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Reports on population figures ignore historical realities – and future problems

The latest population statistics released by the CSO mostly attracted comment for the fact that the number of people living in the Republic, which comprises 26 of the 32 counties on the island, has surpassed 5,000,000.

The headline on the story celebrating this on the public news channel is worthy of being re-presented and even meditated upon.

As is the trumpeting of this figure by John Fitzgerald of the Irish Times as evidence that “This week’s population estimates from the CSO showed Ireland’s population over 5 million for the first time in 170 years.”

Neither he, nor RTÉ nor the vast range of mainstream media, missed the surely salient point that it is a meaningless comparison. The population Ireland in 1851 was in fact 6,552,385 because of course Ireland was all one administrative entity under British jurisdiction. This not minor detail is buried deep in the RTÉ report, which actually makes its headline and main intent look pretty silly.

Nor did RTÉ or the Irish Times refer to the comparison in relation to the Great Hunger, attendant on the potato famine, whose impact the 1851 census provided statistical demographic evidence. In the previous census of 1841, the population of Ireland as an island has been recorded as 8,175,124.

The scale of the catastrophic loss of lives through death, and the subsequent driving of hundreds of thousands more from the country through starvation, disease and land seizures, is starkly illustrated by the two figures.

To further put that population decline in perspective, the population of England, Scotland and Wales in 1841 was 21,173,963. The population ratio then between the two islands was 2.5:1   The population ratio now is close to 10:1.

So that’s the historical perspective. It was put in context last week over the decision of Quinnipiac University in Connecticut not to re-open the Irish famine museum that had been located there. It was closed for the period of Covid restrictions, and the collection will now be dispersed. While the official explanation was couched in the language of bureaucracy, critics have pointed out that the decision of the current Quinnipiac President Judy Olian to close the museum follows on her 2019 cancellation of the university’s participation in the St. Patrick’s Day parade.

It might also be possible that an ideological animus from the left against the historical memories of Irish, Ukrainian and other genocides as somehow distracting from the experience of oppression by black Americans, is in play.

There is much else in the CSO figures, as we reported on last week, that raise broader questions over what is currently driving the increase in population even as our birth rate collapses, and how that is likely to continue over the next quarter century and more. That will have a huge impact on housing demand, for example, but the Irish official mind appears to have compartmentalised the two things.

Mass immigration is largely beyond its control, because it has abdicated responsibility in that area, so any future projections on housing and other social provisions are pretty tenuous all things considered. Just as in the 19th century, much of what happens in Ireland will depend on what people in other places decide is best for us. Or not best for us, as the case may be.




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