The Department of Justice has said that it does not have “any official data on the number of undocumented people in the State.” This is despite the fact that an amnesty for illegal immigrants is expected to begin in November.
The Government has presented the proposed scheme as a “once in a generation” chance to “regularize the immigration status” of up to 17,000 illegal immigrants, of which 2-3,000 are children. However, Gript can reveal that that figure of 17,000 is not an official figure, but rather merely an estimate provided to the Government by a pro-amnesty NGO.
The Department of Justice told Gript that the figure was provided by the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland (MRCI), an NGO which has been lobbying for an amnesty for illegal immigrants for years. Minister for Justice Helen McEntee herself told the Dail, in December of 2020, that the figure of 17,000 was provided to her by the MRCI.
It is unclear how the MRCI came to the figure of 17,000 as we were unable to locate any publicly available material which laid out the methodology the MRCI used. The MRCI told the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, in January of 2018, that there were up to 26,000 undocumented adult migrants, and another 6,000 undocumented children, in Ireland.
We sent multiple requests to the MRCI, the Department of Justice, and the office of Minister of State James Browne, requesting any evidence they had which would back up the figure. We have yet to receive any evidence to back up the figure of 17,000 or to explain why the MRCI’s estimated number of illegal migrants in Ireland has fallen so dramatically.
Research on this area is sparse, and it is exceptionally difficult to get an accurate idea of how many illegal immigrants are in Ireland given that illegal immigrants are heavily incentivised to avoid official attention and only a limited number will seek to engage with NGOs like the MRCI.
The largest European attempt to study illegal immigrant was the 2009 CLANDESTINO Project, a European Commission-funded initiative. That project estimated there were between 30,000 and 62,000 illegal immigrants in Ireland. That estimate was based on information gathered from the UK and was not considered to be terribly reliable.
In 2017 then Minister of State David Stanton discussed both the the CLANDESTINO Project and the estimates of illegal immigration provided by the MRCI, telling the Dáil “we are effectively blind to the numbers and circumstances of the persons involved.” This blindness was due to the simple fact that “there is no reliable way of estimating the actual numbers of people…by its very nature irregular migration is clandestine.”