Just a few short weeks after Brian Lenihan made his infamous budget speech declaring the worst was over, Francis Deane finally closed the Michael Francis menswear shop he ran for 22 years at Trimgate Street in Navan.
Despite having spent a lifetime in the rag trade, he simply could not compete with an economic downturn that had robbed him of much of his traditional clientele.
He had battled to stay in business since the bad economic omens first began to appear around two years ago, but to no avail. Finally he had to accept defeat and hand back the keys to his shop at the end of 2009 after a "horrific" Christmas trading period.
"I just don't agree with Brian Lenihan's assessment. I believe autumn is going to be very tough too. There has been no pick-up in construction, and that is leaving a lot of guys with little or nothing to hope for when it comes to jobs," he says. "No one likes to shut a business. But unfortunately, if people are not coming through the door, then that is what you have to do. I don't see it getting better any time soon."
Deane has since focused on his other role as an independent local councillor.
Go to any Navan primary school and you can see the telltale signs of the impact unemployment continues to have on Navan's menfolk, he says.
"You see so many young men collecting the children. In some schools it's up to 60%, by my estimation. They used to be out working during the day as the main breadwinners. Now there's just no work for them."
The problem of upward-only rent reviews, resulting in what he says are simply unrealistic rents during a deep recession, and the lack of sufficient action to tackle the issue of price differences north of the border, are key problems for traders in commuter belt towns such as Navan.
Deane has long advocated a six-month VAT reduction to help boost trade.
"One of the other big issues here is access to credit, and the banks. If they are not going to release credit they are going to make it hard to survive," he says.
"Businesses are telling me they are getting huge pressure from the banks. We need a kick-start. But at the moment there is just no confidence out there."
Scout leader, experienced project manager, budding entrepreneur – and on the dole.
Susie Lynam, who is in her 20s and living in Dublin's East Wall, could be forgiven for thinking Brian Lenihan's belief that the worst is over is some kind of hollow joke.
She has been unemployed for almost a year now, having previously worked as a project manager in the construction industry, one of the hardest-hit sectors of the economy.
Speaking outside the dole office at Dublin's Kings Inn Street, she says there are simply no jobs out there for someone like her.
In fact, employers frequently claim she is "overqualified" for the few positions that are on offer, with everyone fighting for the same jobs.
"If someone is not going to give me a job, I'll just have to make my own," she says.
She already has a few ideas for starting her own business. But even here, she has faced an uphill struggle to get the support she needs from Lenihan's government to help turn these into concrete plans.
Just two days before she was due to start a part-time course in entrepreneurship last December, for example, she was informed it had been put on hold due to a lack of funding.
She hopes the course will go ahead shortly, but in the meantime she says life on the dole can get you down at times. So she throws herself into her voluntary work as a scout leader with Donnybrook scouts, continuing to give something back to her community as she has done for more than a decade.
Her financial situation is not helped by the fact that she and her boyfriend, who is still working, bought their East Wall home near the top of the market three years ago.
"I've no money in my bank account and I'm paying a huge mortgage. I'm surviving because I have a supportive boyfriend... I'll probably have to change industries, retrain, to get work," she explains.
"Hopefully things are on the up. But getting finance for starting my business is going to be another huge issue for me too. The reality is that I live on less than €200 a week and I'll be hoping to start a business in a recession.
"I just don't think the government is giving me any confidence we're over the worst of it .Until they put some positive steps in place, I couldn't say the worst is over."
the young mother 'Before, we would have brought our two boys to a movie and then for something to eat. You just don't do that any more'
As we speak in the car park of Clarehall shopping centre in north Dublin, it is the little examples peppering her conversation that are most revealing of the lifestyle changes that she and countless other young parents like her face.
"I would never have been one of those with the designer bags or clothes. But if I needed money it was there," she says. "You keep an eye out for the bargains at the end of the aisles in Tesco; that's where they put them. I would definitely be much more conscious of them now."
Regan is lucky in that her two sons – Josh, aged four, and Brian, nine – have started school so childcare costs are no longer a problem.
Yet other discretionary spending, which would barely have merited a second thought a few years ago, now has a potentially serious impact on the family's finances.
"Before, we would have brought our two boys to a movie and then for something to eat in Eddie Rockets afterwards, all of us together. That's €100 or €150 by the time you factor everything in. You just don't do that any more," she says.
The harsh realities of life in recession-time Ireland extend to the catering supplies company which she and her husband run in Clondalkin. Business is still ticking over, but is by no means comparable to the so-called "boom" years.
She is also unaware of any specific measures to support companies such as hers in Lenihan's recent budget.
Meanwhile, she and her husband have had to let go two full-time employees and an apprentice, while reducing the hours of their remaining staff.
