Census shows Ireland is a land of opportunity for many

Analysis: With half a million foreign nationals, Ireland has evolved into a diverse nation

President Michael D Higgins with Syrian journalist Razan Ibraheem and Brian Killoran, CEO of the Immigrant Council of Ireland. Mr Killoran said the ban on asylum seekers accessing employment meant many people’s skills and qualifications were not being recognised. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Exactly 100 years after Patrick Pearse read the Proclamation on the steps of the GPO on April 24th, 1916, men, women and children across the State gathered in their homes to fill out the census form.

Could he have imagined that, a century later, his homeland would have evolved into a diverse and multi-cultural island with more than 130,000 Polish speakers, more than 17,000 Chinese speakers, and more than 16,000 Arabic speakers?

The 2016 census and diversity results reveal an Ireland which, as home to 535,475 foreign nationals, or 11 per cent of the population, has become a destination for jobs and opportunities for people from across the globe. This draw is shown by the age cohort, with nearly half of all foreign nationals aged between 25 and 42 years.

The 87.4 per cent jump in the number of people in Ireland with dual Irish nationality shows more people are opting to make use of distant Irish relatives and are following the Financial Times' advice that Irish grandmothers are a "must-have accessory".


Despite the census taking place before the Brexit vote and the election of US president Donald Trump, Irish-Americans (17,552) comprised the largest group of dual citizens, followed by Irish-UK (15,428) .

While the vast majority of foreign nationals now live in our cities, high numbers have also ended up in towns around Ireland; for example, they make up nearly 40 per cent of the population of Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo.

Unemployment rate

Even though 293,830 foreign nationals were working in Ireland in April 2016, the unemployment rate among this cohort stood at 15.4 per cent, 3 per cent higher than unemployment among Irish nationals.

Brian Killoran, chief executive of the Immigrant Council of Ireland, said these figures only “reinforce the repeated findings that people from migrant backgrounds face additional barriers accessing the workforce, including racial discrimination”.

He said the ban on asylum seekers accessing employment meant many people’s skills and qualifications were not being recognised. “Having a job, being able to support yourself and your family, and feel part of a community is central for successful integration.”

Strikingly, 1,167 people registered as having “no nationality”, which could represent both asylum seekers and the children of asylum seekers who have been born in direct provision but are unable to claim Irish citizenship as a result of the 2004 referendum.

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast