A Jilted Generation



From top: Blind Boy of The Rubber Bandits on Channel 4 News; Dr Rory hearne

Ireland’s ‘millennials’ are a generation in crisis.

But they are fighting back.

Dr Rory Hearne writes:

Last week Blindboy Boatclub of The Rubberbandits was on Channel 4 News talking about how the recession has stolen ‘their 20s’ from young people and that there’s “huge amounts of suicide, jumping into rivers, and emigration” and for “a lot of young Irish people, they don’t see a future.”

Blindboy is absolutely correct. Ireland is no country for young people and families.

The recession and austerity had a devastating impact on younger generations (particularly those now in their 20s and 30s – the so-called ‘Millennial’ Generation or Generation Y) and the recovery has failed to improve things.

A global debate is taking place about the plight of the Millennial Generation and the ‘intergenerational inequalities’ they face. The Guardian ran a series of articles on ‘The Trials of Generation Y’ where it described how they face “a perfect storm of debt, housing and joblessness.”

From high unemployment in Spain and Greece, and massive debt and stagnant wages in the US, to the UK where they face high house prices locking them out of home ownership and into extortionate, dismal rental arrangements .

They are the the Jilted Generation – set to be the first generation to do worse than its parents. Studies have also shown this generation to suffer from anxiety at much higher rates than previously.

The Millennial generation in Ireland have it even worse with the biggest impacts in terms of ‘generational inequality’ hitting them from the austerity related public sector recruitment embargo, lower pay rates for new public sector employees, casualisation of employment, exorbitant child care costs and an unprecedented housing crisis.

The public and civil service (e.g. guards, nurses, teachers, civil servants) have traditionally been a huge area of employment for new college graduates but it was effectively shut off to young people with the public sector recruitment moratorium introduced in 2009 by the Fianna Fail/Green government.

It was continued by the Fine Gael/Labour government until just last year when it was lifted in some areas.


The impact of this can be seen in the dramatic fall in numbers employed in the public sector from 369,000 in 2008 to 327,100 in 2015 (see graph above).

The result is a generation shut out from the public sector. We now have the situation where the average age of staff in the Civil Service is close to 50 and just 4 per cent are under 30.

To make matters worse the younger generation faces a further discrimination. New entrants to the public sector since 2011 are on a 10% lower pay scale than those employed prior to 2011 (this is on top of the 14% cuts to all public sector employees).

This issue was raised at the teacher’s conferences this week where they spoke of the inequality and unfairness of this two-tier pay scale which will result in young teachers receiving up to €300,000 less than their older colleagues over their career.

TUI General Secretary John MacGabhann explained to the Irish Times that these young teachers “cannot afford rents, are being forced – by poverty – to give up part-time jobs, to emigrate…they cannot plan, have no creditworthiness, have their personal independence compromised. Why? Because government marked them out for especially punitive treatment.

On top of the public sector moratorium and the lower pay rates – new entrants to the public sector have also faced a growing problem of ‘casualisation’ or ‘precarious’ contract work.

This is where workers are employed on short term temporary or fixed contracts – often for six months or a year – and then either let go or the contract is extended on a further short term basis.

The campaign group Third Level Work Place Watch explains that younger researchers and teaching staff (tutors and lecturers) have no job security at all, face exploitative rates of pay and worse working conditions. This casualisation also erodes academic freedom and is a major threat to higher education.

This problem of precarious and low paid work is affecting younger workers across the economy. It is part of a ‘race to the bottom’ as employers reduce wages, hours of employment, benefits, and job security.

The most extreme form of casualisation has been experienced by those forced into unpaid internships and Jobbridge schemes which are being used by employers as cheap labour for restaurant staff and even teachers, community workers and psychologists.

I experienced this precarious work as a community worker and contract lecturer. I went from short term contract to short term contract and I felt forced to leave lecturing as it was explained to me that there was little prospect of my contract being extended ‘because of the impact of austerity cuts to the university budgets’.

