Work-life balance, housing shortage prompts Irish exodus

Kate Barr is one of a growing number of Irish doctors moving to Australia (PAUL FAITH)
Kate Barr is one of a growing number of Irish doctors moving to Australia (PAUL FAITH)

As Europe goes to the polls, skewed work-life balance, housing and cost of living crises are key issues for people across the continent.

In Ireland, which has seen strong net immigration in recent years, many young doctors and teachers are bucking the trend and leaving for countries where they can afford a better lifestyle.

"In Australia, you'll get the same pay for doing less work," doctor Kate Barr, who is emigrating to Perth in September, told AFP in Tullamore, an hour's drive west of Dublin.

Lack of time off and unpredictable hours were behind her decision to emigrate, said Barr, 25, wearing blue scrubs outside the town's hospital after finishing another long shift.

Back in her apartment, Barr showed her successful Australian visa application on a laptop and scrolled through information pages on moving Down Under.

"Over here I always have to send texts to the football coach or teammates about running late, or have to skip a dinner date I planned a week in advance," she said.

"In Australia you're not expected to work 12- or 16-hour days, it's just a healthier workplace environment."

Barr said she will miss her family but "40 to 50" of her fellow medical graduates are also emigrating, so she is confident Australia will be a home from home.

"I don't have any plans to return to Ireland, and nor do I have long term plans to stay over there. I'll see how I get on," she said.

- Exodus -

The number of young medics emigrating to Australia from Ireland, which trains around 750 doctors a year, is increasing, said Niamh Humphries, a lecturer at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

This year 535 doctors will make the trip, up from about 400 last year and some 300 a year before the pandemic, primarily due to better working conditions.

"A 40-hour week compared to an 80-hour week is hugely significant for having a life outside work," Humphries, who researches doctor emigration trends and motivations, told AFP in Dublin.

Inside the workplace, under-resourcing and under-staffing add to the strain, she said.

"In Ireland, the system is very fast-paced with an intensive workload, there are never enough people to do the work that needs to be done on a given day," said Humphries.

Pay and cost of living are lesser but still significant factors in emigration decisions, she said, particularly for graduate doctors who finish their studies with a large debt burden.

"Repaying debt while also paying expensive rent in maybe two places at once as they travel around the country as part of their job is also very difficult," said Humphries.

On the town's main street, two young doctors from Dublin also completing their training in Tullamore said they were split on whether to stay in Ireland or leave.

"The cost of living seems to be hard everywhere but it does particularly seem to hurt in Ireland," said Aisling Gill, 25, who said many of her family live around the world and that she plans to leave.

Her friend Eve Blake, 29, said she wants to live in Dublin after her training but is worried about high housing costs. "Dublin is notorious for having a dreadful housing crisis," she said.

- 'Leaving in droves' -

Healthcare is not the only public sector in Ireland under pressure from a staff exodus.

Of 43,000 primary teaching posts approved by the Irish education ministry this year, some 3,000 are vacant, according to the Irish National Teachers' Organisation union.

"Teachers are leaving in droves to places like the Middle East, Singapore, Korea and Australia," said the union's leader John Boyle.

A recent poll indicated that over half of young teachers are considering emigration, with Ireland's long-running housing shortage the biggest driver.

"Many teachers can't afford accommodation near schools, particularly in Dublin and surrounding counties where vacancies are highest," said Boyle.

"I've been in teaching for 37 years and haven't seen a recruitment and retention crisis like it."

At least in hospitals immigrants are plugging the gaps caused by emigration, according to Niamh Humphries.

Almost half of the medical workforce in Ireland is internationally trained. Without them the health system "would be in serious trouble", she said.

But such a fix "isn't very sustainable or ethical really longer term, we need to look at retaining our own doctors, rather than relying solely on recruitment from overseas," Humphries added.