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FactCheck: No, €3.5 billion was not sent to Nigeria by people living in Ireland over the past eight years

The claim was made by independent TD Noel Grealish in the Dáil yesterday.

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DURING LEADERS’ QUESTIONS in the Dáil yesterday afternoon, independent TD Noel Grealish raised the issue of personal remittances being sent from Ireland to other countries.

In particular, he singled out the amount of money being sent from Ireland to Nigeria – he said €3.54 billion was sent over an eight-year period.

There was a degree of surprise in the chamber at Grealish’s comments, with fellow TD Ruth Coppinger labelling the remarks as “disgraceful racism”.

The claim

Citing World Bank figures, Grealish stated: “Over the past eight years alone over €10 billion has left this country by way of personal transfers, this is a staggering amount of money.

“The top five countries where money was transferred to over the past eight years include €843 million to Lithuania, €1 billion to France, and the top three countries: €1.54 billion to Poland, €2.7 billion to the United Kingdom, and €3.54 billion was sent to Nigeria,” Grealish stated. 

Speaking directly to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, the Galway West TD said: “Transfers to other EU countries I can understand, for example money being transferred to the United Kingdom, our nearest neighbour, with over 100,000 British people living in Ireland and over 10,000 Irish students in the United Kingdom.”

Referencing Nigeria, he added: “But Taoiseach, €3.4 billion (Grealish seemingly misspoke here and meant €3.54 billion) transferred to one non-EU country is astronomical.”

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

Grealish then asked: “Has Revenue or the Department of Finance any way of tracking this money or where it is coming from? Can I ask you Taoiseach are there mechanisms in place to ensure that the money that leaves this country in personal remittances has been fully accounted for with the Irish Revenue and tax system and is not the proceeds of crime or fraud?”

Later in the exchange, Grealish added that he believed “an awful lot of [the money] is genuine money”, but again asked what controls were in place in relation to remittances being sent from Ireland to other countries. 

Evidence

Grealish said the €3.5 billion figure relates to “the past eight years”.

World Bank estimates for personal remittances sent from Ireland to Nigeria from 2011-2018 – the last eight years – come to about US $3.85 billion or €3.5 billion. They are as follows: 

  • 2018 – $539 million (about €490 million)
  • 2017 – $473m (€430m)
  • 2016 – $433m (€394m)
  • 2015 – $398m (€362m)
  • 2014 – $403m (€366m)
  • 2013 – $392m (€356m)
  • 2012 – $608m (€553m)
  • 2011 – $609m (€554m)

According to the 2016 Census, there were 13,079 Nigerian people living in Ireland at that time: 6,995 Irish-Nigerians and 6,084 Nigerians. This figure may be an underestimation but it is the most recent number available.  

There were 17,642 Nigerians living in Ireland five years previously, according to the 2011 Census.

Using the 13,079 figure, every Nigerian living here sent over €37,400 back to their home country if the €490 million figure for 2018 is accurate, which seems very unlikely. 

Even if we presume that the number of Nigerians living in Ireland has increased to 20,000, that would mean every one of them sent about €24,500 home last year.

Are the World Bank figures reliable?

However, these World Bank figures are estimates and come with a big caveat. 

As noted on more than one occasion in the Dáil over the years, the figures are not reliable and the amount of money actually being sent from Ireland to Nigeria in personal remittances is likely to be a fraction of these estimates.

On 23 May 2013, following the publication of the World Bank report on global remittances for 2011 and subsequent media reports highlighting the amount of personal remittances reportedly sent to Nigeria, the topic was discussed.

The World Bank Migration and Remittances Factbook for 2011 estimated that $601 million (about €546 million today) was sent from Ireland to Nigeria that year.

In response to a query from Fianna Fáil’s Niall Collins, then-Finance Minister Michael Noonan noted that the figures were not likely to be reliable.

Noonan said the $601 million figure “seemed disproportionately high in view of the reported size of the Nigerian population in Ireland and in view of the level of remittances from other nationalities to their home countries”.

I understand from the World Bank that the remittance figures relating to Nigeria are estimates provided to the World Bank by the Nigerian authorities and not actual data.

“These estimates are based on total remittance inflows reported by Nigeria allocated according to its estimated stock of emigrants and further adjusted by the World Bank in the light of differing national per capita income levels. The World Bank believes that some elements of the estimation process may not be reliable.”

Noonan went on to add:

Available information would indicate that the figures published in the World Bank Migration and Remittances Factbook in respect of remittance flows between Ireland and Nigeria are open to serious scrutiny and that the real figure may be a fraction of the published figure.

Several caveats 

The numbers Grealish quoted were from estimates gathered by Knomad, the Global Knowledge Partnership on Migration and Development, on behalf of the World Bank.

When asked how the estimates are gathered, a spokesperson for Knomad told TheJournal.ie: “Bilateral flows of remittances from Ireland to Nigeria and other countries, which are a key data requirement for international remittance service providers, are not readily available from official sources.”

Due to the lack of readily available figures, Knomad estimates bilateral remittance flows by allocating remittance receipts reported by Nigeria (and other countries) to various source countries in proportion to the following:

  • the number of foreign-born people in the host country 
  • the income levels of these people proxied by per capita income of the host country
  • the cost of living in the recipient country

Outward remittances are calculated as the sum of workers’ remittances and compensation of employees.

According to this methodology, bilateral remittance flow from Ireland to Nigeria in 2018 was estimated to be US $539 million (about €490 million), or 2.2% of Nigeria’s total remittance receipts of $24.4 billion (€22.2 billion).

The spokesperson said this methodology “implies several caveats to the resulting estimates of bilateral flows between Ireland and Nigeria”.