It is hugely stressful working in such situations, particularly if you have significant financial responsibilities such as young children and a mortgage (both of which I have).



Childcare costs I can tell you for certain are a huge impact on parents. Ireland has the second highest childcare costs in the OECD for couples and the highest in the OECD for lone parents.

For others it is extremely difficult to plan your future such as getting a mortgage or even having a family while you are in such an insecure employment situation. And of course it’s much worse for those unemployed – our youth unemployment rate is still 20%.

Housing is a crisis for this generation. Whether it is being stuck in mortgage arrears, facing escalating and unaffordable rents with no long term security of tenure or an inability to purchase your own home. The harshest end of this is felt by those pushed into homelessness.

All of these issues have created a gaping hole in our generation as it has forced 250,000 (mainly young people aged in their 20s and 30s) to emigrate between 2010 and 2015.

But it doesn’t have to be like this.

These all result from political choices and, therefore, different political choices can achieve equality for all generations and all households. This means prioritising affordable housing and childcare, secure and well paid jobs, a top class public health system and a genuinely free and fair education system.

There is hope for this jilted generation from the increasing numbers of young people involved in campaigning for social justice and equality.

These can be seen in the Marriage Referendum, growing housing campaigns (e.g. Dublin Tenants Association, Housing Action Now, the Irish Housing Forum), Third Level Work Place Watch, the young workers network, young teachers, new student activists (e.g. Seanad candidate Lynn Ruane), Right2Water, mental health campaigners and the Repeal the 8th Campaign.

The courage of this new generation was most evident last weekend when the young homeless mother Erica Fleming organised a protest at the housing crisis and how it represents a failure to achieve the Republic of Equality that is outlined in the Proclamation.

[I am hoping to raise awareness of these issues by making them central to my campaign for election to the Seanad. In a short video I explain the reality for Generation rent, debt and job insecurity. You can watch it here]

Dr Rory Hearne is a policy analyst, academic & social justice campaigner. His column appears here every Wednesday. Rory is an independent candidate for the Seanad NUI Colleges Panel. He writes here in a personal capacity. Follow Rory on Twitter: @roryhearne

50 thoughts on “A Jilted Generation

  1. Ultan

    Does anyone know if there is a movement to protest the aspirations of the Proclamation Of Independence versus the realities of living in our Republic? It seems to me that Sunday the 24th of April, the actual centenary of the Rising is the perfect day for it.

    1. Rob_G

      “…the actual centenary of the Rising”

      – it’s usually called ‘the Easter Rising”, rather than “the Rising of the 24th of April”, so presumably holding it on Easter (which famously moves about in the calendar) is the logical time to celebrate it?

      (this has the added benefit of everyone being on bank holiday, also)

  2. Eoin

    I seem to recall spending ten years working abroad in the 90s once I’d left 3rd level education in Ireland due to there being ZERO jobs in my field, over here, for those ten years. Not low paying jobs, NO jobs. Protesting for social justice and equality would not have mad ANY difference back then. I fail to see how it’ll make any difference now. The Millenials have been shafted. Sure. The same way us Generation Xers got shafted. The same way the next generation will get shafted. As long as we engage with this rotten financial system the longer this goes on. Fix the fundamental problems with global finance and we can get back to fairness and equality.

    1. classter

      Do you really think that a lack of jobs in specific fields is primarily about a global ‘rotten financial system’?

      I personally see lots of other more plausible explanations – chief amongst them the small population & dispersed population distribution which makes it difficult to foster a sophisticated economy in all fields.

  3. Anne

    Well said Rory.

    FG in particular have been more interested in protecting and enriching the already wealthy – i.e. DOB, the Vultures, their landlord chums, big business, than generation Y, or any generation for that matter.. but if affects the generation who haven’t already bought a house, paying absurd rents, trying to secure any sort of decent employment more so.

  4. DubLoony

    Nailed it. 18-35s have been particularly badly affected by the recession.
    The country as a whole is recovery but it is older people who are befitting most.

    1. dav

      “The country as a whole is recovery” ffs 1500 children homeless and the country is in a recovery!! It’s not a recovery it’s a BUBBLE driven by negative interest rates and quantitative easing on a massive scale. Of course none of this affects real people but it’s great for the banks and their bondholder mates, ably assisted by their craven allies in government

      1. DubLoony

        I disagree.
        Employment is up http://www.tradingeconomics.com/ireland/employment-rate

        Revenue is up across all sectors, so its not all jobsbridge

        Consumer spending is up, so people are feeling more confident

        Personal debt is decreasing.

        All that points to a general recovery. BUT we are not recovered.
        There is a housing problem, obviously affecting many children. There is high youth unemployment, young workers on lower entry level pay and numerous other challenges faced by young people as indicated in the article above.

        1. dav

          great for the power point presentations but not for the real world. If there was a recovery the voters would have know about it and enda wouldn’t be calling them whingers. there isn’t a recovery the voters know that and enda & co got the kicking they deserved.

          1. DubLoony

            If you are mid-fifties with house paid off, credit card debt gone, things are looking up.
            If you are mid-twenties, house share with people you hate or never left home, on another jobsbridege internship, unable to have an independent life, things are awful.

            Both are real world. Both are real experiences.
            Internal inequalities need to be dealt with.

          1. rotide

            I’#ve noticed you link broadsheet as a source quite a lot Anne.

            Any chance you could use a reputable news source instead and not a conspiracy website who promote peoples youtube channels?


          2. Anne

            I wouldn’t say quite a lot now.. but whatever.

            Taft is around here on Tuesdays.. he’s a well respected economist.
            Does he have a youtube channel too?

            Would you prefer Taft’s direct link with the same information?

          3. Anne

            Here’s how Brian Lucey refers to Taft’s analysis –

            “It is now no longer on the ESRI working paper site, but the ever reliable Michael Taft has an extensive summary of it here and the entire paper can be downloaded here.”

            Ever reliable Snookums..

            Notesonthefront is his own webpage if the words Broadsheet are so bothersome to you, you little pest.

          4. Anne

            By the way, do you know what the word conspiracy actually means?

            A conspiracy is an agreement by two or more people to commit an illegal or subversive act. Do you think that’s not common is it?

          5. Anne

            This interview with Robert Reich was good too I thought –


            I have a good book on this too that I keep meaning to read –
            ‘What Went Wrong’ ‘How the 1% Hijacked The American Middle Class.. and what other countries got right’. By George R. Tyler. (he’s a veteran of the world bank and treasury dept)

          6. Anne

            Ja know what’s sad too.. the U.S. is fupped in terms of equality/opportunity/growth in real employee compensation, but you have our stooge Kenny saying he wants to model our tax system on theirs.. The fupping dope.

  5. Niamh

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. You are describing my life. I have a third level qualification from a Russel Group university earned on scholarship in the UK: returned here and the only work I can get is barely above minimum wage. I have to give up my rented accommodation and land back into my parents’ place aged twenty-eight. I cannot think of having children, I have no savings, I cannot imagine a mortgage. I am, repeatedly, told that this is ‘my fault’ for daring to get educated and that I am ‘lucky’ to have this badly-paid job.

    Before you bail in with the smart-alec comments, yes, it is my intention to emigrate again. But I know from experience that one does not simply emigrate. You need capital behind you to get set up in a new country; rent in London, for instance, is extortionate, but that is where the jobs are in the UK. Landing into a new country is intimidating and can be frightening and lonely, you want to have something to go over to – a job lined up, if at all possible. Which means expending money taking short-hop flights for interviews at hasty notice.

    To be honest, it has caused a huge fragmentation of my sense of self and my image of my future. It has made me ask what I really want in life, to re-prioritise, to become more politically involved, to become more compassionate, and to have my character tested. Worst of all has been suffering mental health problems in response to stress and finding Ireland continues to be a catastrophic place to seek help for mental health in.

