POLISH ANIA IS ALIVE AND WELL AND LIVING IN ASHBOURNE.
April 24 2016 was the centenary, to the day, of the Easter Rising. It was also Census Day, the detailed results of which are beginning to emerge (a snapshot already one year old). Whatever Pearse and his colleagues may have imagined a century on, it can scarcely have been that Polish would be vying with Irish as the second most common language spoken on the island or that sizeable numbers would be speaking French, Lithuanian, Romanian and Russian, at home.
Readers might recall my column of September2015, which mentioned “Ashbourne Annie,” a fictional housewife and mother, dreamed up by Labour Party strategists in a desperate – and unavailing – last throw to head-off electoral disaster. The hope was that by pointing up some of the modest pre-election goodies handed out by the Coalition in its death throes, and which on paper benefitted the likes of Annie, Labour’s, and the Coalition’s, flagging electoral prospects might get a boost. It didn’t happen. The Coalition was decimated in the subsequent election, and Labour all but wiped out.
Several days after publication of the first detailed report on the Census I visited Ashbourne, a pleasant dormitory town close to Dublin, and am happy to report that signs of economic recovery are now plentiful – too late for Labour. Shopping in one of the town’s main supermarkets brought home one of the report’s revelations. It was school holidays and shoppers included a number of families. Most of the children were speaking Polish or Lithuanian. Not a generalised or representative example, true – Ashbourne is within the Dublin commuter belt, and has consequently a relatively high non-Irish population – but indicative of the changing face of Ireland.
The Census is interesting in a number of respects. The population of the Twenty Six Counties is now 4,761,865, up 173,613 or 3.8% since 2011 (but still far behind the pre-Famine figure of 6.5 million), though the rate of increase is slowing. The natural increase (births over deaths) was actually 196,100, indicating that emigration continues to be a factor. The “greying” trend continues with the over 65s up 20% to 647,567, 13.6% of the total. Deaths actually increased by 7,200 while births fell sharply by 22,800. The average age of the population is up by 1.3 years to 37.4 years. Interestingly, the average age of the non-Irish has increased by 2.5 years to 35.4 years, almost double that of the population as a whole, and, indeed the average age of Poles has increased by 3.5 years, from 27.9 to 31.4 years. For which read that many of the wave of young immigrants who arrived after 2004 to work during the Celtic Tiger years have put down roots and are now that much older.
The actual number of non-Nationals is virtually unchanged at 535,475, though this of course masks the many actual changes that have taken place. People have gone home, people have arrived, often from different countries and many have acquired dual nationality (up almost 50% to 104,784). The document estimates that 94,000 have acquired Irish citizenship since 2011, many in highly publicised public ceremonies. Apart from the British, the Poles and Lithuanians remain the largest national minorities, virtually unchanged at 122,515 and 36,552 respectively. The biggest increases have been among Romanians, up 69% to 29,186, Brazilians, up by over half to 13,640, and Spanish, up 78% to 12,112. The numbers of Pakistanis have also increased by over 50% to 12,891, while the most dramatic increase has been from the EU’s newest member, Croatia, which has seen Croatian numbers increase fivefold to 5,202. 69% of non-Nationals come from ten countries with the next ten accounting for a further 14%.
Inward migration has recommenced, edging towards Celtic Tiger levels, with 82,346 arriving in the year to April 2016. Of these 28,143 were Irish nationals, with the largest contingents of non-Nationals arriving from Britain (7,506) Brazil (4,848) and Poland (3,689). With the economy continuing to expand there is little doubt that strong inward migration will continue. What is not clear is what effect Brexit, however it turns out, will have. Will there be a flood of new arrivals, seeking to enter Britain clandestinely across the Border, or will there be a flow of non-British nationals forced out? It’s widely believed that a surge in asylum applicants from Pakistan and Bangladesh in 2015 followed denials to reside by the UK authorities. Whatever happens there are likely to be profound implications for future inward migration.
There are already significant developments in the languages spoken in the home. Here no fewer than 135,895 people speak Polish at home, 27,197 of whom were born here. Next up is French, spoken in the home by 54,948 (again, 36,810 born here) with Romanian (36,683) Lithuanian (35,362) and Spanish ( 32, 405) next in line. 20, 833 speak Portuguese, reflecting chiefly the Brazilian newcomers. Arabic is spoken by 16,072, of whom 4071 were born here. All told 612,018 people speak languages other than Irish or English at home.
The language statistics have sent shockwaves through Irish language supporters. While 1,761,420 answered “Yes” to the question “Do you speak Irish?” 30% of those aged 10-19 answered “No” and only 73,803 said they spoke it daily outside the education system. One pie chart shows 69.7% of those three and over who “can’t speak or won’t speak Irish.” The manifest failure of successive governments to revive the first national language has been cruelly exposed by the figures for languages spoken in the home. The Irish language, part of Irish culture, remains an object of affection and endearment to a high proportion of Irish people, but few seem exercised enough to do anything about it. The blunt truth is that English, in which the Irish excel, is such a superb vehicle for communication and enjoys widespread use and acclaim throughout the first world that few among the Irish direct more than a token genuflection towards the native tongue.
The census findings on religion, with the Report itself highlighting a 29% increase in the Muslim population here and that almost 10% of the population have “no religion” also prompted attention. Census Question 12 asked simply “What is your religion”, giving seven choices, including “No Religion.” The number declaring themselves as Muslim is now 63,400, less than 1.5% of the population. The number (and percentage) of Orthodox Christians is approximately the same, having risen at a faster rate, 37.5%, over the period. The number of Catholics, at 3,729,100, represents 78.3% of the total population, down by 3.4% since 2011.
Elsewhere the secular lobby have been crowing, citing the 10% “no religion” figure as further evidence of the decline in the Catholic Church’s influence. Certainly the number declaring “no religion” is up, by 73.6% from 269,800 to 468,400, and a further 125,300 left the boxes blank. And there has been a dramatic fall in Church attendance in the last decades. Whether any definitive conclusions can be drawn is less clear. It could be argued, indeed, that, given the scandals and revelations which have rocked the Church since the highpoint of the 1979 Papal visit, what is surprising is that almost 80% still declare themselves Catholic. Irish Catholicism may be in decline, but it’s a slow process.