Austerity in Ireland

Irish voters shared their views on austerity and the economy as they prepared to vote in a referendum on the European Union's new fiscal treaty.

Struggling with recession and high unemployment, Ireland's citizens faced a referendum in May 2012 on austerity measures by the European Union. Days before voters backed the treaty, visited Kildare, Ireland, to discuss the issues. Diana Coogan, 29, and her partner, Gavin Aspell, 30, who have a daughter, 7, and a son, 15 months, got permission from the authorities to build their own home. They were living in a mobile home on the land where they planned to build it. But a downturn in family fortunes meant they could not afford to build it and they now rent a house in Kilcullen. "It was a lovely area outside in the countryside," she said of their planned dream home. "Now we're living in the town on a housing estate." Adam Patterson / Panos for
Joe Kenny, 59, a former army sergeant, insisted austerity was "not working." "My son is going to have to emigrate. ... All our best are going to Australia or America." Adam Patterson / Panos for
Republican Sinn Fein President Des Dalton said his party preferred to solve things peacefully, but upheld "the right of the Irish people to use controlled and disciplined force to oppose the British government in Ireland." One of his party's anti-treaty posters shows a British flag over Northern Ireland and an European Union one over the Republic of Ireland to show their feelings about European interference in Irish affairs. Asked if his party might adopt a similar stance on violence to oppose the EU, he said, "It's not something Republican Sinn Fein are advocating, or anyone else. Where all this goes to in the future, time can only tell. I think we have a very volatile situation as you can see across Europe." Adam Patterson / Panos for
Ruth Lalor, 18, works in a shop as she cannot afford to study physiotherapy. She said she hopes to be able to take a course in five years. She also hopes to stay in Ireland. "I really would find it hard leaving my friends and family," she said. Adam Patterson / Panos for
English and history student Nadine Lynch, 18, has been friends with Ruth Lalor since they were 6. She plans to leave Ireland when she finishes her education and wants to take Lalor with her. "She's coming in my bag with me," Lynch said. Adam Patterson / Panos for
John Leamy, a father of six who has taken a second job to support his family, said he had "a liking for Germany and the work ethic. I can understand why they are trying to protect what they have. The whole European project … wouldn't have worked without them." Adam Patterson / Panos for
Grace Coyle, 24, was unemployed for 18 months but got onto a Tus program, which provides community jobs for the long-term jobless, and now has a part-time job. "You need work … There's only so many times you can clean the house," she said. Adam Patterson / Panos for
Sinn Fein's only elected representative in County Kildare, Athy town councilor Michael Dunne, campaigned for a "no" vote in the referendum. That, he said, would "raise the flag for the rest of Europe" to fight against austerity policies favored by Germany and others, and help change course to a strategy to boost growth. Adam Patterson / Panos for
Adrian Brown, a supervisor at a Tus training scheme for the long-term unemployed, said he would vote "yes" in the referendum on the Fiscal Stability Treaty sought by Europe's big powers, but reluctantly. "We cannot bite the hand that feeds us." Adam Patterson / Panos for
Darren Nugent, 25, a player with the Round Towers Gaelic football club, said out of 10 or 11 of his friends in college, seven were now overseas. He works for a bank and used to be in a branch dealing with customers. "People were coming in, under pressure to pay their mortgages. I was their first point of contact, so I was taking it on the chin." Adam Patterson / Panos for
Youths play soccer in Kildare town square. Adam Patterson / Panos for
Justin Larkin, chief executive of County Kildare Leader Partnership, said he felt lucky to have a job. The partnership has had its funding reduced and staff have taken pay cuts of 5 to 7.5 percent. He said he will vote yes in the referendum on the fiscal treaty partly because much of the funding he gets is from the European Union "and in some respects my job is dependent on that." He also feels previous Irish governments contributed to the economic crisis by mismanagement and the fiscal treaty's controls would help ensure "we're not in this position again." Adam Patterson / Panos for
John Gleeson, 55, was fixing a child's tricycle in his auto parts and bicycle repair store just off the main square in Kildare. He acknowledged he was "struggling" in the economic downturn, saying sales were down 50 percent compared to before the recession. Asked if he could lose the shop, he said, "I hope not; I cannot tell you the future. It could happen. Would I get a job at 55? I never drew welfare in my life." Adam Patterson / Panos for
Campaign posters line the streets of Kildare town. Adam Patterson / Panos for
Peadar Davis, 41, lost his job as a driver in March 2010. Now he works for free at a "Men's Shed" project, designed to give people like him something to do. He is seen putting the finishing touches on a small play house for children that will be sold to help pay the center's rent. Davis said the jobs he might be offered would leave him little better off than if he lived on state benefits. Unemployment, he said, was "tough" and "demoralizing." "You have nothing to get up to in the morning, nothing to do at the end of the week." Adam Patterson / Panos for
Jim Waters, 60, was cheerfully playing a game of Gaelic football with some friends using an imaginary ball in his shop -- opened by an ancestor in 1841 -- in Kildare's central town square Monday morning. "Nothing lasts forever, this is my third [recession]. The 1980s were worse … after every recession there's a high." While the recession would come to an end, the shop would not, he insisted. "I cannot foresee that happening. There's always going to be a need for a shop," Waters said. "The future is safe, oh God yes." Adam Patterson / Panos for