Working to End the Legacy of Forced Emigration


The economy may be on the up, but one in six people born here still live abroad

The ‘brain exchange’ of both highly-educated emigrants and immigrants remains a significant threat to an Irish recovery according to a new report.

People departing Ireland at Dublin Airport following the Christmas holidays in January 2014

People departing Ireland at Dublin Airport following the Christmas holidays in January 2014
Image: Sasko Lazarov/

Updated 6.00 am

ONE SIXTH OF people born in Ireland are now living abroad according to a new report.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) latest economic survey of Ireland shows that regardless of our economic recovery our country remains “exceptionally open to migration flows”.

With immigration also providing the skills that our economy needs our population remains highly responsive to “changes in cyclical conditions”.

The biggest challenge for Ireland right now is to remain attractive for skilled workers according to the report’s findings with immigration versus emigration acting as something of a ‘brain exchange’ at present with those leaving and those coming in operating off similar skillsets.

oecd1Share of native-born population living abroadSource: OECD

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As things stand Ireland tops the poll of 34 OECD countries with 17.5% our people born here currently living abroad.

New Zealand, Portugal and Mexico are next in line with 14%, 14%, and 12% respectively.

The countries with easily the lowest percentages are China, the US, Japan and Brazil with less than 2% each.

Meanwhile Ireland stands second only to Spain as regards OECD countries who have seen significant change in their ratios of native to foreign-born populations between 2001 and 2011.

oecd2Source: OECD

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A number of factors are responsible for the current situation according to the OECD, among them:

  • the drop in salaries for recent graduates (30% of Irish migrants were employed prior to their departure)
  • the embargo on public sector employment (one in five Irish emigrants are employed in the health and social work sector)
  • the decline in our younger cohort – most previous examples of mass emigration from Ireland were dominated by the 15-24 age group; however the current instance sees mostly those aged between 25 and 44 leaving the country. The smaller numbers of younger people in our economy has stymied our competitiveness according to the report.

As such net migration is expected to remain negative in the short term (primarily because both those leaving and those coming in are educated to a high standard), at least beyond 2016, although the OECD does acknowledge that predicting such trends is ‘significantly uncertain’.

The most recent figures on migration from the Central Statistics Office (CSO), from April 2014, suggest that emigration is beginning to slow, although an analysis of that data shows that the numbers have remained relatively stagnant from 2013.

csoSource: CSO

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The OECD report broadly contradicts the government’s prediction, made in April of this year, that 2016 would be the year when immigration would finally trump emigration.

However, the report is at pains to emphasise that return migrants could yet play a “significant role” in the recovery of Ireland’s economy.

“Evidence shows that return migrants bring back skills, networks and financial capital,” the report states.

They can also be an important source of entrepreneurship for ireland, as a significant proportion of return migrants tend to start a business or arrange independent employment after their return.

Kerry report highlights rising emigration and rural depopulation

Not for the first time the twin issues of emigration and rural depopulation have been highlighted at a county convention, with Kerry chairman Patrick O’Sullivan citing the example of Coláiste Na Sceilge, who just three years ago won an All-Ireland colleges football title.

“In the past few years the number of students attending Coláiste Na Sceilge has fallen dramatically,” said O’Sullivan, “an indication of the serious affect rural depopulation is having in south Kerry.

“Players transferring to overseas clubs since the downturn in the economy have also affected clubs in rural areas to such an extent that many fear they will be unable to field teams unless some radical solutions are found.

“We in Kerry GAA will do whatever is necessary to help clubs but we must work together with Munster Council, and the association at national level, to ensure that rural Ireland is supported, and not neglected.

“It is our hope that there will be a satisfactory outcome to this problem so that our clubs can plan for the future confident that those in power at the highest level of the association are working on their behalf.”

O’Sullivan highlighted other problems, including “financial management, the standard of football and hurling played in our club competitions from under age to adult, our coaching structures, providing a much needed support back-up to our club officers, maintaining our county grounds and facilities and providing a centre of excellence for our intercounty teams and development squads”.

But “rural depopulation”, he said, “is going to be the most challenging issue facing the future viability of many clubs throughout the county but particularly in south Kerry . . . Emigration, school closures and planning restrictions are the major factors identified as the difficulties currently experienced by many rural-based clubs.

“During the past few weeks, the rural depopulation committee held four information nights on employment and enterprise for all clubs in Kerry. Club secretaries, club chairpersons and county board delegates were invited to attend these meetings that were addressed by guest speakers from the local development associations who gave presentations giving information on jobs and employment opportunities available in Kerry.

“I welcome Pat Spillane’s appointment to chair a government task force on Rural Ireland . . . ,” O’Sullivan added.


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