Ireland bailout: From €1,100 a week to living on the streets of Dublin

Homeless man’s descent from full time worker to a tent in a car park shows the plight of Ireland’s economic losers

• Henry McDonald

•, Friday 26 November 2010 18.58 GMT

Malcolm Quigley lost his job in a security company when it folded in the economic downturn. Photograph: Kim Haughton for the Guardian
Living in a tent inside an empty underground car park Malcolm Quigley’s fall from full time worker and home owner to destitution personifies the plight of those who have lost out in Ireland’s economic crash.
The 38-year-old tries to maintain his dignity despite having to shelter beneath an apartment block in south-west Dublin surrounded by discarded rotting food, drink bottles and the detritus of tin foil and used needles from heroin addicts who also use the place to shoot up.
Last Wednesday, like every other week day, he waits until the Tallaght Homeless centre opens so he can use their computers to apply for jobs.

“In the last two months I have written to seventeen different employers and only got one reply which was a ‘No thank you.’ But I have to keep trying,” he says.
Articulate and surprisingly cheerful Quigley says he was earning around €850 (£720) a week working for an Irish security company which guarded building sites as well as an Argos store in the Liffey Valley shopping centre. At one stage during the Celtic Tiger boom he could make up to €1,100 a week with overtime.
When construction firms started to fold in the downturn his security company lost contracts and eventually went into liquidation. Over the last two years unemployment put a strain on his relationship, he split with his partner and left their family home in Mountmellick, Co Laois. He returned to his native Tallaght jobless and suffered a nervous breakdown.
“I came from a very stable, well-liked family here in Tallaght. Never did I think I would end up on the streets of the same part of Dublin where I grew up.”
Until late autumn Quigley camped out each night below the sheltered entrance to a Catholic priory in the heart of Tallaght village. He has since moved into the subterranean car park for the winter although there are some nights when he gets a room in one of the city’s hostels.
“Whether in the hostel or down here underground I feel like an outsider because I don’t take drugs and I don’t drink. A lot of homeless people you meet get into drugs because it takes the edge off their lives, especially the boredom. I try to pass the weekdays going into the centre, having a sandwich there, searching for jobs on the computer or going to the library in Tallaght.”
As he approaches his tent and pulls down the front zip Quigley discovers a “squatter” asleep inside. Rather than get indignant Quigley just says “it’s okay buddy sleep on, you’re all right I’ve got a bed in the Maple Hostel tonight, don’t worry.” His companions living in the open around Tallaght village over the last eight months have included Polish migrant workers some of whom have turned to heroin.
Like Quigley they lost their jobs in the recession and found themselves unable to keep up their rental payments. Unlike the Irish on the streets he points out that the immigrants eventually have all their welfare payments taken off them. One of his Polish friends, known as Polish Pablo, went off the rails having lost his job at a major retail store at the start of this year.
Asked what he thinks of the tens of billions of euros the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank are pumping into the Irish banks, the institutions many in the republic blame for the country’s ills, Quigley points to a bitter irony all around him.
There are hundreds of empty apartments all around Tallaght, the so-called ghost complexes built during the boom on cheap credit from banks that are now bust. They even include some flats in the block above where Quigley often beds down for the night. “There are 300,000 empty apartments and flats in this country and yet there are not enough beds in hostels to house people like me. That is why the organisations that work for the homeless hand out sleeping bags and tents.
“If the government cared they would open up some of those empty apartments for the homeless. After all the government owns the banks and the banks own the ghost apartments.”
Quigley predicts that the looming cuts to social welfare, jobs and general austerity will drive more on to the streets and into crime. But he declines to denounce those held responsible for the malaise by most Irish people and instead focuses on his own recovery.