SOMEBODY OUT THERE
Despite our economic woes somebody out there likes us and
wants to come here to live! The very first results of the 2011 census have
appeared – the headcount. They show that the population of the republic has
risen to 4,581,269, an increase of 340,000, or 8.1%, since 2006. The size of
the increase came as a surprise to officialdom, exceeding estimates by 100,000.
It would appear that, in addition to a high birth rate, more people arrived and
stayed and fewer left than had been thought. Given that even now living
standards here (and the social welfare system) compare favourably with those in
Central Europe and the Baltics, let alone the third world, should anyone have
The 2011 figures suggest at the very least that one of the
common official assumptions concerning inward migration needs revisiting, i.e.
that many of those who came “for work” during the Tiger Years would leave when
the economy imploded. Certainly some have, and the number arriving has
diminished, yet many more have stayed. The actual figures will not become clear
until more detailed data from the census becomes available next year, but
recent contacts and exchanges I have had with just three embassies in Dublin
paint a very interesting picture. The myth of the mobile transient Polish
building worker needs to be put to rest.
There are now probably 200,000 Poles living in Ireland,
anything up to 100,000 Lithuanians and 30,000 Latvians. These three
nationalities alone now comprise 7% of the country’s population. Anyone who has
been an emigrant, or is familiar with the pattern of Irish emigration over the
years will not be surprised, given the numbers who came to Ireland from 2004
on. Once the emigration pain barrier of several years has been reached,
experience suggests that a good proportion of immigrants will stay, put down
roots, develop relationships and start families. These people are not going
Similar considerations apply to the 75,000 immigrants from
three other Central European EU states -the Czech Republic, Slovakia and
Hungary, who arrived here during the
boom ( to end 2008). It’s fair to assume that they have stayed on in much the
same proportion as the others, i.e. anything up to 50,000. Moreover, though the
numbers arriving from these six EU states have declined sharply since 2008, PPS
registrations for the six (our equivalent of social security numbers) in 2009
totalled 26,000, in 2010 18,500 and, in the first five months of 2011, 6000.
Poles continue to register at over 100 per week. Again, it is reasonable to
assume that most of these late comers, who came with their eyes open,
post-boom, are still here.
These EU migrants had one other thing in common – no
restriction on the right to work in Ireland. People from non-EU countries, and
Romania and Bulgaria after 2007, require work permits, and, in terms of
receiving welfare benefits, must meet
the criteria for “habitual residence”
regulations introduced by Ireland and others of the “richer” EU states
after 2004 to combat welfare shopping by immigrants ( and, incidentally,
applied to incoming Irish citizens and returned emigrants). The total number of
new work permits issued to all nationalities in 2008 was 8481, declining to
4024 in 2009 and 3394 in 2010. Romanians received just under 1100 of
Nevertheless, 22,000 Romanians received PPS numbers in 2007
and 2008 and a further 5,500 in 2009 and 2010; around 1500 have done so this year.
The figures for Brazilians (who received slightly over 500 new work permits
since 2008) are even more startling. This is a non – EU state with which
Ireland has few historical or trading links (unlike Argentina, where there is a
large population of Irish descent). Between 2006 and 2008 almost 14,000
Brazilians received PPS numbers, in 2009 2741, while the figure for 2010 was
4257 (as against 143 Argentinians). To date in 2011 2553 PPS numbers have
issued to Brazilians, almost as many as to Poles. Again, presumably most of the
latest arrivals plus a good proportion of those who have arrived since 2007
have stayed. Ditto with regard to those coming from third world countries,
roughly 8000 in 2010. The message is clear. Despite our current economic difficulties,
Ireland continues to be attractive to those coming from poorer societies.
To complete the picture there is more affluent immigration
also and, all told, in 2010, around 70,000 PPS numbers were issued to non-Irish
people (the 85,130 issued to Irish people were, with a few exceptions, to
babies), a rate being maintained this year, despite the economic situation.
While emigration has picked up the net inflow continues and, as the census has
revealed, its extent has been underestimated.
The consequences of continued strong inward migration have
received little public attention. While there was considerable coverage and
hand-wringing over estimates of up to 50,000 young Irish people emigrating last
year, there has been little or no focus on the fact that 35,000 plus arrived
here last year as economic migrants. Clearly should this trend continue, on top
of the current situation, it will add considerably to the problem of tackling
unemployment, still stubbornly high at 450,000.
The recovery of the
90s took place initially with no inward migration, a static or declining
population and a work force in which women were underrepresented. This has now
changed utterly, and, while there are almost daily announcements of new jobs in
the multinational sector, they are not impacting on the total out of work. Like
Spain, Ireland may be entering a period with chronic high levels of
unemployment compounded by immigration and, in Ireland’s case, a demographic structure which promises a continued high
The detailed breakdown of the population by age, nationality
or ethnic origin etc. will become clear as more of the census results become
available, but, generally, more people means more pressure on resources. At a
time of financial stringency this will cause the state some headaches but there
is one potential silver lining. More
people also means more demand, including for accommodation, so an economic
recovery should see a surge in demand for housing, helping to solve the
overhang of excess housing units and correct the current imbalance.
Having a sizeable percentage of the population non Irish
raises other issues, which were pointed to in the 2006 Census, but which are
likely to become more pressing. Not least of these relates to democratic
representation. Only citizens can vote, but any review of the Constitution
(which is being mooted) can hardly ignore the issue of the vote for non-nationals.
The issue of multiculturalism also needs addressing in a more coherent way than
up to now. The data from the Census will be critical in this regard.
Some historical perspective. The current population figure
of almost 4.6 million is still far short of the 1841 total of 6.5 million for
the 26 county area, and, while the population of Leinster is now one third
higher, the population of Munster is a little over half the pre-Famine level,
while those of Connacht and Ulster are 60% less. It will take a lot more inward
migration to dent that shortfall.