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Irish Man's Feelings Echo the Country's Despair

by Rathi Manohar on  December 20, 2010 at 10:09 PM Lifestyle News   - G J E 4
Dublin hospital porter Brian Condra is going through a depression, as Ireland struggles with an economic one leading to deep cuts and crippling high taxes.

"Christmas will be a lot of trouble," he said, while thoughts of the New Year are just as bleak.
 Irish Man's Feelings Echo the Country's Despair
Irish Man's Feelings Echo the Country's Despair
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With three young children and a mortgage to pay, the 39-year-old is fighting to keep his family afloat as Ireland struggles to heal its wounded economy with the bitter medicine of savage cuts and a massive international bailout.

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He is not the only one feeling the pinch, fearing that the whirlpool of national debt will pull them under too as their taxes rise and income falls.

"It hurts. It's a horrible feeling," Condra told AFP after finishing a shift at the Beaumont Hospital in the north of the Irish capital.

Bit by bit, his plans for a better future are being eroded: having a holiday for the first time since 2007 and building an extension on the house -- and for that, he needs to keep hold of the house in the first place.

"I grew up in the 1980s. It was a pipe dream for people like me to escape the poverty. We're now right back in the same dire circumstances. I'm incredibly angry about it," he said.

Condra's eldest child, Joshua, is six and a half; Jacob turns five in January, while Jill turned three on budget day earlier this month, when the government unveiled a sharp round of tax hikes and spending cuts.

"I'd like to send that present back to (finance minister) Brian Lenihan with a big bow on it and when he opens it, it explodes in his face," Condra said.

And there won't be many better presents coming at Christmas as he faces some tough choices.

He said: "A few years ago, they (the children) were getting some lovely big presents. This year we're scrimping it.

"We're saying Santa can't bring that much this year. I can't afford it. I have to choose between clothing my children and giving them toys.

"My children are not at an age where they necessarily notice, but you do feel guilty."

Condra earns 26,000 euros (34,600 dollars) a year, dropping to 24,000 euros after his pension levy. He said his salary would have been around 28,500 euros but for Ireland's downturn.

Throw in rising taxes and mortgage repayments and the breadline gets that bit closer for him and his wife Rosie, a 37-year-old nurse.

Five years ago, before the property bubble burst, the Condras bought a "tiny" 1940s home in Drogheda, a town north of Dublin, for 190,000 euros.

He is currently paying off 884 euros a month, but his repayments have hit 1,200 euros a month and he expects them to rise again.

"On our wages, we would not be able to afford that. Things are getting very tight," he admitted.

"If interest rates go up, we are in trouble. It's a very real fear.

"We'll scrimp and save. We were brought up in austere times and brought up to consider it dishonourable to default on a debt.

"I'm not going to a loan shark. I've already been to one with my mortgage.

"My take-home wage is going down and the costs are going up. I'm terrified I might not be able to (make ends meet) and default on my house."

After squeezing through the austerity budget, Irish lawmakers narrowly gave the green light Wednesday to the country's 85-billion-euro bailout package, which will see the republic given loans and guarantees by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

Condra reckons such talk of billions, percentages and packages masks what it really means for stretched families like his own.

"We're a very strong couple but it puts a massive strain upon your relationship. We spend a lot of our time being stressed and worried," he said.

"We know couples who have split. I know three widows through suicide directly related to money. The government are complicit in marriage breakdown."

Indeed, Condra's blood is boiling with Prime Minister Brian Cowen's administration accepting the bailout for country whose spectacular economic boom ended horribly suddenly.

"The government is pathetic, it's sold us down the river," he said.

"It's the sense of being betrayed. We're in an Ireland that no longer owns itself. They have destroyed my country."

After work, Condra faces a 28-mile (45-kilometre) bus journey home to his family.

He has been reading his children "A Christmas Carol", Charles Dickens' 1843 tale of miser Ebenezer Scrooge and the impoverished Cratchit family in Victorian London.

"It was eerily like reading about Ireland," Condra said. "That's a horrible indictment on this country."

Source: AFP
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