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04 March 2024

Irish youth flock to UAE in search of better job opportunities

By Majorie van Leijen

Over the last couple of years the UAE has increasingly become a destination of choice for youth from Ireland.

Over the last 1.5 years, the Irish community in the UAE has grown by a third. While 4,500 Irish residents were recorded in the UAE in June 2011, today there are 6,000 Irish residents in the UAE.

Tough employment conditions back home is one of the reasons that the Irish are looking for opportunities abroad and the UAE currently offers these opportunities, explains Ciaran Madden, Ambassador of Ireland to the UAE.

The ambassador settled down in the UAE in 2009, when the Irish Embassy was established.

"The establishment of an Irish community in the UAE is recognition of the Irish community in itself," he says.

The community is not only noticeable for its rapid growth. With a make-up of highly skilled, ambitious and relatively young professionals, this community have gained prominence in several fields.

An example is Dubai Duty Free, which was developed by the Irish Airport Authority nearly 30 years ago.

In 2012 it recorded a turnover of $1.6 billion and is one of the leading airport retailers in the world.

"We opened Dubai Duty Free on December 20th, 1983 and the plan was to return to Ireland and resume my position as General Manager at Shannon Duty Free, but I was asked to stay on and head up the Dubai Duty Free, which I accepted," says Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice- Chairman, Dubai Duty Free.

"There was a small but active Irish Community back then and there was the Dubai Irish Society (DIS) already formed.

“People like Seamus Byrne of Byrne Drilling, who was here a long time before me, were doing a lot to establish an Irish community and their legacy continues to this day.

"Now the Irish community has grown substantially, of course. There is still the Dubai Irish Society, which organises the annual St. Patrick’s Ball and many other activities, plus the Dubai Celts, which are sponsored by Dubai Duty Free, and the Dubai Irish Society Golf (DIGS), as well as the recently formed Irish Business Network under which there a group of smaller groups such as the Young Business Network for young members. I think that there is a really vibrant and growing Irish community."

Apart from sports, business and social clubs the Irish are represented in the hospitality sector as well, Irish Village being one of the most popular restaurants in Dubai.

"We meet a lot of Irish people here. As Irish people meet, we easily exchange phone numbers and take each other in.
We all hang out together," says Mike Guihen (24), working at the Irish Village.

 "The Irish people are very supportive of each other," explains Ciaran. I would not say they are insular. But when they first come out here, the Irish community is often the first contact."

According to the ambassador, the community is mostly made up of people in their 20s, with professions such as teaching, engineering and law, among others. "I think it is the sense of opportunity that attracts them, or the speed of growth and development in the UAE.

“They can build up their professional life here, and build upon that experience."

Apart from that, connectivity between the UAE and Ireland has increased over the years and this has contributed to a comfortable expat life, thinks Ciaran. "Etihad has 17 direct flights per week. People can come and go whenever they want to. This was not always the case," he says.