“We now know that up to a million foreign workers arrived looking for employment (Central Statistics Office). According to Minister Brian Lenihan, this helped to cause the crash. Now overseas workers make up almost 20% of our unemployed (CSO).”
This type of dangerous nonsense economics must be quashed. The issue also needs to be confronted on the doorstep, in the pub and at the kitchen table. You will find people who believe in these untruths but are disinclined to admit it (which is a reason that I do not entirely buy the survey-based claim that the rejection of Lisbon I had little to do with voter concerns about migration – some people will just not admit it).
First a few facts:
1 Nowhere do CSO figures support the claims about the number of migrants. It is estimated that the annual net inflow of persons over the 10 year period 1999-2008 was 41,000 per annum, giving a total cumulative figure of over 400,000.
2 The CSO has estimated that in the first quarter of this year, there were 462,300 persons aged 15 or over who were not Irish nationals. Of these an estimated 287,000 were in employment and a further 49,400 were unemployed;
3 Of those in employment, 35% were in ‘Accommodation and food service’; 23% were in ‘Administrative and support service’; 20.1% in ‘Information and Communication’
4 It is true that close to 20% of those on the live register are not Irish nationals (June 2009 figures). The unemployment rate for this group is higher than the overall proportion in the labour force at approximately 16%. However, researchers have found no evidence for ‘welfare tourism’ (see below).
As for causing the economic crash? Research by Klaus Zimmermann recently published in EU Labour Markets After Post-Enlargement Migration concluded that free mobility of workers has a positive economic impact and is estimated to have added €24 billion to the GDP of the EU as a whole.
In a recent report by the Irish Times on this book:
Alan Barrett of the ESRI, who contributed a chapter to the book, calculated that the large inflow from the EU accession countries post 2004 increased Ireland’s GNP by 5.9 per cent as well as made us all wealthier on average: GNP per capita increased by 1.7 per cent as a result.(The book, which was published on 25 September may be obtained for €129.95. I suspect that not that many EU workers will be rushing out to buy it. Some economists will, even after they take a 20% pay cut on their principal income sources as some are recommending.)
The Irish Times article reports:
The number of people from the EU’s new states living in Ireland grew from just 10,000 in 2002 to 200,000 in 2008. Barrett calculates that in the absence of this migration, wages in Ireland would have risen 7.8 per cent: as the Irish economy saw its competitiveness erode, partly due to inflating wages over this period, migration helped contain the problem.So, the mobility of workers is a good thing and this is what the European Project is about. At the same time, workers rights and labour market standards need to be safeguarded and improved. I think that we owe more to the EEC/EU over the last 30 years in this regard than to successive Irish Governments.
Migration is here to stay, and will ebb and flow as we progress through the 21st Century. Some analysts project a huge movement of people away from the equator towards the North as the effects of global warming work their way through.
Europe and Ireland must figure a way to better integrate and empower new communities. Arguably, the flow of migrant labour – particularly skilled labour – to receiving countries has been a major factor in higher economic growth in those regions (and a drain on growth in the sending countries). Research on the causes of post-war recovery in Europe shows a strong positive impact from workers migrating to countries like Germany in the 1950s and 1960s. Switzerland emerged as a high-income country in the 20th century, starting from a low economic base in the 19th century. Part of its success has been linked to immigration of skilled workers.
Ireland is fairly unique in European terms in terms of the extent to which recent migrants are, on average, more highly educated (but under-employed relative to their skills) than the rest of the population. Along with New Zealand and Australia, Ireland is also unique among the 30 OECD Member Countries (Programme of International Student Assessment) in the extent to which immigrant students perform better in Science than their peers here. Check out the next Young Scientists exhibition to see what I mean.
Let's recall that we were once scattered wide and far and enjoyed the benefits of employment in the new world, NHS in Britain and freedom in many places to contribute to new societies and economies.