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ERSI report on immigration is based on old, self-reporting surveys and is misleading

While the latest report on immigration from the ESRI report is newly published, neither the message nor the research are new. Instead, the report is largely based on old EU surveys rather than any meaningful evidence.

So when the report claims that migrants are more likely to be “highly-skilled” and working than those who are ‘Irish born”, that data is based on self-reporting surveys that do not take age profiles into account. 

In fact, this claim is contradicted even within the report, as even the data shows 29.2% of native born Irish people in the Republic aged between 15 and 29 had a third level qualification compared to 25.1% of non native residents of the same age group (Table 2.1, p19).

That doesn’t prevent a rather different and statistically skewed claim from being highlighted across the Irish media, another addition to the ongoing subtext that Irish people are dumb and uneducated and we are lucky to have new arrivals to help.

Indeed, apart from the statistics referred to on third level qualifications being from EU surveys conducted more than five years ago, what veracity can be attached to any self-reporting in the light of the large numbers of people who arrive in Ireland without any supporting documentation?

We have no proof or who they are, or even their actual identity. They don’t know who they are, but they have a degree? Right.

The object of the ESRI report is stated as “enabling migrants and ethnic minorities more broadly to fully participate in society.”

This may be all well and laudable, but are these aims the business of academic researchers, least of all one meant presumably to supply unbiased data to the state?

Then there’s the matter of a 2023 report with such an overt objective in framing public policy being based mainly on EU surveys conducted five and more years ago (p13).

One of those sources is a 2018 Eurobarometer survey on attitudes to immigrants. The ESRI report picked out some rather odd indicators such as that just 19.9% of people in the Republic and 13.7% in the north “totally disagreed” with the notion that immigrants “are a burden on our welfare system” (p60); that just 27.5% and 14.6% totally agreed with the proposition that immigrants have an “overall positive impact on economy,” and that less than one quarter of those surveyed in the 26 counties totally disagreed with the idea that immigrants “worsen crime problems.”

Are they supposed to be good indicators given that more than 75% of people in the Republic presumably do not totally discount the proposal that immigration might make crime worse?

The Eurobarometer published in 2018 shows that in general just 36% of those surveyed in Ireland in April 2017 believed that “immigration is more of an opportunity” than otherwise.

In contrast, 55% believed that it was more of a problem or presented as much a problem as it did an opportunity. Recent surveys here, and the overall increase in numbers and associated problems, would suggest that a poll taken now would be even less positive, and much closer to the overall more negative EU wide findings in 2017.

Even negative attitudes, however, can be explained away as the report produces evidence to show that those with a more sceptical attitude to mass immigration are likely to be more stupid, poorer and have fewer friends than their more sophisticated fellow citizens. On the other hand even where people have evinced a welcoming pose, that ought not perhaps be taken on face value as they may be there may be “significant masking of negative attitudes to Black immigrants” (p72) Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.

Despite the attempt to sell the report as second hand evidence of the greater learning and economic contribution of immigrants to the economy, it none the less concludes that: “The main takeaway from this modelling is that in both Ireland and Northern Ireland, once we account for the social and demographic characteristics of individuals, nearly all migrant groups, except those from the EU East, have a higher likelihood of being out of work compared to native-born” (p5).


Unemployment among Africans is reported by the ESRI report as 10%, but has been reported as much higher, and more accurately assuming that their statistics as of the same vintage as the surveys they reference. The 2017 O’Connell/Kenny report showed that only 40% of African adults were employed. But, of course, all of this can be attributed to discrimination on the part of the host population.

You will also perhaps have noted in the report how extraordinarily easy it is in comparison to almost every other state in the world to acquire citizenship in Ireland. There are no language or civic integration tests in the Republic of Ireland and in 2019, 35% of adults born outside of the EU and EEA had managed to become naturalised.

The real meat of the ESRI report, however, and presumably the “primary” evidence relied upon, is the long section entitled ‘Migrants’ experience of the border in Ireland’.  This was meant to “explore experiences” of what it’s like to be hassled by The Man at the border.

It is described in the Executive Summary as having been “a consultation event with migrants, their representative groups and other key stakeholders.” I doubt very much any of the participants, as we shall see from their description, experience any such thing as harassment at the border. Or at least not in the context of migrancy.

The consultation took place during an October 2022 online coming together of 26 participants, representing NGOs and several state actors from both sides of the border as well as the European Migration Network who employs one of the report’s authors, Emily Cunniffe.

So basically what you had was a zoom room full of paid NGO activists sitting around at the expense of the taxpayer discussing “otherness.”

The most accurate description of the participants contained in the report is that they have “an interest” in migrancy. Indeed, they do. Just as McDonald’s have an interest in food production. Some of them are described as providing advice, and “some were purely advocacy organisations.”

This is important to note, because none of them are actual migrants themselves, other than maybe a small number who have gotten a job with these NGOs, so the entire section about the “experiences” of migrants is not the experience of migrants at all. They are mostly the opinions of paid members of a class whose business is the promotion of migrancy.

Thus when you read something like the following, this has about as much veracity as me claiming to have some insight into the inner world of my terrier dogs.  Other than I know them better and have spent more time with them than “advocacy groups” have with those whom they claim to represent and whose experiences they somehow feel that they are somehow qualified to interpret and pass on.

So, it was basically a zoom room full of tax payer funded professionals sitting around telling someone with a set of coloured markers and a flip chart what they think “people of colour” – especially “people of colour” who might also be gay, illiterate, have no legal documentation, not know where they are coming from or going to, and experienced multiple experiences of being “othered” by random racists on the bus between Newry and Drogheda – think.

Bullshit is what I say. And forgive me, if I also refuse to accept yet another of the reports spawned by this highly lucrative world as being on the same footing as Marie Curie’s 1903 doctoral thesis on radioactive substances.

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