x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Irish migrants surge into UAE

Educated and experienced workers flee 14 per cent unemployment back home to create a growing and well-connected community

The Abu Dhabi Harlequins Rugby Club enjoy a game of Gaelic football at the American International School in Abu Dhabi.
The Abu Dhabi Harlequins Rugby Club enjoy a game of Gaelic football at the American International School in Abu Dhabi.

A greater number of skilled Irish workers are making their home in the UAE.

The Irish Embassy has seen a 10 per cent rise in the number of new residents, part of Ireland's so-called Emigration Generation, in the past year, while the Irish Business Network has seen massive growth in its membership.

The first Abu Dhabi Irish Festival was held at the weekend largely because of the surge in Irish residents in the capital.

"The numbers of Irish moving over even in the last few months have multiplied," said Trevor Buckley, chairman of the Irish group Na Fianna and vice president of the Irish Society in Abu Dhabi, which has grown from 400 to 700 members in less than a year.

With unemployment levels in Ireland currently at 14 per cent, between 2009 and last year 86,000 Irish left home and found work elsewhere, chiefly in the UK and Europe. Those landing in the UAE have been called iPaddys by the Irish media: workers who are highly skilled, experienced and educated.

Brian King, chairman of the Irish Business Network, said he has seen more skilled graduates in their 20s arriving.

"A lot of them are highly educated with degrees and masters. There are a lot who had their own companies coming over," Mr King said. The social networking forum has seen several people in Ireland testing the waters with requests for work or seeking advice on the local job market.

"The amount of people who are posting and say they are coming out" has increased, he said. "It's great that other people here are jumping in and giving very good advice."

Mr King said he receives three or four requests a day to join the online group.

"There are a lot of attractions here," he said. "The Irish community is stronger here. Dubai and Abu Dhabi are relatively small on the world scale. Communities like the Irish can operate in small numbers but can be quite powerful unlike, for example, in New York and Boston."

Ireland enjoyed more than a decade of the so-called Celtic Tiger, fuelled chiefly by eager banks propping up a booming property market. By 2008, the economy started to crumble and two years later, The European Union and the International Monetary Fund bailed out the Irish State with an €85 billion (Dh412bn) rescue package.

Ciaran Madden, Irish ambassador to the UAE, said a lot of new arrivals were school teachers. Besides filling posts in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, there are also teachers found in more rural cities such as Al Ain.

Etihad Airways announced last year it was to hire 100 additional Irish cabin crew, more than doubling its number of Irish employees. Emirates has only recently started flying non-stop to Dublin.

Official numbers at the embassy show 500 Irish citizens moved to the UAE in the past year, making for a total population of about 5,500.

"Since the embassy opened in 2009, there was a huge influx of people in construction such as engineers or project managers," Mr Madden said. "A lot have come here and some have then moved on to Western Australia."

The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) clubs were always a good gauge of the number of Irish in any given country or city. Set up in Ireland in 1884 to promote Irish games such as Gaelic football and hurling, there are now more than 400 clubs around the world, including four in the UAE.

"In any community in Ireland, the GAA is the heart of it," Mr Madden said. "What we see locally is people who never played before but they need to find their feet someway, and the GAA clubs is where they can do that. It's the first entry into the local society. The clubs take in anyone who wants to play."

Donal McCarthy, an active member of the Dubai GAA scene, said the clubs would be the most representative of those who move to the UAE, but there is also an Irish football club and several Irish are involved in the local rugby scene.

"Some of the clubs here have doubled in size. Some of them were not even there two years ago - such as Sharjah club and Al Ain club," Mr McCarthy said.

The Dubai club usually works as a base for newcomers.

"Even if they don't play, some join for the social side of things," Mr McCarthy said. "The Irish are a bit nomadic anyway. The numbers are increasing hugely. The St Patrick's ball [in March] sold out with 700 tickets, but it could have easily sold 1,000."

eharnan@thenational.ae