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ESRI admits: Immigration is key driver of housing demand

Extraordinary. Usually, in Ireland, if you say that one way to reduce the demand for housing is to lower immigration, you’ll be dismissed as a rabid racist who’s peddling fake news.

But in the Irish Independent this morning, no less an authority than the ESRI is out warning that a reduction in immigration, due to Covid 19, may lead to a fall in the demand for new homes:

“Research from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) for the Department of Housing says Ireland may need to build as many as 33,000 new homes a year to meet demand….

……However, the ESRI research says the need for housing could be far lower, at 26,000 a year if inward migration slows. The authors say one reason it might is the knock-on effect of Covid-19.

“It is likely that travel restrictions, uncertainty about the evolution of the pandemic and lower confidence may result in migration being lower than in the baseline scenario, at least in the short term.”

That could mean migration into Ireland falling from 33,700 in 2019 to just 5,000 a year.

“The longer the pandemic and measures to contain it persist, the more likely estimates of structural housing demand will be closer to those in the low international migration scenario,” the ESRI report says.

That’s a difference of 7,000 houses a year. Purely, the ESRI says, due to a variation in immigration levels.

The thing to note here is that in the ESRI’s analysis, variations in inward migration are a lot like the weather – we can forecast it, but we can’t do much to change it. In this analysis, which is widely shared, it’s fair to say, in the Irish establishment, immigration is just one of those things, like the rain, which just happens.

If it means we have to build more homes, or have trouble accommodating our own population and the new arrivals, well, there’s not much we can do about it.

But the thing is this: Inward migration is something that the Government should be able to control, and regulate, and manage. If it’s possible to lower housing demand during a housing crisis by lowering inward migration, then that’s something that the Government should be doing. The very existence of a housing crisis is, after all, evidence that we simply cannot accommodate the projected number of immigrants, at least in normal times.

Sensible policy, therefore, would be to reduce the number of immigrants to take some of the heat and pressure out of the housing market.

Obviously, to some extent, our ability to control migration is limited, as we remain members of the European Union. This means we cannot deny a Spaniard, or an Italian, or a Romanian, who wants to live here the right to do so.

But the EU excuse does not apply to migration from outside the EU – to work and study visas, for example, given to people from China, or Brazil, or other parts of the world.

Last week, the Government announced its intention to give an amnesty to 17,000 people who presently live and work here illegally, making them retrospectively legal, and giving them the right to live and work here in perpetuity.

But each one of those 17,000 people needs somewhere to live. Their children, if they have them, will take place in Irish schools. When they are sick they will take places in Irish hospitals.

So it’s worth recalling that when we have shortages in housing, and school places, and hospital beds, that to some extent this is a direct result of a political choice not to enforce our immigration laws, or restrict further immigration.

It is not racist, or bigoted, to note that this is madness.

A country that refuses to control its borders will simply never be able to plan properly for the infrastructure it needs, moving forwards. The more housing we build, the more attractive we become to immigrants. Every new home built is not simply being competed for by Irish buyers, and renters, but buyers and renters from around the world, as well. The same goes for every new school place, and every new hospital bed. Our policy is creating a permanent competition between Irish residents, and non Irish residents, for every new piece of infrastructure we create.

It is not racist to control immigration, it’s just sensible. Not only for the domestic population, but for immigrants, also.

The voters are beginning to realise this. In time, perhaps, some politicians will, as well.


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