Following the general election from abroad is a challenge, especially when you’re five time-zones away, but it’s not impossible. My daily listen of The Irish Times Politics podcast, along with far more regular checks on Twitter, allow me to follow who’s up or down in the polls, and I’ve even gone so far as to watch live streams of the election debates during my lunch break, much to the bemusement of my Canadian colleagues. This has allowed me to feel more connected to life in Ireland, including my family’s Whatsapp group chats, and I’m thankful for that.
This is the first Irish general election during which I’ve lived abroad, but that hasn’t reduced my interest in the outcome one bit. Maybe that’s because I’m a political nerd, but maybe it has something to do with my thoughts on Ireland, and what a future version of my life would look like at home. However, before answering that question, I should probably figure out if I can afford to do so?
Unlike many friends currently living abroad, I didn’t leave Ireland because I had to. I had a good job, and an enjoyable life in Ireland, but I was eager to travel and experience what a different country could offer. I left for Canada in 2016, years after Ireland’s economy had reached its nadir. I am also fortunate enough to be able to return home at least once a year, and do not feel stuck in some type of holding pattern abroad, but when all’s said and done, Ireland is still home.
As someone who spent most of his life in Ireland outside Dublin, I know life exists outside the M50. This is particularly true when it comes to renting and even buying property. That said, the reality is that many service sector jobs, whether they be in finance, tech, marketing, research or pharma are located in or close to Dublin, and if I was to return home then there’s a good chance that it would be to our capital city. So, what would my life look like there?
You don’t need to be an expert to know that Ireland, and Dublin in particular, is in the midst of a housing and accommodation crisis at the moment. The problem is so salient right now that it is arguably the number one issue on the campaign trail. And despite a significant drop in December, there were still almost 10,000 people in emergency accommodation at the end of 2019.
A recent report from Daft.ie has shown that national rents fell for the first time in almost eight years in December 2019. Obviously, this is a welcome development for those looking to rent across the country. However, the fact that rental prices have climbed month-on-month for almost eight years is the real story here.Dublin, and many other urban centres, have become unlivable for many low and middle-income earners.
Living in Montreal, I am fortunate to be able to rent a one-bedroom apartment in a good location within walking distance of the city centre for less than 20 percent of my monthly salary. After speaking to friends in Dublin and Galway in recent months, I don’t think that this is something I could afford to do if I were to move back home.
Having lived in Dublin during the tail-end of the Celtic Tiger, I have first-hand experience of how competitive viewings for apartments could be. However, it appears that what I experienced in 2007 and 2008 is nothing in comparison to what those looking for a place today are facing. Hundreds of individuals and couples queuing to view a vacant apartment or room is a real red flag. Add in the precarious nature of renting and evictions in Dublin, as well as the frankly laughable ‘Pod-living’ concept, and it really begs the question if a move home is a viable option for those without the money saved for a down-payment on a house.
The two traditional main parties have stated in this election campaign that they want to help people, many of whom in their thirties like me, who found it easy to land a job in Ireland, but much harder to find an affordable place to live. But in the absence of a rent-freeze as has recently been introduced in Berlin but deemed unconstitutional by the two main parties in Ireland, or a massive increase in the number of houses and apartments being built, this seems like little more than wishful thinking, or dare I say it, electioneering!
Moreover, the prospect of buying a property in Ireland seems like a novel, if wholly unrealistic option for many of my friends back home regardless of their income. Most of them are fortunate enough to share a place with a partner or friends, but almost none live alone, and some have had to return to their family home in order to try and save up the substantial deposit needed for a down-payment on a home of their own. One recently commented that he found it funny, if a little sad, that his parents who both left school at 16 could afford to buy the home that they have lived in for almost 40 years, while he holds a master’s degree and has had a decent job for the bones of a decade, yet can’t afford to live alone in Dublin.
So, that begs the question, if I wanted to move home tomorrow, could I afford to lead a similar life to the one that I currently have in Canada? Unfortunately, I think that the answer to this question is no.
So, anyone got a link for the election results?