Migration and Saint Patrick

Posted on Friday, 17 March 2023
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embracing multicultural Ireland
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Today is Saint Patrick's Day, March 17th. The story told of Ireland's patron saint is that he was brought here in his teens as a slave, a trafficked migrant and ultimately chose to make Ireland his home. He remains a potent symbol for modern, multicultural, welcoming Ireland. 


According to Census 2016, there was a total of 535,475 non-Irish nationals – representing 200 different nations - living in Ireland on Census night​​. The main nationalities were Polish (23 per cent) and UK (19 per cent). Other nationalities with over 10,000 residents included USA, Brazil, France, Germany, India, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Spain. Non Irish nationals have a very different age profile to the rest of the population with half aged between 25 and 42 compared with a quarter of the Irish population.  There are proportionately fewer children under 14 (12.3 per cent versus 22.5 per cent), and older people (4 per cent versus 13 per cent) among non-Irish nationals. The unemployment rate among non-Irish nationals was 15.4 per cent, compared with a rate of 12.6 per cent among the Irish population. Census 2016 also asked people to identify their ethnicity and cultural background. 681,016 people identify themselves as other than “White Irish”, of whom 234,289 identify as Black, Asian or other people of colour. 

To date, since the invasion of Ukraine, 74,458 Ukrainian refugees, primarily women and children, have arrived in Ireland with thousands more still expected. The EU is granting “temporary protection" status, which means they can live, settle and work in the EU for a period of time. This is to be welcomed; however, it is in stark contrast to the treatment of refugees fleeing other war-torn territories. Our approach needs to consistent, placing human rights at the centre of International Protection policies. 


Migration in Ireland

Net migration into Ireland was positive in April 2022, continuing a pattern which has been in place since 2015. This means that more people have entered the country than are leaving it. Immigration has only been higher once in the past 30 years with the numbers entering the country the highest since 2008, a large number of these have arrived as refugees from Ukraine. Analysing migration trends over the past 30 years, we see a relatively high rate of emigration in 1988 and 1989, at a time of recession, which decreased slowly over the next 10 years peaking again in 2012 whereas immigration figures rise slowly from 1990, peaking in 2007.

The high levels of immigration in 2022 have highlighted the lack of school spaces providing suitable language and learning supports, the shortage of G.P.s, the severe shortage of affordable, stable accommodation and the importance of providing supports to communities and the stark differences in the response to refugees from Ukraine compared to elsewhere. 

Integration is defined in current Irish policy as the ‘ability to participate to the extent that a person needs and wishes in all of the major components of society without having to relinquish his or her own cultural identity’​. For the almost 13 per cent of the population who are non-Irish nationals, achieving real integration requires concerted policy responses aimed at supporting education, job activation, tackling hate speech and racism and supporting cultural awareness. 

A key factor in integration is a Skills Transfer Programme. The numbers of migrants with a third level education continued to rise in 2022. Of those immigrating to Ireland, the number has increased (from 46,2002 in 2021 to 70,300 in 2022) whilst the proportion has decreased (70 per cent in 2021 to 58.2 per cent of all immigrants in 2022).  

Migrants tend to be younger than the general population with just under half of both immigrants and emigrants in 2022 aged between 25 and 44. The number of emigrants with a third level education decreased slightly from 32,500 in 2021 to 30,700 in 2022. As a proportion of all emigrants, this represents 51.5 per of the total. Of those who left Ireland in 2022, 53.6 per cent were employed (a slight increase in the number, from 29,900 to 32,000).  A further 21.8 per cent were students, a slight increase from 21.5 per cent in 2021. 

In light of higher educational attainment levels of immigrants into Ireland, and the increasing number of Irish people returning to this country, there is a need for a skills transfer programme for returning migrants in order to ensure the skills that they have acquired whilst working abroad are recognised in Ireland. A recent study from Eurostat found that across the EU, employed non-nationals are more likely to be over-qualified than nationals for their job. In Ireland, 41.4 per cent of workers from other EU countries were over qualified. 

The ESRI published a report on the wages and working conditions of Non-Irish Nationals in Ireland which found a ‘migrant wage gap’ in Ireland. Between 2011 and 2018, non-Irish nationals earned, on average, 22 per cent less per hour than Irish nationals which equates to 78 cents earned for  for every €1 an Irish worker earned. Of note is the smaller wage gap for those coming from West Europe, North America, Australia and Oceania, “this is partly because they have higher educational qualifications, but they still get lower rewards for education than Irish workers.” 

