Ireland should take its ‘fair share’ of economic migrants, conference told

Trinity professor Brian Lucey says immigrants are net contributors to society

Migrants, many fleeing Syria, arriving at Porto Empedocle in Sicily after being rescued off the Libyian coast by a Dutch freighter the Dinteldijk. Photograph: Frank Miller

Migrants, many fleeing Syria, arriving at Porto Empedocle in Sicily after being rescued off the Libyian coast by a Dutch freighter the Dinteldijk. Photograph: Frank Miller

 

Ireland has nothing to fear from immigration and should take its “fair share” of migrants to help ease the crisis unfolding in the Mediterranean, a conference heard yesterday.

Brian Lucey, professor of finance at Trinity College Dublin, said there has been no conclusive evidence to link inward migration to a general depression of wages in Ireland.

In fact, he said, there was a growing body of research which shows migrants tend to be net contributors to the economy and are often less likely to claim benefits.

He was speaking at a national conference on immigration at St Patrick’s College in Dublin, organised by Metro Éireann and supported by The Irish Times.

“Studies coming from the US and Sweden show that migrants can be substantial contributors to society over and above the social services they consume,” Prof Lucey said. “We shouldn’t be surprised. The vast majority work hard, pay their taxes and contribute an enormous amount over 30 or 40 years.”

Vulnerable

In the case of the Syrian crisis, the UN has estimated there are at least 400,000 “critically vulnerable” people in need of resettlement.

Prof Lucey said if Ireland was to take its fair share in a European context, this would involve just 4,000 people.

“We’re about 1 per cent of Europe’s population. So, 4,000 people isn’t much. Even if we took our fair share of migrants in the Mediterranean seeking to move here, we’re just talking about tens of thousands of people . . . Our history should make us very sensitive to issues around migration and integration, and we should be prepared to take an open and moral approach to these issues.”

The detailed findings of an opinion poll by Amárach Research into attitudes towards integration were also discussed at the conference. They indicate attitudes towards immigration have hardened since the economic crash.

Yet, they also show concerns over the impact of migration on schools and hospitals have fallen slightly over the past seven years.

The findings were based on a poll of 1,000 people carried out earlier this month and in 2008.

Gerard O’Neill, chairman of Amárach Research, said the findings indicated that while respondents were negatively disposed towards the overall impact of immigration, they were more relaxed about our ability to cope with it in certain areas.

The decrease in concern over the impact on education and health was likely due to fear, which has eased since 2008. But he warned we shouldn’t be complacent and there was a possibility Ireland was experiencing a “honeymoon” period when it came to integration issues.