    I don’t see myself as a ‘victim’, I am really just bewildered at this point. My country gains nothing from keeping me, with everything I have to offer and all that I could do for it, on a starvation wage, driving me to leave so that I can have a quality of life elsewhere.

    On the other hand, those middle-class trappings I might have expected – a semi-d, a commute, an office job – have been forcibly removed from me, meaning I don’t live in quiet despair. I live in roistering, loud, angry, political despair. That seems healthier somehow.

    I have enormous sympathy for those of my generation who cannot find work. At least I have something. You ARE worthwhile, you ARE valuable, and you DO have lots to offer – you’re just being screwed. Be kind to yourselves.

    1. dav

      I apologise for your country failing you. Just know that you are probably better off out of this corrupt cesspit.

      1. classter

        You apologise? ‘corrupt’ cesspit?

        Are these your only answers to questions about the economy & jobs?

        Niamh’s struggle is shared by huge numbers of people her age around the western world & most indications are that it will get worse

        1. Anne

          “Niamh’s struggle is shared by huge numbers of people her age around the western world ”

          It might be shared by many, particularly in the PIGGS countries.. but there’s none as incompetent and corrupt as here. There’s plenty of money in this country – in the hands of a few.

      1. Kolmo

        Well said.
        Go now before you’re in your late 30’s, no job security, paying a large percentage of your income in rent for a poorly built apartment, pointlessly scrimping for a mortgage for a poorly built house 50km+ from your workplace, so, yes, emigration seems like a reasonable choice, you have me thinking now, dammit….

    2. Junkface

      Well said Niamh. Ireland has totally failed you and thousands more. Our parents generation have screwed their own children, in housing, banking, particularly in Politics, as they keep voting in either FF or FG! Quality of Life is shite for so many under 40, nevermind 35. Most people have lost faith in anything changing for the better soon, definiely with regard to Housing. Emmigration is the answer, some people have the patience to try and change modern Ireland, and fair play to them, but it will take ten years at least to wrestle power out of the hands of Gombeen political class, they have ruined everything! Every single milestone in Irish Life is Over priced for no good reason. And as you said jobs are generally underpaid, or repackaged so that the hours are not enough. The words of the 1916 Proclamation don’t mean anything to the people in power. The country has been cut up and sold off to the highest bidder (vulture funds). No equality, no justice for all, no quality of life.

      Remember : Ireland plops on your dreams

      1. Junkface

        Thanks for editing my comment, it looks way more flippant. I think adults are well able for the normal sh word for plop. Jayzus

    3. The Real Jane

      For the benefit of us iggerents, what’s a Russel group and should we be impressed or dismayed that you went to one?

      1. classter

        It is an alliance of 24 research universities in the UK, including Oxford & Cambridge.

        Realistically, nobody who attended the latter two use the phrase.

        Arguably these are the top 24 universities in the UK, although there are a handful of others which might disagree.

    4. Frunobulax

      Thanks for that insight Niamh. As Eoin said earlier, it’s affected the Xers and your generation but all past ones too for various push pull reasons. Ireland is a net exporter in all capital. It’s for some people economic necessity, embued with frustration for having to leave (or for some a sense of adventure thanks to cheap airfares and Facetime) but nonetheless, living in a different country is a massive step in self-improvement as you know.

      I left in ’04 at 30, on my own to Prague, no job set up, no contacts and with a credit union loan (not sure how that last one would happen today but yes, it gives you a little confidence even though it’s credit, depends how you think about money maybe). My brother in ’86 on a ferry with £20 in his pocket, heading to London, into a flat crammed to the ceiling with a horde of Irish, we at different points and of preparation left just with a drive to do something that hadn’t then worked out in our home country for real or perceived reasons. Now 2016, neither of us has returned, rendezvous-ing instead twice/three times a year ‘home’ to our Wicklow Dad, throwing much needed contributions, as many migrants do back to their homes, into oil, car insurance and the like, to keep him as independent as a widower can be in Ireland at 80.

