaborates: "As Jeff was saying, it's about the community, and about that community building and making and creating. If that involves technology, brilliant. If it doesn't, brilliant."

If the information economy means anything at all it requires motivated, intelligent and creative players, just what Tóg and the hackerspaces movement are intent on creating.

Urbex Factor

For many of us, a day exploring Dublin might involve a picnic in the Iveagh Gardens, or a trip to Glasnevin Cemetery... For others, it means investigating the hidden interiors of the city’s abandoned buildings. Lenny Antonelli meets some intrepid “urban explorers” Published by The Dubliner, April 16, 2010

Most people visit Dun Laoghaire for some sea air, a walk along the pier or a trip to the market – only a rare few go to explore the dark innards of the derelict Dun Laoghaire Baths. Dave is an “urban explorer” – one of a growing number of Dubliners who venture into the city’s derelict buildings, tunnels and other hidden spaces. A young photographer from Tallaght, he asked us not to reveal his surname – trespassing is illegal, after all.

Dave isn’t some strange creature of the night though, just a 20-something armed with the tools of his trade – a camera, a torch and a portable sat nav programmed to his favourite exploration spots. He describes the inside of the baths: a warren of dark passages, rusting stairs and decrepit pools, saunas and changing rooms, with badly painted cartoon characters on the walls and drug paraphernalia scattered on the floor. Once among the most popular bathing spots in Ireland, they closed for good in 1997.

It was here that Dave’s enthusiasm for urban exploration – shortened to ‘urbex’ by its enthusiasts – was born. “Me and my friends were just walking about, we just saw the place and thought we’d head in,” he says. His curiosity was piqued, but he thought there wouldn’t be much more to explore after this. He was wrong. “I’d say we’ve seen about 100 places over the last couple of years.” The photographs that accompany this piece were taken by Dave and Tarquin Blake – more about him anon.

Dave’s favourite derelict building is Bolands Mills on Grand Canal Dock, though it’s now inaccessible. The imposing flour mill was occupied by Éamon de Valera and others during the 1916 Rising; the company went into receivership in 1984. He says that unlike other abandoned buildings, there’s little graffiti inside – and the views from the roof are superb.

“All the machinery is still in place; there’s just a really good history to it. It’s so big you’d spend a whole day there. Every time we went we found something new, a whole new section that we missed.”

Redcourt House in Clontarf, which Dave managed to visit and photograph before it was demolished, has a grizzly past; it was the site of two murders over the years, and was dubbed the “Hammer House of Horrors” by locals.

Dave’s closest brush with the law came at a derelict industrial estate in Tallaght. He and his friends were exploring an abandoned factory when a voice boomed out of a speaker, telling him he was being watched, and that the guards had been called. “We legged it and ran all along the Luas track,” he says. “It’s a shame, there’s no way you can do places like that anymore.”

Although breaking into private or public property is illegal under the 2002 Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, Dave makes sure to operate by a simple code of conduct – don’t damage or take anything. The only time he broke this was when he used a crowbar to prise open a window of the derelict La Touche Hotel in Greystones, parts of which were damaged by a fire in 2006. Inside, he photographed the old restaurant, nightclub, conference room and some of the dozens of bedrooms. Others might have been tempted to take some of the valuable furniture; all Dave wanted to leave with was photos.

He’s explored countless other abandoned buildings – Grangegorman Asylum, the Clontarf and Blackrock baths, the Hellfire club in Rathfarnham, Martello towers – but is still keen for more. He’d love to get inside the old mine near Killiney beach – the passage in is small, but he’s heard that there’s a huge cavern inside with a bridge stretching across. He’d like to explore some of the ghost offices and apartment blocks left by the building boom too, but presumes they’re all heavily secured. Dave’s dream exploration surprises me: “The place I’ve always wanted to see is Chernobyl – a whole abandoned city. There are animals living in office blocks and trees growing up through houses, crazy stuff.”

The term ‘urban exploration’ was coined in 1996 by Infiltration, a zine dedicated to the subject, but its history stretches back much further. In 1793, Philibert Aspairt got lost while exploring the Parisian catacombs by candlelight. – his body was found 11 years later just feet from the exit that eluded him, and he’s now considered the world’s first “cataphile.” American poet Walt Whitman described a visit to an abandoned railway tunnel in New York in The Brooklyn Standard in 1884. In the 1950s, a group of students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology began exploring steam tunnels and rooftops around the campus, a practice they called ‘hacking.’ In 1994, the Diggers of the Underground Planet – an urban exploration group in Moscow – claimed to have found the city’s fabled Metro-2 subway system, allegedly built so that Stalin and his officials could evacuate the city quickly in case of attack.

