Ireland's native population could be in a minority by the middle of this century, the president of Dublin City University (DCU) will claim today. But large-scale immigration is still essential if we are to remain prosperous, Prof Ferdinand von Prondzynski will say.
Unpublished UK-based research, which he does not identify, has indicated that by 2050, Ireland's population will consist of a multicultural and multiethnic mix in which the indigenous Irish will form a minority.
He says this is based on some demographic projections which also suggest that people of Chinese origin may form the largest of the new ethnic groups.
"Whether this turns out to be an accurate prediction or not, we have to prepare for a very different kind of society," he says.
"It needs to be a planned process to ensure our skills needs are being met . . . a very substantial increase in population will be needed over a long period of time.
"And I don't think people have quite realised this yet."
In a speech to be delivered at a conferring ceremony in DCU later today, Prof von Prondzynski will also argue that any attempt to stop migration here will lead to a significant decline in the Irish economy, and a return to Ireland's peripheral status in Europe.
This is because a major population expansion is needed for the next wave of economic growth.
Universities have a particular obligation to prepare the country for the increasingly multicultural nature of Irish society, he believes.
Inter-cultural studies and research should be prioritised, while care needs to be taken to ensure the "new Irish" gain equal access to higher education.
Universities should also be "active contributors" to anti-racism policies, and should offer support to industry and to Government agencies in this regard.
However, Prof von Prondzynski will stress that they should maintain an interest in, and support for, Irish traditional culture as part of this development.
"Ireland as a multicultural society will be able to make a particularly valuable contribution to the new Europe, and will be able to continue to lead as a country in which high-value innovation takes place and strong community values are espoused."
Although the immigration issue is a difficult one for the Government, recently introduced measures - such as increased restrictions on citizenship - are frequently counterproductive, the professor said yesterday.
"People are nervous about immigration. But immigration is almost always a good thing. People think immigrants come here and take jobs, but the opposite is true. They will come and create jobs."