Ireland has a long history of population fluctuation, with emigration being the driving force of its changing demographic. This outward flow has been closely linked to economic factors, from the mass emigration during the Great Famine and towards the end of the 19th century (FitzGerald, n.d.), in the post-World War II era, to the more recent waves of departures during the bleak economy of the 1980s and after the global financial crisis of 2008 (Economic history of the Republic of Ireland, 2016). The exception was the 1970s, when negative net emigration was seen for the first time in Irish history.
However, it was not until the late 1990s that a significant influx of both returning Irish nationals and non-Irish immigrants placed Ireland as a country of net immigration. Rapid economic growth created a huge demand for labour (“Ireland”, 2009) and saw unemployment drop from 15.9 percent in 1993 to a historic low of 3.6 percent in 2001. After the 2004 EU enlargement, new highs were reached in overall immigration, as Ireland was one of just three countries that did not impose entry restrictions on the new EU accession states (Coleman, 2006). In 2007, Ireland had the third largest migration rate across the 27 EU member states (Focus-Migration: Ireland, n.d.). This rapid shift in demographics has been closely tied to the economic boom of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ and the subsequent decline in immigration seen after 2008 is linked to the global financial crisis and the severe economic recession experienced in Ireland. It would seem to be an accepted fact that there is a strong correlation between Ireland’s economy and the rate of immigration (Denny and O’Grada, 2013). The aim of this narrative is to determine how closely linked these elements are, and how reliable immigration rates are as an indicator of economic viability. To explore this, GDP and PPSN allocations from 2004 to 2015 were compared, along with unemployment data and population figures, to determine correlation.
The chosen dataset was PPSN Allocations to Foreign Nationals by Country and Year (CSO.ie, 2017) spanning the years 2004 to 2015. Personal Public Service Numbers (PPSN) are “the only relatively reliable source of immigration data divided by origin country between Census years” (Roeder, 2011). PPSN are required to work and to access social services, but allocations are not a complete record of immigration as not all immigrants or their dependants require one and it also does not account for asylum seekers or illegal immigrants. They also do not indicate when a person leaves the country. However, as immigrants must be normally resident in Ireland to obtain one and the data is grouped per year, it is likely that the numbers are strongly indicative of the actual immigration figures for that year. Figure 1 displays the entire primary dataset, showing emerging patterns which correlate with times of economic prosperity.
We tracked the PPSN to Irish Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (CSO, 2017), generally considered a good gauge of economic performance (Economic Indicators, 2003) over a ten year period and saw that there was indeed a correlation (Figure 2 & 3).
Figure 2: Global PPSN GDP Correlation
Figure 3: Line Chart Global PPSN GDP Correlation
Poland and the UK emerged as the biggest contributors to Irish immigration (Figure 4):
Figure 4: Top 10 PPSN Allocations
It was decided to focus on these countries for the purposes of exploring the correlation between Ireland’s economy and the rate of immigration. PPSN allocations for Poland and UK only were plotted against the Irish GDP and both examples show a strong correlation during the height of the economic boom in Ireland. Interestingly, the UK seems to have had a much more consistent level of immigration to Ireland (possibly due to the common travel area, proximity, ease of travel and shared language), while data on Polish PPSN allocations could suggest a purely economic motivation for emigration to Ireland, as numbers peaked and then dropped off significantly during recession (Figure 5 & 6). The recovery in employment lagged behind the recovery in GDP, suggesting that while there was economic recovery, the financial gains weren’t being felt as widely as before.
Figure 5: UK PPSN and Irish GDP
Figure 6: Polish PPSN and Irish GDP
GDP may not be an effective methodology of economic growth in Ireland (OECD, 2017 ). In 2016, Nobel Prize winning economist, Paul Krugman called Ireland’s rapidly growing GDP figures “Leprechaun economics” (Deen & Doyle, 2016). Therefore, we decided to look at other indicators of economic growth such as unemployment levels. Initially, we compared (Figure 7) Ireland’s unemployment figures with domestic GDP which indicated that in 2012, we had the highest rate of unemployment at 14.7% whilst experiencing a 0.9% growth in GDP. In 2008, unemployment levels where at a lower 6.1% whilst GDP was in a negative value at -3, demonstrating unemployment as a lagging but real life indicator of changing economic conditions.