"We're led to believe we own the banks now but they won't give you a penny. We've cut back on everything – pensions, wages, rent," she says.
"If there was something out there that would allow us to put a few bob in the bank – say if you didn't have to pay interest on a loan for a year – that would be a huge help. Not to always be relying on your overdraft."
Even if the company wants to take out its own cash from the bank, it still has to pay fees to the bank to do so.
"It's a joke, it's ridiculous. Brian Lenihan should get rid of that for starters," she adds.
The worst of this recession is definitely not over for Stephen (not his real name), who finds himself living in a homeless hostel after losing his job as a labourer last September.
His reaction to Brian Lenihan's words is laced with the barely-concealed anger of a man who has never before been homeless in his 38 years.
He was on the dole only a few months when his weekly payments were cut from €204 to €196 in last December's budget.
"I worked pretty much continuously for seven to eight years," he says. "I spent what I had while working. You don't worry; you put a few pound aside here and there. But when the recession hit, that was gone in a few weeks."
Not long after losing his job, he was forced to give up his shared apartment in Walkinstown, as he could no longer keep up the rent payments. He has yet to be told if he will qualify for rent allowance or other supports which would allow him to get off the streets.
"I'm homeless at the moment. I live in a homeless shelter. So I'm starting from the beginning again, on the dole, with €196 a week. I'd like to get out of living in the shelter. It's rough. Some of them have addiction problems. You kind of keep your own business to yourself," he says.
"The thing about it that gets me is that, even now, what the government is doing is shutting down hostels. And they're talking about taking away the night bus, which is very useful. If you are on the streets and not in a shelter, it will take you to one."
He tries to keep busy during the daytime, has been to all the free attractions such as museums and libraries. He goes to places that give free food to the homeless, as it saves money.
"There is no point looking for jobs. There is never anything there down the job centre. You go to anything that's free during the daytime. There's nothing else you can do," he says.
"I am worried for the future. There's nothing there for me. Anything that is coming here is all IT this and high-tech that. And you have to have the skills for that. What's the point in retraining, when there's no jobs for someone like me?"
'It makes me angry, Brian Lenihan telling me the worst is over, and at the same time cutting dole payments. I didn't turn any corner when Lenihan thought we were all turning corners."
Amid the high-profile political games played out in the media between Ryanair's Michael O'Leary and the government, it is easy to forget the human face of those with most to lose: the hundreds of former SR Technics workers desperate to get off the dole and back to work in north county Dublin.
Matt McCormack is one such person, a licensed engineer with the aircraft maintenance company who was among the early tranche of about 600 workers to leave in April last year. Few of his co-workers have gone on to find employment since then, he says.
"I don't know why Lenihan said the worst is over. I don't think for one minute he believed it himself. Maybe he was trying to reassure other countries, but it was a statement that came right out of the blue," McCormack says.
"I sent out the CV left. right and centre. A lot of people replied and said they are not recruiting. I looked for aviation positions, mechanic positions in the motor trade, teaching positions. Not everybody had the manners even to reply."
McCormack is qualified to inspect and certify wide-bodied aircraft suitable for long-haul flights, which notably are not used by Ryanair, meaning he might not even have been hired had the low-fares airline taken over Hangar 6.
Nevertheless, he supported any initiative that could have provided 300 jobs to former employees of SR Technics, and believed O'Leary should have been taken at his word when he said he wanted the hangar for that purpose and would pay the going rates.
Anxious not to let their skills go to waste, McCormack and other former SR Technics employees have sought to retrain. This has led McCormack to enrol for a degree in adult learning at All Hallows College in Drumcondra.
But the workers felt let down by the government when they learned that Tánaiste Mary Coughlan's department of enterprise, trade and employment had not applied for specific funding for the unemployed available from the EU's globalisation fund until last October. By that time, he had been on the dole for almost six months.
The group say they have since learned that problems with the application mean it was sent back to the department and has yet to be resubmitted, delaying even longer the release of the necessary funds to allow them continue with their courses.
In the meantime, the workers say that degree courses for up to 200 former employees of the company, which were due to start soon, have instead been scrapped.
First-time buyer Caroline Duggan might be expected to jump at the chance to buy a three-bedroom house for roughly the same price that a one-bedroom apartment would have cost three or four years ago.
But the 29-year-old geologist has yet to buy, despite having had loan approval in principle since June of last year.
She is adamant that she will not be rushed into buying a house in a market which she believes could still have some way to fall.
"I think people like me are really reluctant to pay over the odds. We have seen what has happened to others who are in negative equity," she says.
"I do feel very fortunate, especially when I look at my friends who have been caught and can't move now. So I would be much more aware of the value of a property. I ask myself, is it actually worth what they claim?"
This cautious 'wait and see' attitude is by no means unusual among first-time buyers, according to experts. It suggests that the worst of the property market crash is not yet over for prospective vendors.
