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Irish attitudes to immigrants have become ‘more negative’ over last 7 years

A report by the ESRI shows that Irish people have an increasingly negative attitude towards immigrants – and that the poverty gap between Irish and non-EU nationals has widened since 2008.

Image: Christian Mueller via Shutterstock

IRISH ATTITUDES TOWARDS immigrants are becoming more negative, a new report by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) has found.

Irish attitudes towards immigrants were noted as “very positive” during 2002–2006 but have become more negative since then, the Annual Monitoring Report on Integration 2012, launched today, said.

Openness to immigration, or willingness to accept immigrants, has fallen in recent years. For example, in 2002 just 6 per cent of Irish nationals said that no immigrants from poor non-EU countries should be allowed into the country, while in 2010 22 per cent expressed the same views.

Other attitudes noted in the report showed that:

  • Views on the contribution that immigrants make to the economy have become more negative than those on their contribution to cultural life
  • Highly-educated groups in Ireland have more positive attitudes to immigrants and immigration, while lower-educated groups are less positive
  • Younger adults tend to show more positive attitudes to immigrants and immigration, with the over 65-group have the most negative attitudes
  • Comparing Irish attitudes to those in four other countries (Germany, Netherlands, Spain and the UK), the report showed that both in terms of attitudes to immigrants and resistance to immigration, Ireland displays some of the more negative attitudes in 2010, similar in many respects to the UK

The ESRI report also highlighted significant inequalities in the quality of life enjoyed by Irish nationals and some immigrant groups, with the consistent poverty rate among non-EU nationals recorded as over 12 per cent – almost twice as high as the rate amongst Irish nationals (over 6 per cent) in 2010. Consistent poverty is defined as a combination of having a low income and lacking two basic items such as food, clothes or home heating. The gap in the consistent poverty rate between Irish and non-EU nationals has widened since 2008.

Almost one third of first-generation immigrants aged 15 scored below the basic level (1) of English reading proficiency in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests (2009), compared to almost 1 in 6 of Irish 15-year-olds.

The report also showed that a greater number of non-Irish nationals were unemployed at the start of 2012, when the unemployment rate was 18.5 per cent among non-Irish nationals, compared to just under 15 per cent for Irish nationals. However it noted that, overall, non-Irish nationals “have been harder hit in the labour market by the current recession than Irish nationals”.

During 2011, a total of 9,500 nationals of countries outside the European Economic Association (EEA) acquired Irish citizenship, compared to just under 5,000 in 2010, according to the report.

“The evidence seems to suggest that rapid growth in the immigrant population, followed by economic recession has resulted in increased concerns about, and resistance to, immigration in Ireland,” said the report’s author Dr Frances McGinnity. “The change in attitudes is modest, but of concern. It is also worth noting the fact that between 2005 and the end of 2011, 34,500 adults of non-EEA origin acquired Irish citizenship. This represents significant progress towards the integration of immigrants in Ireland.”

In response to the report, Killian Forde, CEO of The Integration Centre said: “The key to successful integration is proactive government policy and a tolerant, welcoming host population. On the former we have none, and the latter negative attitudes towards migrants are increasing. The government as a matter of urgency need to create a national policy on integration, and co-ordinate activities between government departments on integration.”

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