Inward migration has transformed Ireland into a multicultural society and brought benefits on many fronts, not least in economic growth and social energy. The complexity of the change, over a few short decades, is difficult to grasp, with 17 per cent of the population being born elsewhere. Ripple effects from this transformation are being felt in many communities, but the overall impact has been hugely positive for Ireland and its people.
A report by the Economic and Social Research Institute, on where immigrants were born and how well they are doing, exposes disparities in educational achievement and employment levels. Many immigrants from western EU countries work in high-tech, multinational businesses while those from eastern Europe have more diverse employment. What is clear is that the historical brain drain from this country has been reversed. Three quarters of Western Europeans working here have third level qualifications, compared to 37 per cent of Irish people and 35 per cent of eastern Europeans.
The number of immigrants applying for citizenship fell from 25,100 in 2012 to 8,000 last year but no explanation has been offered for this. Applicants were mainly Polish, Romanian and Indian. The Muslim population numbered 62,000 in 2016. Members were found to be highly educated and less likely to be unemployed than other immigrants. One-third of the community was born here.
Worrying trends emerged in connection with groups of African origins. Employment rates were lower and poverty levels were higher. Taken as a whole, 29 per cent of this cohort lived in consistent poverty in 2016, compared to 8 per cent of Irish-born people. Separate research over recent years has found that people of African origin are more likely to be racially abused in the street. In accepting the report, Minister of State for Equality, Immigration and Integration David Stanton said the information would help his Department to design interventions and reduce barriers. It can’t happen soon enough.