For example, Nigeria’s total remittance receipts may not be accurate, due to under-recording of flows through unofficial channels.

“It is possible that some of the remittances from Ireland to Nigeria may be attributed to other countries (for example, the United States or the United Kingdom that house the headquarters of many correspondent banks),” they said.

The spokesperson noted that the number of Nigerian people living in Ireland “may not have been accurately measured taking into account documentation status” such as naturalisation, expiry of visa, irregular status arising out of recent movements of people including refugees, transit migrants, retirees and other return migrants.

‘Urgent need to improve data collection’ 

The Knomad spokesperson noted that a larger share of remittances may be attributed to Ireland if other host countries for Nigerian people “do not report or under-report migration stock data”. 

Second- and third-generation Nigerians living abroad may also send remittances, which may not show up in official data.

Despites these issues, the spokesperson said “until central banks publish data on remittances by source and destination, estimation using this kind of methodology is the only option”.

“This methodology is perhaps the only way to get around the measurement difficulties associated with attributing sources to headquarters of correspondent banks.

There is an urgent need to improve data collection on both migration and remittance flows, not only in low- and middle-income countries, but also in high-income countries.

“With remittance flows on track to overtake foreign direct investment flows, the urgency has only increased.”

At odds with CSO figures 

Last month, Grealish (via a parliamentary question) asked for “the amount sent out of Ireland in personal remittances in each of the past 10 years; and the countries to which they were sent each year”.

In the reply delivered to Grealish by junior minister Seán Kyne on 22 October, it was noted that personal remittances sent to Nigeria from Ireland were €17 million each year from 2010-2017, and €16 million in 2009. Over the past eight years, that amounts to €136 million. 

These figures were collated by the Central Statistics Office, estimated using Revenue data.

The most recent year for which we have both World Bank and CSO figures is 2017. According to the World Bank estimate, about €430 million was sent from Ireland to Nigeria that year. This figures drops to €17 million according to the CSO – about 4% of €430 million, and €1,300 per Nigerian living in Ireland (as per the latest Census).

cso Source: CSO

When asked by TheJournal.ie how it gathered these figures, a spokesperson said the CSO “estimates worker remittances paid from Ireland as a small component of the current account of the balance of payments”,  adding: “These are all transfers from Irish resident households to non-resident households.”

The spokesperson said remittance information is difficult to compile for national statistics offices and is “usually based on administrative sources and modelling rather than direct collection”. 

“Pay of non-national workers is used to estimate disposable income and to derive a remittance amount. The approach using indirect data sources is recognised as a standard approach in the IMF Guide for Compilers and Users of International Transactions in Remittances…

The balance of payments is a complex accounting system which summarises economic transactions between Ireland and the rest of the world in a specific time period. The compilation of the balance of payments is based primarily on enterprise surveys. The framework includes also actual data and estimates of resident to non-residents of household, government and non-profit institutions.

The spokesperson added that the CSO is “currently investigating new approaches to deriving remittance information”. 

‘A point of clarity’ 

In response to Grealish’s comments during Leaders Questions, Varadkar yesterday stated: “The numbers that you quote are no doubt correct, but I’m not quite sure where you’re going with this.”

Speaking in the Dáil today “on a point of information and clarity”, the Taoiseach echoed Noonan’s comments from 2013.

Varadkar stated: “The figures that we have from the Central Statistics Office, which is under my department and is a very well regarded and reliable statistical agency, they indicate that remittances from Ireland to Nigeria are about €17 million a year, which isn’t an enormous figure.”

Speaking about the figures used by Grealish yesterday, Varadkar said: “I understand that the World Bank remittance figures in relation to Nigeria are estimates provided to the World Bank by the Nigerian authorities and not actual data.”

He added that, as such, those figures “are open to serious scrutiny, and we would believe that our statistics are the accurate ones”.

Varadkar told Grealish “there are a lot controls in place around money laundering” and asked the TD to make available any relevant information about potential irregularities, if he had any. 

No response 

Grealish did not respond to TheJournal.ie when contacted on a number of occasions today. We sought to clarify why he used the World Bank figures rather than the CSO statistics that were recently sent to him.

Speaking in the Dáil yesterday, Varadkar noted how common it is for people who are living abroad to send money back to their country of origin. 

“Everyone in this house will know from the stories their parents told them or their grandparents told them that for many decades and many centuries Irish people went all over the world and sent back their remittances to Ireland,” Varadkar said.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

“I know you mentioned that perhaps there is a distinction between those going to other EU countries and those not, just walk a few metres across Merrion Square into Holles Street hospital, you’ll see a hospital that is full of midwives from India and nurses from the Philippines and doctors from Egypt and Pakistan and I don’t know where.

“And they work hard and pay their taxes and out of their post-tax income they send money back to their families who probably paid for their education. That is the way the world works, it’s the way Ireland worked and still does.”

A number of economists, including Gerard Brady, Chief Economist at Ibec, have echoed these sentiments, pointing out that Irish people living abroad have for decades sent money home to their families in Ireland.  

Verdict

As outlined above, there are a number of difficulties with gathering accurate data in relation to personal remittances. 

Grealish’s comments are based on figures contained in World Bank reports. However, the figures are estimates provided by Nigerian authorities and not accurate data.

Therefore, to state that “€3.54 billion was sent to Nigeria” from people living in Ireland over the past eight years – the claim we are factchecking – is incorrect. 

Grealish also had access to the more accurate CSO figures which state that approximately €138 million in personal remittances were sent from Ireland to Nigeria from 2011 to 2017.

Given the statistics available, we rate this claim: FALSE.

As per our verdict guide, this means the claim is inaccurate.

TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here.

Note: This article was updated on 14 November to include a statement from Knomad.

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Órla Ryan

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