In 2001, urban explorers found a maze of utility tunnels under Minneapolis and its sister city Saint Paul – they dubbed it “the labyrinth” and explored and mapped it fully over two years. And during the noughties, urban explorers from across North America organised conventions they deceptively titled ‘Office Products Expo.’ In the past, urban explorers communicated through zines, but the Internet dominates now, with message boards such as, and online magazines like Jinx and Explonation.

So far, doesn’t get much traffic, according to Dave, and there’s not a community in Ireland as such – more individuals and small groups of friends who go out together. He’s an old hand at urban exploration at this stage, and is interested in its natural offshoot too – rural exploration. He’s visited castles in the greater Dublin area, and is thinking of compiling a book of his photography. “I went out last week with my dad and went to this place at the back of a housing estate in Navan. It’s like a big mansion ruin, it’s amazing... A demesne, there are derelict farmhouses around it. It’s just crazy that stuff like that is there.”

Photographer Tarquin Blake is an experienced rural explorer – his first book, Abandoned Mansions of Ireland, to be published later this year, will feature photographs and historical background on 50 derelict mansions across the country. Working from old 19th-century maps to find the sites of abandoned mansions, Tarquin was blown away by what he found. “The loss of heritage and architecture is pretty staggering. Some of the mansion houses rate among the largest and grandest ever built in Europe. And they’re completely in ruin now.”

One of the mansions he photographed is Westown House near Naul, though all that really remains now is a shell. “It’s hard to picture the place in all its grandeur, but it was said to be the finest mansion in Fingal.” Built in the early-18th Century, the house was owned by the Hussey family, who couldn’t afford to stay there after the Land Commission took it over in the 1920s. Various tenants rented it in the following decades, including former Fianna Fáil TD PJ Fogarty – they had the run of its 32 bedrooms, three kitchens, orchards and walled gardens. “Apparently a guest fell from one of the upper windows and was found the following morning in a pool of blood,” Tarquin says. “His ghost is said to haunt the place.”

Tarquin started out exploring Magdalene Laundries and asylums in Cork city before switching his focus to the countryside. He’s photographed various Dublin city buildings too, but says rural exploration is a lot more relaxed. “You need to have your wits about you and be a lot more cautious in the city!”

We remind you that exploring abandoned buildings is illegal – do not try this at home please. Tarquin has met enthusiasts more interested in stealing than documenting, but for most urban explorers the goal is simply to capture the history and decline of forgotten buildings, and to record places that we all get close to but never see.

Tarquin is protective of his favourite buildings, and admits he sometimes prefers to be vague about their exact locations to keep them hidden. “I guess the places are special because they have been kind of forgotten.”

Moral dilemma: what will replace the church as our moral compass?

Irish Times, 19 January 2010,

Interviews by Jason Walsh and Lenny Antonelli

GERARD CASEY Professor of philosophy, University College Dublin

“I can’t understand people losing faith because of scandals. I’m not making light of what happened, but for me it’s not where faith comes from. Religion and morality are not the same thing, but for most Irish Catholics the two are one and the same. When you tell them the moral code associated with Catholicism is pretty much the same as in any religion, they find it hard to believe. “You have to get morality from reason – morals are either a set of conventions in a utilitarian way or a real code to live by. The problem with utilitarianism is that morality only survives when the going is good, otherwise it’s every man for himself. There is nothing specifically Catholic about natural law. When you look at what human beings are, you see they have needs and that means we know the kind of actions that are [morally] destructive.

“A classic way of looking at morality is from Confucian philosophy. “There are four concentric circles. The innermost circle is the basic, natural state where we individually are the centre of the universe. We understand this in children and find it quite cute, but it would be sinister in an adult. The next circle is the utilitarian level: we still want things for ourselves, but have to at least simulate an interest in others.

“The breakthrough comes at the next moral level – this is when you recognise that other human beings are exactly like you: each has hopes, dreams and fears. There can be a sense of shock when we realise this.