Ominously for Brian Lenihan's giant Nama project, Duggan also has little or no interest in living in one of the many recently-completed or half-built developments that litter the Dublin landscape.
"I had thought about buying before. The difference now is between me buying a one-bed apartment and a three-bedroom house," she says. "But I don't want to be stuck in some half-finished estate where there aren't many others living there."
Surprisingly, she has been puzzled by the approach of both the banks and estate agents when it came to attracting her business; she got loan approval in principle for the amount she had sought only after going through a broker, Irish Mortgage Corporation.
"I've found a lot of estate agents to be very rude, not returning calls. You're chasing them all the time," she says. "You'd think they'd be biting your arm off. And I just don't believe they have so many buyers that they can treat people like that. I think they are trying to hype things up. They keep saying the market has reached its bottom, but I'm not sure I believe them."
She has also noticed that, when viewing a house, many estate agents indicate that a figure around 10% below the asking price might well be accepted. This suggests the market has some way to fall yet.
"I'd like to have bought by this time next year. In my head I'd say maybe six to eight months," Duggan says. "Maybe in the past I would have been desperate for anything. But I don't feel under pressure to commit to something I'm not absolutely sure about."
Nineteen-year-old Yvonne Kelly's blunt assessment of her job prospects tells its own story of recession-era Ireland.
For her and many of her undergraduate peers, the perception is that they need to start planning their lives away from these shores. If the worst is really over, and they do not have to emigrate, clearly nobody has bothered to tell them.
Originally from Kildare but in her first year of a digital multimedia degree at Letterkenny Institute of Technology, Kelly says her older sister graduated from Maynooth university two years ago but has yet to find a job in biotechnology.
"Companies are looking for two to three years' experience. And I'm thinking is it going to be the same for me?", she asks.
So she no longer sees her future here, and thinks she will most likely emigrate to Toronto when she graduates in two years' time. She does not think she will be coming back either.
"I've studied it a bit to find out what was going on over there. I'll finish my course here and then it's next stop Canada," she says. "The economy is pretty unstable here. It could go up, could go down. But in terms of my career, I'm not going to take that risk of it going down again if I come back. I could be out of a job if that happened. That is a major concern for me. From what I have read and seen about it, this is likely to happen again here."
Kelly repeated her Leaving Certificate, but says the state of the jobs market was the last thing on her mind while at school.
"Now it's going to be a major factor in my life, so I am really focusing on it. I would say my classmates are in the same position," she says.
What would it take for her to stay in Ireland?
"It would take the government getting its act together. Stop with all the crap. Make promises and make sure they follow through on their promises," she says. "I think it's a ridiculous comment to say the worst is over. The worst is not over.
"If I could I would stay here. It's my home country. It is upsetting having to leave my family. But at the moment, I don't see any point staying in a place where I don't see a future for myself."
Speaking on condition of anonymity, one Leinster social worker who specialises in child protection says she finds it hard to accept that the worst is over, as Brian Lenihan believes.
Instead, she is concerned that a lack of resources, and the well-documented communications failings within the HSE, mean there is a real possibility of a repeat of the case of tragic teenager Tracey Fay.
"All we do is fight fires every day. You don't get a service until you reach crisis point, after your problems have built up," she says. "The HSE line is that things that need to be seen are seen, so the crises are seen. They say if somebody is in urgent need of a service, that need will be met. But so-called early intervention – dealing with problems before they become a crisis – goes out the window."
There have been positive changes to the HSE's childcare services since Tracey Fay's death, but these vary from region to region in a system that too often passes the buck.
"It means there are children in the out-of-hours system today who are getting a service that hasn't really changed significantly from what she got... Tracey Fay's case can happen again, and most likely will happen again," she says.
Meanwhile, she has begun to witness the true impact of Brian Lenihan's cuts in social welfare last December, especially among vulnerable families who may already have been struggling to cope with other challenges.
"I don't feel the worst is over at all. I don't see what the minister's evidence for that is, either," she says bluntly. "I am predominantly working with people from disadvantaged communities. The cuts to social welfare were crippling. Now they have to try to cope with even less money.
"I think it just shows the likes of Brian Lenihan are so far detached from life for ordinary people. Taking money off old people, poor people, when you can have section 23 tax relief for developers.
"Every day you're up against resource implications. Everything is to do with resources. A simple thing like trying to get a child referred somewhere... if there is a concern about their behaviour, for example. The waiting lists are incomprehensible at times. You could be looking at anything from a couple of months up to a year.
"You wouldn't believe how much of my time is spent filling out forms for everything. They are pinching money at a level you couldn't comprehend. It is the classic bean-counting approach. They just cut back everything. And it doesn't matter who it's going to affect, it's just across the board."