BY ANTHONY QUINN
A NEW exodus of the unemployed are leaving Cookstown at the highest level seen for decades.
During 2011, a total of 318 people swapped Cookstown’s economic gloom and grey skies for sunny climes and job opportunities abroad, according to official figures from the Department of Finance.
While the local economy was booming the direction of travel was firmly the other way, with a large influx of economic migrants settling in the Mid-Ulster area, most notably from Eastern Europe and Portugal.
However, since 2007, the economic sands have shifted dramatically and now Australia and Canada are the destinations of choice for a large number of local people, in particular those in the 16-39 age group.
The figures reveal that across Tyrone, the number of people leaving in search of work in 2011 stood at 2,135.
The large number of emigrants has affected community and family life, with sporting clubs and parish GAA teams badly dented.
For many local young people. Australia and Canada beckon with promises of high-paying jobs and new opportunities.
Cate McCurry, who left a job in Cookstown for a new life in Australia 18 months ago, said it was the promise of a better life that prompted her move.
“My love of travelling brought me to Australia, and I wanted to experience new cultures and try out something different, I had a few friends living here in OZ so it seemed like the best place to go.
“I never left home in search of work though, I came for the climate, opportunities and new experiences that I would never have at home.”
The 26-year-old qualified journalist said she only planned on staying in Australia for eight months, but completely fell in love with the country and wanted more from it.
“I’ve been settled in Brisbane now for over a year and a half, it’s my home from home. The best part is being so close to some of Australia’s beaches and there’s never a dull weekend, there’s always something to do.
“In Brisbane itself there are a lot of local people living here, especially from the greater Mid-Ulster area. There’s a great sense of Irish community here which you need sometimes being so far from home. Australian people are great too and have always been very welcoming. It’s a great country with endless opportunities.”
Sinn Féin MLA Bronwyn McGahan said she was alarmed to see that Tyrone has some of the highest rates of youth emigration and warned that more should be done to stop young people being forced to leave.
Ms. McGahan said: “It is obvious that many young people are moving away to find work and this is a loss to the entire community.
“Many of these young people are well educated and skilled and their loss will impact on the future of the area to compete competitively to attract inward investment.
“Not only does this impact economically but also socially as many sporting organisations are finding their teams decimated as young people move away. I know of areas where GAA clubs cannot field a full side and I expect it is the same in soccer, rugby and other codes.