Will the level of immigration to Ireland be accurately reflected in the Census? 

As the intrepid band of Census 2022 enumerators fan the country to collect completed forms, stats nerds will wonder how accurate the returns might be.

The basic aim of any Census is to provide an accurate picture of the numbers of people living in a country at a specific moment in time, and to break that down into various categories from age and sex to employment status and education.

One of the key questions in the Irish state is the demographic makeup of the population in the light of an unprecedented level of inward migration, unmatched indeed since the English plantations of the colonial period, which were of course intertwined with a corresponding outward migration and mortality of huge numbers of the native population.

Some have questioned how accurate a measure of inward migration was contained in the 2011 and 2016 Census. One observer who has spent quite a bit of time researching the detailed returns from 2016 believes that the numbers of people who were born outside of Ireland was significantly under-enumerated in 2016.

A recent article by one observer points to several issues that call into question the headline finding as broadcast by the Central Statistics Office and the mainstream media that 11.6% of the population of the Republic in 2016 were “non Irish nationals.”

Among the discrepancies was the fact that 195,963 people who did not record any ethnicity. Some people, including myself, rejected the “white Irish” option and entered “Irish” as “other.” That is unlikely to account for that many of us who refuse to climb into a crude racial sociology box.

I referred to a similar issue on the basis of my own analysis of the returns, and calculated that 16.7% of those who had provided information on where they were born had been born outside of the 26 counties.

The 4.5% gap between that figure and the 11.6% – which was curiously celebrated as being low by those who want it to be even higher – as mostly attributable to the numbers who had been granted Irish citizenship.

There are also of course the unquantifiable numbers of people who are here illegally and who have now been granted an amnesty, and who you would imagine avoid registering themselves with any official entity that might endanger their status. That may well apply also to people who are working here or studying here and who may not turn up on the Census for a variety of reasons including people not wishing to register how many people are living at one address.

In 2020, I also examined the Personal Public Service (PPS) numbers which are issued to every person born in Ireland or who has worked legitimately or claimed social welfare here. It ought therefore to be a pretty accurate tracker of the number of people living in the state at any particular time.

According to the Department of Social Protection, there have been 4,135,823 PPS numbers issued since June 2000. Of that number 2,506,865  were issued to non-Irish nationals. The latter made up just over 60% of all issues. Which means that since the turn of the century over 2.5 million non nationals have come to Ireland to either stay or to be here long enough to pay tax or to collect social welfare.

A sizeable proportion of the PPs numbers prior to 2010 went to eastern and central Europeans attracted by the booming construction industry. Over 280,000 went to Poles between 2005 and 2008. Many of course left Ireland following the collapse and less than 4,000 new issues went to Poles in 2021.

What has increased over the years, even with the restrictions on citizenship popularly imposed after 2004, are the number of people who have come to Ireland and who remain as state dependents. In 2018 there were 44,317 non nationals who had PPS numbers and had no work record. 16,000 of that number were from countries outside of the EU and EEA which would require that they would have to be either seeking asylum or have a work permit in order to reside in the state.

Another significant indication perhaps of the changing nature of migration is that while 125,764 PPS numbers were issued to non nationals in 2019 that the work force only grew by 45,000 between the second quarter of 2018 and the second quarter of 2019.

With our falling birth rate – down from 22 per 1000 in 1970 to 12 in 2019 – and with the growing trend of the large technological corporations and the service industry to employ overseas workers, and increasingly from outside of Europe, Ireland is in the midst of its most radical demographic change for more than two centuries.

Anyone who suggests that is anything other than an unmitigated good will have the usual suspects, including the media, looking askance. You will almost certainly not hear it being discussed in Leinster House nor within the mainstream media, other than in an almost childlike fashion based on the belief  that everyone other than retro Paddies and Patricias are like the coolest thing ever. We are being enriched. Not just a bit, but unquestionably. We even get blamed for the boldness of the errant newcomers such as those who made up 23% of the prison population in 2019.

The extent that Census 2022 will inform us of the statistical reality of all of this remains to be seen. If the evidence of the last one is anything to go by, it will probably be as significant for what it will fail to measure as what it does manage to capture.



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