Ireland's demograpics shaped by migration


ANALYSIS:IRELAND IS the only territory in the world in which the population today is smaller than it was two centuries ago. Migration is the reason for this unique decline. Coinciding with the beginning of the first era of globalisation, the Famine caused a tradition of emigration to arise that changed this island forever.

If outflows of people have made Ireland stand out from all other countries over two centuries, the pattern of arrivals over the past decade has made it exceptional among its European peers.

Almost one in eight people resident here last year was not Irish. That is more than double the proportion a decade ago and far above the proportion in pre-Celtic tiger times.

By the standards of the rest of Europe, Ireland was one of the most homogeneous societies in the early 1990s. By last year it had become one of the continent’s most heterogeneous countries.

Yesterday’s census results show that the multinationalisation of the population of the State continued apace in the half- decade to April last year. People from 199 states now reside in the Republic.

If the geographic spread of foreign nationals is eye-widening, the concentration of those arriving from two European countries is no less impressive. Poles and their mostly Roman Catholic co-religionists in neighbouring Lithuania have accounted for a large and growing proportion of new arrivals.

Between 2002 and 2006, just over 40 per cent of all immigrants came from those two nations. That proportion rose to almost 50 per cent in the five years to 2011.

During the current era of globalisation, movements of people have been more tightly controlled than during the first period in the 19th century. The great exception has been Europe, where the freedom to live anywhere in the EU is one of the bloc’s foundational liberties.

But before the EU’s biggest ever enlargement in 2004, citizens had not exercised this freedom much. That changed when the peoples of former communist countries were granted that freedom. Large numbers grasped the opportunity with both hands, and Ireland’s depression has not discouraged our cousins east of the Oder from seeking their fortunes here.

The enlargement of the EU in 2004 seems to have started a tradition of inward migration from Poland and Lithuania that, if not as transformative as the changes of the 19th century, could in time come to leave its own indelible mark on this island.