Highest Emigration in Years, yet Immigration Continues

By Martin Murphy
Martin Murphy
Martin Murphy
July 3, 2014 Updated: July 3, 2014

Ireland is currently going through its greatest period of emigration in recent history, but even as 89,000 people are leaving the country each year, another 55,900 are arriving to replace them.

Ireland has always had a chequered history when it comes to emigration. In 1841, prior to the Great Famine, the population of what is now the Republic of Ireland was around 6.5 million. Today, that figure has decreased to around 4.5 million. Back in 1951, when the Central Statistics Office (CSO) started to collate emigration data, the Republic’s population was 2.9 million. In the period from 1987 to today, the population has increased by approximately 1 million. During the period from 2005 to 2009, over 500,000 people immigrated to Ireland, which is unprecedented in the country’s history.

“Some people take a year out to go abroad to see the world, so you have a mix of people that are emigrating. There is not just one single story behind the figures—in 2013, we had an estimated 89,000 people emigrating, and with such a huge number, you can be sure that people are leaving for all sorts of reasons and they all have different stories as to why they are going. So there is certainly no one-size-fits-all reason for leaving,” said Declan Smyth, a statistician from the CSO, who noted that even during the boom years, we had people emigrating. It was just that we had more people coming into the country, but emigration has increased greatly since the economic downturn in 2008.

Ireland was recently named at the number one slot on the ‘Good Country Index’, ahead of popular destinations for Irish emigrants such as the UK, Australia and Canada. The index, according to its creator, Simon Anholt, works as follows: “The idea of the Good Country Index is pretty simple: to measure what each country on earth contributes to the common good of humanity, and what it takes away. Using a wide range of data from the UN and other international organisations, we’ve given each country a balance-sheet to show at a glance whether it’s a net creditor to mankind, a burden on the planet, or something in between.

“It’s important to explain that we are not making any moral judgments about countries. What I mean by a Good Country is something much simpler: it’s a country that contributes to the greater good,” says Anholt.

Surveys such as the ‘Good Country Index’ may, in part, explain why Ireland is a popular destination for immigrants, though Irish governments need to have better policies relating to migration.

Successive Governments seem to adopt the policy that emigration is good and solves the problem of unemployment—they sigh with relief when young and old leave these shores. Previous governments even suggested paying people to leave Ireland. As a nation, we may be good at emigrating and adapting abroad.

However, emigration is not for everyone, and it shouldn’t be the only option. If inward movement of people is due to skills shortages, then there should be a better policy to rectify this deficiency of skilled labour.