Living and working in Dublin

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Anyone considering a move to Dublin will have to join the queue. Immigrants are flocking to Ireland at the rate of 2,000 a week and the capital is by far the favourite destination.

Dublin has taken the lion's share of the nation's phenomenal growth (7% a year for the past decade), boosted by EU largesse and an influx of foreign companies ñ many of them in financial services.

The city is making the most of its new economic strength. Gone are the days of curtailed bar opening hours, frumpy nightclubs and menus limited to Irish stew. This is now a happening city.

Gone is the nasty smell from the river Liffey, which runs through the capital's heart, although the heady aroma of hops still hangs over the centre from the centuries-old Guinness brewery.

What everyone can be certain of is a warm welcome from the Irish and, while they turn their eyes to heaven if they have to listen to 'Irish eyes are smiling' yet again, there remains a pride in their famous hospitality and good humour.

Financial centre

Some of the biggest names in banking, insurance and mutual funds have made their way to the banks of the Liffey in the past few years, encouraged by low corporate tax of 10% and support from the government-backed International Financial Services Centre (IFSC), in the heart of the city.

Aberdeen Asset Management and Fidelity Investments are among those that have set up at the IFSC, which has 2 million square feet of prime office space.

Another is Credito Italiano, which has relocated its European equity research and asset management operations - previously split between Milan and London ñ to Dublin, with tens of millions of euros in tax savings in mind.

The financial sector is likely to grow further. Regulations introduced this year allow Irish-based hedge funds (and there are 20 of them) to use the services of local prime brokers to support their investment strategies.

Lifestyle

Theatre life is strong in a nation noted for playwrights and authors. It is supported by a vibrant 24-hour nightlife - as is to be expected in a country where 45% of the population are under 25.

Cynics regard the night clubs around Leeson Street (known as 'The Strip'), as being chiefly for tourists and businessmen. The clubs around Dame Street are seen as trendier.

For many, Dublin nightlife remains synonymous with pubs providing Irish music complete with accordion, tin whistle and bohdran (a Celtic drum). Pub crawls around Temple Bar in the city centre are as popular as ever.

In years past, business entertainment included vast amounts of Guinness and whiskey. But economic sophistication has led to a tragic move away from this and business lunches now tend to be more sober affairs.

Other attractions include Phoenix Park, with its hundreds of acres of woodland and fields, sailing clubs along Dublin Bay, and the national sport of horse racing at Lepoardstown and the Curragh, both an easy day out.

To the south is Dun Laoghaire, which apart from its ferry port, is famous for its walks in the Dublin mountains and its picturesque coastline.

Dublin has plenty of appealing architecture, notable Georgian squares, many of them close to the beautiful university of Trinity College. The city still has a small town feel, and has declined to follow the fashion for skyscrapers.

Parts of Dublin though are not particularly pleasant to look at. Tallaght and Ballyfermot on the outskirts are depressing modern developments.

And while tourist brochures boast of villages, sandy beaches and mountain walks being within half an hour of the city centre, this is Irish poetic licence ñ the traffic these days makes them somewhat further.

Housing and transport

The rapid increase in Dublin's wealth and population has a downside. Traffic jams have grown longer and property prices have soared.

Many commuters depend on the DART rail service, which opened 15 years ago and links smart suburbs such as Howth and Bray to the city centre. It has been a victim of its own success and is now crowded, but there are plans to increase capacity by 25% and build extensions to Malahide and Greystones, suburbs which also have upmarket areas.

A rail link to Dublin airport is also being looked at.

Demand for transport is going up by 7% a year by some estimates and an € 8bn national road plan has run into trouble because of a labour shortage. Proposals have been floated to charge cars crossing Dublin's canal ring to the centre or the new M50 motorway that skirts the north and west of the city (a motorway notorious for its appalling signage).

Transport workers, like health workers, have staged strikes because of the spiralling cost of living. Inflation is the highest in the EU.

Housing costs are now close to London levels in desirable areas. The rate of increase has slowed in 2001, but some forecasters expect further big rises.

For anyone thinking of buying a home, it is worth noting that stamp duty is not payable on new properties.

Schools are often of a high standard and more than a quarter of the population are in full-time education. To be eligible for grants for tertiary level colleges, an applicant must have resided in Ireland for three of the previous five years.

Tax and visas

The standard rate of income tax is 20%, with higher band earners paying 42%. Tax is calculated on a pay-as-you-earn system.

An EU citizen can work in Ireland without a visa, though if they stay for more than three months a residence permit is required. Non-EU spouses do not have an automatic right to work without a permit.

Work permits can easily be obtained by non-EU nationals if the employer can show that noone locally is available for the job - as can often be the case in financial services.

Away from the bureaucracy, which never sits well with most Irish people, official departments are much like the people - willing to help.

A final tip: it is worth getting used to the taste of Guinness. It is the way to any Irishman's heart.

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