      We toughened up, contributing to our host countries, jokingly bitter at Haughey / Ahern etc (“one day… back in a Porsche turbo and a trenchcoat, buy up the place”) but no one owes us anything, thinking citizenship confers not much in reality anyway day-to-day. If it doesn’t work here, it might work there. There’re so many like-minds or shared interests wherever you go. Just jump in, seek them out, proving yourself of those qualities you know and see you have.

      Of course the strong sense of return will run deep but there’s no ill-will to the muddled State of Ireland with its high barriers of re-entry and absurd legacies which impinge on society today. It is what it is, and I admire those who can relentlessly campaign for change, even within a seemingly stacked system. All countries have their uncultured shameful histories and evolved idiosyncrasies that we may find ourselves on the unlucky side of, but having experience to compare two or three can lessen latent anger. Whether the country owes you or me or any citizen a life worthy of living, it’s worth forgetting that for now and find out instead what you can owe yourself.

      Political involvement, mental health reform advocacy, voluteerism, street protest, leave? All viable, all a choice, all needing a huge commitment in self-confidence. And in that doing, you’ll hopefully find what it is that you really want. It might not be those middle-class ‘trappings’ at all. I hope that doesn’t come across as patronising, it’s only what I experienced myself, which echoes your sentiment – be kind to yourself.

  6. Rob_G

    “New entrants to the public sector since 2011 are on a 10% lower pay scale than those employed prior to 2011 (this is on top of the 14% cuts to all public sector employees).”

    – you can thank the unions for this particular gem; in order to protect more senior public servants pay and conditions, they decided to throw younger workers under the bus.

  7. diddy

    When the poo hit the fan the Unions were called in and asked for cuts. The 50 something negotiators had tough choices to make. They went for the easy choice, that is to sell new entrants to the public sector down the river. Guards and clerical officers starting on 22-23k In Dublin now while the grey generation held what they had.

  8. 15 cents

    the youth bare the brunt of the negative aspects of policies drawn up by government, because the government think the youth are stronger and have more time to work it out. they also only view the population in demographics, then try to please the larger demographics so they get the most votes .. coz no matter what issues are facing the country, it all boils down to votes, its all they care about. so when recession hits, mostly young people emigrate. and young people are also less likely to vote .. so thats why they heap s**t onto young people. politicians are vile little pigs without humanity, who only serve themselves. and our lot are the worst of the worst.

  9. Joe cool

    Are b.s. sponsoring this lads seanad election? its turn into DRRORYAHEARNELJGSHEET around here lately

  10. Tish Mahorey

    Children of the usual connection little cabals will get the jobs they don’t deserve and the rest will either emigrate or take what jobs remain.

    Mediocrity rules in this country, run by anti-intellectualism.

  11. Jake38

    The western world is suffering a shake up the likes of which has not been seen since the industrial revolution. Jobs have disappeared due to globalization, the rise of China and the information technology revolution, just ask the travel agents, check-out staff in supermarkets or journalists. The effects of this revolution were hidden for a while by all the people employed designing, building, puffing up and flogging houses we did not need in Ireland by the Bertie Ahearn bubble.

    The young have been shafted. The politicians shafted them by protecting the old who vote for them. The unions shafted them by protecting their existing members and embracing lower pay for new entrants with embarassing haste.

    Virtually everything Commmissar Rory says about how to fix this is fantasy. The exact opposite should be done. Pouring taxpayers money into mediocre public service functionaries with jobs for life is a joke. Remove jobs for life for existing public servants and get rid of the time servers. Opportunities for young people open up. Universities, etc , might actually want to hire people on more than just temporary contracts if they could get rid of the dross. So ABOLISH tenure for life and give young people a chance. Raise salaries for new entrants and lower them for existing members until they are equal (Solidarity, comrade). Finally invest in education, education and education. And I’m not talking about Sociology Departments or Wimmins Studies, I’m talking about pre school and primary where a real difference can be made. Pay for this by reducing benefits for wealthy geriatrics.

    That’s it.

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