Given the investment made in the education of young graduates, it is essential that steps are taken to retain them and their expertise within Ireland. This is coupled with the need to provide both decent work and infrastructure to support increasing numbers of immigrants who will need to be housed and whose healthcare and childcare needs must be accommodated. 

There has been criticism of Irish immigration policy and legislation specifically due to the lack of support for the integration of immigrants and a lack of adequate recognition of the permanency of immigration. For many migrants, immigration is not temporary. They will remain in Ireland and make it their home. In turn, Irish people are experiencing life in different cultural contexts around the world. Ireland is now a multi-racial and multi-cultural country and Government policies should promote and encourage the development of an inclusive and integrated society with respect for, and recognition of, diverse cultures.


Racism in Ireland

It is difficult to get an accurate picture of racism and discrimination in Ireland as there is a lack of consistency in how data is recorded. A Red C poll commissioned by the National Youth Council of Ireland and referenced in their submission on the National Action Plan Against Racism in 2021 indicated that 79 per cent of those aged 18-24 stated that racism is a significant issue online (compared with 69 per cent on average); 77 per cent of 18-24 year olds stated that Ireland needs a National Action Plan Against Racism (compared to 66 per cent on average); and 80 per cent of those aged 18-24 years old stated that racism had a negative impact on Irish society (compared to an average of 63 per cent). 

The consequences of racism are very serious, increasing fear and insecurity. The European Network Against Racism noted that “Racism has a demonstrable impact on the lives of those targeted…. there is psychological impact, … impact on their social connectedness, and economic impacts through for example increased costs or lost income.” This is unacceptable in a society that prides itself on its open and accepting character. But racism is not only socially damaging, it is also harmful to the economy. As Ireland seeks to attract FDI and is sourcing workers from all over the world to meet skills shortages and in light of the increase in reported racist incidents, it is imperative that racism in all areas is definitively addressed. 

It is also clear that more is needed to raise awareness among the general population of the equality legislation, not just with those who are most at risk of experiencing discrimination, but also those who are at risk of perpetrating it. However, with just 3 per cent of the people who experienced discrimination making an official complaint, and just 1.7 per cent contacting the Gardaí, raising awareness of the legislation alone may not result in any greater use of the legislation to combat discrimination.  

A report on Reports on Racism in Ireland 2021, published by the Irish Network Against Racism (INAR) found that there were 404 racist incidents reported in 2021, including 154 cases involving criminal offences, 113 incidences of hate speech and 90 of discrimination. The percentage of crimes going unreported has jumped with only 25 percent of crimes reported to Gardai in 2021 which is a decrease from 43 per cent in 2020. Crimes targeted Chinese, South Asian and Other Asian more than any other group whilst Black-African, Black-Irish and Black-Other were the groups most discriminated against. Staff working for public sector bodies were found responsible for 30 per cent of all discrimination in 2021.

A more recent study on the experiences of second-generation ethnic minority young people in Ireland, published by DCU and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission raised issues of racism and discrimination, lack of representation, restricted social mobility, and “limited notions of Irishness” as barriers to meaningful integration, despite the “strong desire” for participants in the study to “truly belong to Irish society”.

As social imbalances increase across society, as the lack of access to educational supports, the inability for many to secure affordable housing, the long waits for healthcare interventions are laid bare by the large increases in population seen in 2022, anti-migrant sentiment has grown. Investing in our core infrastructure is therefore a necessity.


Trafficking in Ireland

The third evaluation report on Ireland’s performance on implementing the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings notes that the legislation governing human trafficking in Ireland has remained largely unchanged since GRETA’s second evaluation in 2017 and that Ireland continues to be primarily a country of destination of victims of trafficking in human beings. The Report finds that “The number of presumed victims of trafficking identified by An Garda Síochána was 103 in 2017, 64 in 2018, 42 in 2019, 38 in 2020, and 44 in 2021. While trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation remains the prevalent form of exploitation, the number of persons trafficked for the purpose of labour exploitation has increased. In the period 2016-2020, 46% of the presumed victims came from Africa (primarily from Nigeria), 36% from the European Economic Area, and 11% from Asia”.  

The Programme for Government ​makes a commitment to enact legislation that encompasses both UN and EU measures and protocols to combat the smuggling and trafficking of migrants. The Department of Justice and Equality committed in June of 2020 to study the recommendations contained in the Trafficking in Persons Report 2020  and state that ending the crime of human trafficking is a priority for the country. The Human Trafficking investigation and Coordination Unit has been established with the Garda Siochána. We must fully implement the recommendations of the 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report.