Irish emigration to Western Australia slows after ‘massive influx’

Local government minister, originally from Dublin, says Irish immigrants are from ‘all walks of life’

President Michael D Higgins being greeted by Minister for Environment   Stephen Dawson in Perth. Photograph: Maxwell’s

President Michael D Higgins being greeted by Minister for Environment Stephen Dawson in Perth. Photograph: Maxwell’s


Irish emigration to Western Australia has noticeably slowed after a “massive influx” following the collapse of the Irish economy, according to a local government minister who is originally from Dublin.

Blanchardstown native Stephen Dawson (42), the minister for environment and disability services in Western Australia’s state government, emigrated with his family from Ireland in the early 1990s.

He estimates that there are about 18,000 Irish-born living in Western Australia out of more than 90,000 across the country, while more than two million Australians, about 11 per cent of the population, claim Irish ancestry.

Mr Dawson (42), said that the most recent wave of Irish immigrants five to six years ago were well-educated, well-trained and included people “from all walks of life” including teachers, nurses and miners.

“We went through a massive boom,” he said, referring to the surge in mining and construction in Western Australia. “We needed tens of thousands of workers and lots of Irish have answered that call.

“It is very challenging being on the other side of the world. Some have chosen to go home; some have stayed. The ones that have stayed on are certainly flourishing.”

Central Statistics Office figures show that the number of Irish emigrants moving to Australia has been steadily falling in recent years, to 5,300 in the year to April 2017 down from a high of 17,400 in 2012.

The number of people moving to Ireland from Australia has risen to 7,100 this year, from 6,900 the previous year and just 5,400 in 2011.

Mr Dawson greeted President Michael D Higgins at Perth’s local government buildings when, on Tuesday, Mr Higgins became the first head of state to address the Parliament of Western Australia.

The local government minister was the first Irish-born MP to be elected in Western Australia since 1950. He became active in politics after joining the Labour Party in Australia and working as a political adviser.

In 2013, he was elected to the upper house of the local parliament, one of 36 lawmakers in the chamber, and was recently re-elected to a second term. He is one of a 17-strong cabinet in the local government.

The Dublin-born politician is hoping that his fellow Australians will have voted for same-sex marriage in the country’s postal plebiscite by the time the results of the survey are announced on November 15th.

He and his long-term partner Dennis Liddelow took part in a civil partnership in Galway and became the first same-sex couple to be legally married in Australia in a midnight ceremony in Canberra in 2013 before a law permitting gay unions was struck down six days later by an Australian court.

“I am very hopeful that the marriage equality vote will pass. I am very proud of Ireland and the referendum a couple of years ago and how Ireland has progressed over the years,” he said.

“But there are very different circumstances over here. There wasn’t a big political party opposed to it in Ireland whereas over here it is a bit more divisive.”