Figure 7: Ireland’s GDP and Unemployment Levels
A further comparison of Ireland’s unemployment levels with immigrant numbers (Figure 8) demonstrated a sharp reduction in immigrants from the UK and Poland in line with Irish unemployment records.
Figure 8: A Comparison of Irish Unemployment Levels and UK and Polish Immigrants to Ireland: 2004-2014
If unemployment records for 2007 are compared to the GDP of Ireland, UK and Poland, all three countries experienced a drop in GDP while Ireland and the UK experienced a negative value recession (Figure 9).
Figure 9: Comparison of unemployment with GDP
Figure 9 shows that Ireland’s negative GDP and subsequent growing unemployment were a strong indicator of reduced UK and possibly Polish immigrant levels than the GDP levels of their home countries. In fact, (Figure 1) immigration into Ireland fell from all over the world in line with Ireland’s worsening economic crisis. This is contrary to the views of Krings et al (2009) who argued that it was misplaced and simplistic to assume that immigrants, especially Polish immigrants, left Ireland ‘when times are getting tough’.
Figures from the Central Statistics Office challenge Krings et al (2009) perspective with numbers showing a significant decline in PPSN applications post Celtic Tiger Ireland (Figure 3 &10). On the other hand, in 2006, in the height of the boom, 63,276 Polish immigrants were living in Ireland and this number increased by 93.7% to 122,585 when Ireland was in the midst of an economic recession (Figure 10) leading to a net increase of Polish residents in Ireland at a time of highest unemployment levels and negative GDP.
Figure 10:Polish Immigrants in Ireland: Pre and Post Celtic Tiger
Whilst the Polish population significantly increased since 2004, it’s been established that new immigrant levels greatly decreased. It could be argued that a stable Polish immigrant population remained in Ireland despite an economic decline. In this same timespan, Ireland’s second largest immigrant population, the UK, remained relatively stable pre and post Celtic Tiger, though new immigrants decreased by nearly 6,000 (Figure 11). It could be argued the Polish immigrant made a connection with Irish society beyond monetary gain. In fact, according to the Polish Embassy in Ireland, the Polish population has continued to expand in Ireland.
Figure 11: PPSN Poland & Uk and Polish and UK population in Ireland
It’s clear that immigration rates, if classified by annual new immigration are a strong indicator of economic viability and are aligned to both unemployment levels and to a lesser extent GDP in Ireland. However, if immigrant classification also includes figures from the previous decade, it is noted that the Polish immigrant population increased despite a marked Irish economic decline and a strong Polish GDP (Figure 12).
Figure 12: Polish Population Continues to Grow
Therefore, there is some evidence that immigration populations are influenced by other factors as well as economic viability.
A critique of this investigation must take into account the measurement indicators used. There was a global criticism of Irish inflated GDP values in 2015 which reduced its credibility as a measure of the Irish economy. Furthermore, research indicates that net migration has more of a correlation with the country’s economy than immigration figures alone (Bernskiold et al, 2015). (Figure 13) demonstrates an increase in net migration in 2014 approaching the Celtic Tiger figures of 2003.
Figure 13: Net Migration Trends in Ireland: 2001-2014
Further research would need to use a broader variety of economic and immigration/migration values to get a more holistic perspective on the links between the Irish economy and immigration both generally or specific to the UK and Poland.
The data visualisations clearly show that during the mid 2000s Ireland’s economic situation had a huge effect on the rate of immigration. The subsequent decline in the rate of new immigrant arrivals is also clearly in line with the economic crash of the late 2000s. However, that did not result in mass emigration of those who had already become established in Ireland, as shown by the overall increased population of those from the UK and especially Poland. It would suggest that once established, immigrants were less likely to leave the country purely for economic reasons. It is possible the reasons are more social than economic and could make for interesting further study.There is a strong possibility that as Ireland begins a slow recovery, the rates of new immigration will rise again, and as new information is released from the latest census, these developments will be able to be tracked more closely.
Written and produced collaboratively by: Alison De Paor, Emma Healy, Patricia O’Sullivan & Bernadette Smart
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