“The final circle is the transcendent, where the human world is understood in a larger context. Traditionally this has been religious, but it can be other things, such as politics, for example – anything that says there is a dimension above us.

“The key for us as individuals is to match up the emotional and the intellectual sides of our lives. It’s a developmental process and, to some degree, a pattern of habituation.”

ANN JAMES Secretary, Humanist Association of Ireland

“People are beginning to see that morality can’t be institutionalised, and to give power to an institution that claims the moral high ground is a mistake. Morality should be discussed and argued, otherwise society becomes closed. We’re seeing the whole of Irish society opening up to other views.

“I think there’s a basic morality aligned to empathy. The law is there to protect everybody, and quite clearly it has failed – nobody should be above the law, but also nobody should be beneath it.

“There are certain things that are pretty universal, such as measuring harm: if something does no harm, that’s a simple ‘good’. I want life to be good, so the best way to do is to make the lives around me better.

“Even on the issues that are the source of disagreement, such as abortion, there has to be an openness to discussing the morality of it. I just want a morality that respects people’s right to think for themselves, and doesn’t place one value system in law above one another.

“I regard it as unethical to try and take away freedom of speech, as the Government is doing with its blasphemy legislation.”

AILEEN FYFE Historian of science, NUI Galway

“In the 19th century, the time of evolutionary theory and thermodynamics, people like the biologist Thomas Henry Huxley were arguing strongly for science’s role in society. In Huxley’s time, it was widely accepted that morality stemmed from religion, but he was an agnostic – he actually invented the term – and wanted to show people that it was possible to say no to religion but still be an upstanding, respectable citizen.

“Today, morality and religion can be separated, and Huxley’s fears might seem paranoid. One reason for this is that as soon as Europeans discovered more about the rest of the world’s population, they started asking questions about what moral code people outside Europe had.

“The early missionaries sought to ‘convert the heathens’, but those who stayed abroad began to realise that while other cultures might not be Christian, most still look after their families, take care of older members of the community, and have restrictions on killing.

“This got early anthropologists thinking that morality might be a human construct rather than something that comes from a universal religious truth.

“Huxley believed in the idea of a non-religious moral code for society – and he believed that such a code would probably look quite similar to Christianity. One reason Christianity has been successful is that it helped meet the needs of human society. But, for him, ideally you wouldn’t base such a code on stone tablets, but rather look around and ask what is the best way to live.”

DAVID McCONNELL Professor of genetics, Trinity College Dublin

“Isn’t it remarkable that so many different societies have similar morals? What we call Judaeo-Christian morality is effectively universal. As a humanist, this says to me that it’s not that God created man but that man created God.

“Science has a lot to teach us about morality, but it has to be thought about. You can now construct a family tree of all life on Earth, for instance, and all people have a common human relative just 200,000 years ago. We do have a lot of information that says genetics affects behaviour, [but] I don’t know of a direct genetic explanation for ethical principles, and any that are found are unlikely to be predictive.

“Ireland has been dominated by Catholic ethics and, for the most part, they’re good ethics. The problems arise when we try to prescribe ethics in too much detail and exclude personal responsibility.

“The most difficult, and interesting, areas are when good people disagree. For example, there are two archbishops of Dublin, and one would allow for abortion in certain circumstances and the other would never allow for it.

“My thinking on this is that you must allow for substantial personal discretion – you can place various constraints on things, but each situation is actually different and must be analysed and thought about by the people most involved.”

MARTIN DOWNES Professor emeritus of biology, NUI Maynooth

“In many ways the church has been effective at giving guidance on specific issues, but not so good at encouraging people to develop their own sense of right and wrong. There’s been a lack of emphasis on the notion that in the end it’s the individual who’s responsible. I’m inclined to think individual conscience has to replace the church as our moral authority, though it seems an awfully big job to ask a nation to suddenly engage with questions of ethics that it hasn’t before.

“Is there some way that a country trying to underpin its economic, social and political development with clear principles could go about it? What would happen if the Government tried to get general agreement on how we are to proceed in terms of morality? Science changes our choices by producing more information, and the hope would be that by doing that it can enable us to make better ethical decisions. I don’t think science can provide much with regard to how you go about making decisions, though it may be that science has something to contribute, in terms of psychology, on where we get our sense of right and wrong from.