Population surges to 5m, Migrants 13% of total

There are a range of observations one might make about the CSO’s announcement yesterday that the Republic’s population has increased to 5million, and is now at the highest level recorded since the end of the famine. The first observation to make is that these figures are for the Republic, and do not include Northern Ireland. If you add their population in, then the total number of people on the island is closer to 7million. Before the famine, the island was home to 8.2million people. We will see that number reached again in our lifetimes.

Buried in the figures are a few key numbers. 13% of the Irish population (12.9%, to be exact) is made up of “non-nationals”. But this, of course, understates the impact of immigration on the numbers substantially, because it does not include people who originate from outside of Ireland, but who have become naturalised citizens.

How many such people are there? There are no official figures for the total, but we know, for example, that in 2018, 10,000 people became Irish citizens through the naturalisation programme. Though it is not an entirely reliable estimate, the CSO’s figures for people with “dual citizenship” at the last census in 2016 recorded 66,000 Irish people who were born abroad. Add 10,000 a year to that for the last five years, and, conservatively, you arrive at 120,000 extra people here as a result of migration, which seems a likely number. That would take the percentage of the population here as a result of migration to just above 15% of the total population. The figures also cannot be considered reliable in terms of the number of people living here illegally: Such people tend to be less interested in talking to census enumerators, or CSO analysts. Estimates for the number of illegal immigrants has ranged in recent years from the low of 17,000 which the Government cites in its Amnesty proposal, to a higher level of almost 100,000 cited by some NGOs. We cannot say by how much the figure for people originating outside of Ireland is out, but the chances are that it is out, and by a few per cent.

Nevertheless, it is not all doom and gloom. Economist Philip O’Sullivan is pleased, and describes Ireland’s demographics as “some of the best in the developed world”. Is he right?

Well, looking at it from a purely long term economic perspective (which, to be fair to O’Sullivan, is his job) then yes, he certainly has a point. The share of our population, for example, which is over 65 is just 14%. That compares to 22% in Germany, 21% in France, and 18% in the United Kingdom. Fewer pensioners means much less strain on the economy in terms of a welfare, pensions, and health system. As health outcomes for most people improve over time, and life expectancy increases, those strains will become greater and greater. In the longer term, having a younger population is and will be a major competitive advantage.

It should also be noted, in O’Sullivan’s defence, that the majority of inward migrants, according to the CSO, fit the bill of the kind of migration that immigration sceptics usually say they want: 70% of migrants, according to the CSO, have a third level qualification. Most of them are between the ages of 25 and 44. In other words, they are economically productive. Many of them are probably people coming here to work for US multinationals.

But of course, that kind of migration, even if you believe it to have long term benefits, also means pressure today on our housing system, and our infrastructure. Supply and demand is the basic law of economics, and, put simply, more people creates more demand for housing, which drives up prices. It also means a greater demand for school places, more strain on the electricity grid, more congestion on our roads and pressure on our public transport systems, more strain on our sewerage system, more demand for water, and, well, the list goes on. There are probably in excess of three quarters of a million people living in Ireland for whom Ireland was not their original home. Many of those people have brought skills and tax revenue with them, but all of them have also contributed to the increased demands on our infrastructure, and to the demand for houses. In Dublin, in particular, there can be little doubt that the presence of US multinationals, and their well-paid employees, is a factor in the soaring costs of rent.

The Government’s new housing plan proposes a target of building 33,000 homes per year between now and 2025. The problem, of course, is that even that ambitious (and, a cynic might say, unlikely to be realised) target does not keep up with the annual increase in population. Between April 2020 and April 2021, the population increased by a total figure of 34,100, of which 11,200 was made up of net inward migration. Of course, that was also a year with global travel restrictions, and the impact of a pandemic, meaning that inward migration actually fell from the previous year’s figure of 28,000. If net migration heads back towards a figure more representative of normal times, then the basic facts of the matter are that we cannot build enough homes to keep up with the increase in the population.

Whatever the benefits might be in the long term, it is hard to see how Ireland’s migration statistics can possibly be reconciled with the Government’s ambition to reduce housing prices. If demand keeps outpacing supply, prices will continue to remain high, and may rise further. That’s basic economics, 101.


Share mdi-share-variant mdi-twitter mdi-facebook mdi-whatsapp mdi-telegram mdi-linkedin mdi-email mdi-printer mdi-chevron-left Prev Next mdi-chevron-right Related
Comments are open

The biggest problem Ireland faces right now is:

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...