Monthly Archives: July 2013

Deconstructing the emigration myth

Is this where we are again?

Is this where we are again?

Whilst campaigning the 2011 General Election in County Leitrim, what struck me most was the number of people who had family members who had either recently emigrated or were on the verge of emigration.

Had I being campaigning in Mayo, Donegal, Sligo or Galway, I’m quite sure the story would have been the same. Emigration is a permanent fixture in the west or Ireland; it is notable by its absence rather than its existence canada viagra.

Emigration is also a subject that features prominently is public discourse, and is frequently referred to by opposition politicians and media celebrities when constructing attacks on the sitting Government.

Take this article by Irish Central, entitled�Irish emigration at highest point since Famine — 3,000 leaving per month

In the article, Union of Students of Ireland President, Gary Redmond, makes the following apocalyptic prediction:

“Masses of highly skilled graduates are leaving for distant shores, taking with them the future prosperity of this island.�

Here another example of emigration being used as a political tool, this time from Sinn Fein Finance spokesperson, Pearse Doherty, who says:

�Michael Noonan�s comments are a disgrace. Six thousand people are leaving Ireland every month, the overwhelming majority seeking work in America, Australia, and elsewhere,� Doherty said.

�The overwhelming majority have been forced to leave because of the lack of employment and the belief they have no future in this country.�

Sobering stuff indeed.

Combined with personal experience of people who have emigrated, this sort of commentary has unsurprisingly led to a public narrative in which emigration had reached endemic levels and without which our unemployment rate would be significantly higher than it currently is.

The truth is, as always, slightly more nuanced.

Let’s refer to an actual scientific study rather than the musing of politicians and media celebrities.

Early this year, the National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis produced a report entitled The Changing Landscape of Irish Migration, 2000-2012.

The purpose of this study was to give some definition to the manner in which migration to and from Ireland had changed, from a previous time in which economic migration from Ireland, by Irish people, dwarfed any level of inward migration, to more recent times, when Ireland, as a member of the European Union, was witness to significant levels of inward migration, both by Irish people and people of other nationalities.

The report contains the following graph, which gives the general picture of migration over the period:

Irish Migration 2000-2012

In understanding this graph, we should first explain Net Migration, which is the number of people who immigrate into a country less the number of people who emigrate from a country. If Net Migration is less than zero, it means the population of the country is falling.

The graph shows the following trend:

Between 2002 and 2007, there was a significant rise in the number of people entering Ireland, while the number of people leaving Ireland rose only slightly, leading to an increase in Net Migration.

Or in other words, the population of the country increased significantly, by 310,000 people through migration alone. According to the report, the vast majority of these inwards migrants were people of foreign nationality.

After 2007, the trend changes dramatically. Inward migration falls rapidly, while migration from Ireland increases, although not at the same rate as inward migration increased earlier in the decade.

As a result, Net Migration begins to fall, but only becomes negative after 2009.

The sharp divergence in trends continues through 2010, but then tapers off, leaving us with negative Net Migration of approximately -30k people at the end of 2012.

In broad terms, what this analysis tells us is that the current Irish experience of emigration is substantially different from before, in that our current emigration figures include significant numbers of economic migrants who entered the country between 2002 and 2007.

The table given below is telling in this regard. For instance, it shows that in 2009, only 26.7% of people who left Ireland were in fact Irish.

Migration to Ireland 2006 2012


For anyone faced with a decision about whether or not to emigrate, or for those they will be leaving behind, analysis of macro level statistics is meaningless. Their pain is real, and I would never suggest otherwise.

But in figuring out how we set the country on a even keel again, we should have a understanding of current situation, and the current “consensus” that we have returned to famine-era emigration levels is totally undermined by the statistics available to us.

Yes, large numbers of people are leaving Ireland every year as a result of the downturn in our economy, but, unlike before, many of these people are foreign nationals who migrated to the country in the previous 10 years, and, again unlike before, large numbers of people are still migrating to the country, to the extent that the negative Net Migration between 2009 and 2012 is still only about 20% of the positive Net Migration that occurred between 2002 and 2007.

The report itself comes to much the same conclusion:

“Migration from Ireland has clearly increased since the start of the prolonged
recession in 2008. Yet, changes in patterns of migration are less marked and less
significant than is suggested by banner headlines.”

The business of winning votes and selling newspapers is one that leaves little room for consideration of the national mood and public confidence in our economy. That has always been true and always will be true, but it is no less regrettable for it.