The 26 County state is suffering net emigration for the first time since 1995.
More people are leaving than arriving, with emigration having risen by 40 per cent and immigration having slowed dramatically.
The Central Statistics Office (CSO) estimates the number of people emigrating has increased by over 40 per cent, from 45,300 to 65,100, while the number of new arrivals has continued to decline, from 83,800 to 57,300.
With 7,800 more people leaving than arriving, these shifts have resulted in a resumption of net outward migration for the first time since 1995, according to the CSO’s latest estimates.
Almost half of emigrants (30,100) are citizens of the 12 mainly eastern and central European states that joined the EU since 2004, with Irish nationals being the second-largest group at 18,400.
Immigration has declined across all non-Irish categories, with those from the EU12 showing the greatest fall, from 33,700 in April 2008 to 13,500 in April this year. These figures are broadly consistent with indicators such as the number of PPS numbers issued to non-Irish applicants and the take-up of work permits.
However, the figures indicate that significant numbers of new immigrants continue to arrive. In the year to April, the CSO estimates a total of 57,300 immigrants came to the State. “Among the immigrants, we have seen a sharp fall in the number of EU12 nationals coming to Ireland,” said CSO senior statistician Deirdre Cullen. “It’s a third of what it was a year ago, but it hasn’t disappeared altogether, which is interesting in itself.” The figures suggest the surge in immigration that followed the EU enlargement round of 2004 peaked in 2007, when 52,700 EU12 nationals moved to the State, and has been in decline since then.
Despite emigration overtaking immigration for the first time in 14 years, however, the State’s population has continued to grow. Driven by the high numbers of women of child-bearing age in the population, births in the year to April reached 74,500 - the highest level since 1896 - while deaths totalled 29,400. This resulted in strong natural growth of 45,100.
The combined effect of the natural increase and migration patterns resulted in a population increase of 37,300 (up 0.8 per cent), bringing the estimated population of the State to 4.46 million in April 2009.
The CSO figures suggest the recent population growth was unevenly distributed across the regions, however, with the Mid-East showing the strongest growth at 2.1 per cent and Dublin showing the weakest at -0.5 per cent. This points to the phenomenon of people moving from Dublin to its wider commuter belt.
Fine Gael reacted to the latest figures by warning of the danger of a “lost generation” of Irish youth. The party’s labour affairs spokesman Damien English claimed fears over spiralling emigration were becoming a reality.
“For the first time in a generation, Ireland is again a net exporter of people, as a combination of rising unemployment and falling job levels drives people abroad,” he said.
“This is the direct consequence of an economy ruined by Fianna Fail’s debt-fuelled housing boom.”
The CSO figures also reveal that the assumption that immigrants who came to Ireland when times were good would be first to leave.
“What does seem to be clear is that while there is a degree of return migration by EU nationals, it’s nothing near as dramatic as people might expect,” said Piaras Mac Einri of University College Cork. “A lot of people are waiting it out, particularly people with children in schools.”
However, unemployment figures show that the number of non-Irish people signing on for welfare benefits has been falling slightly of late. It may be that some unemployed workers have recently exhausted their benefits or run out of savings and have opted to leave the country.
“What we might be seeing then is the tip of the iceberg in terms of the outflows,” Barrett suggests.