TWO OF THE the biggest global news stories of 2016 – the rise of US presidential candidate Donald Trump, and the UK’s forthcoming referendum on its EU membership – have both taken on an odd Irish slant, lately.
Reports and claims have circulated that fears of a Trump presidency after November’s election is causing some Americans to make alternative living arrangements, as it were, and put their ancestry to good use by applying for an Irish passport.
Likewise, there is said to have been a “rush” for Irish passports among British citizens hoping to retain an EU passport in the event of Brexit.
But is there really evidence to back up these claims? Do the numbers stack up? Time to do some digging.
Remember, if you see a claim you’re not sure about, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Claim 1: Fears of a Trump presidency are causing a rush for Irish passports in the US
Verdict: Cannot be verified. There has been a recent increase which was above average, but there are plausible alternative explanations for this, and no evidence to support the causal link being claimed.
There are two main issues here. First, is it true that Irish passport applications have been rising in the US, and by how much? And secondly, to what extent is fear of Trump’s election to blame?
To get a full, detailed picture, we asked the Department of Foreign Affairs for the number of Irish passport applications, both first time and renewals, throughout the entire world, for every month between January 2013 and April 2016.
We got a whole lot of data back, from 59 different Irish embassies and consulates on every continent, and crunched the numbers.
To test the claim, we used the same point of comparison as the news website Irish Central did earlier this week – the nine months before and since Trump’s candidacy announcement on 16 June 2015.
Here’s what we found:
- First-time applications from the US rose by 17.4%
- From all other foreign countries, they rose by 7%
- Passport renewal applications from the US rose by 15.2%
- From all other foreign countries, they effectively stayed flat, declining by 0.2%
- All Irish passport applications from the US increased by 15.8%
- From all other foreign countries, they stayed flat, increasing by 0.7%
This would appear to give credence to the claim that Trump’s run for the White House has, at least, accompanied an increase in the number of Irish-Americans and Irish in America acquiring or renewing an Irish passport.
Finally – what has the trend been like since the start of the year, as Trump established his dominance over Republican rivals, and the prospect of his victory became more realistic and proximate?
We got the number of first-time applications from January to April this year, and compared the trend to the average number of first-time applications in the same period, between 2013 and 2015.
As you can see, the actual number of applications has been significantly higher in the first four months of this year than in the last few years.
But the trend has been inconsistent, and not the steady increase you might expect if growing fears of a Trump presidency were, as is claimed, a driving causal factor in changes in demand for Irish passports.
However, this does not show that Trump’s run for the White House is not a contributing factor to the increase. For example, other factors could, theoretically, have caused the numbers to dip between February and March despite Trump-related anxiety.
But neither does it show that it is a contributory factor, not to mind the leading or even sole factor.
‘Correlation does not imply causation’
Firstly, there is no objective, quantifiable evidence that anyone – whether Irish-American, or Irish in America – is being motivated by fear of a Trump presidency (or fear of a Hillary Clinton presidency, or of a Clinton vs Trump campaign, for that matter) in applying for a new passport.
Applicants submitting paperwork to Irish embassies and consulates around the world are not asked why they are doing so. Anything beyond that is merely anecdotal.
Secondly, there are several alternative explanations for the recent increased interest in an Irish passport.
There is no evidence that these have actually caused or contributed to that increase (just as there is no evidence a political campaign has), but here are just two.
In 2015, 185,000 more tourists from the US and Canada visited Ireland than in 2014.
If just 438 (0.2%) of them returned to the US, inspired, in the last nine months, and decided to take advantage of their Irish granny and get a passport for their Summer 2016 holidays, that would account for the entire increase in applications seen during the Trump campaign.
Furthermore, US tourism to Europe as a whole has been increasing every year since 2011. In 2015, 706,644 more Americans visited Europe than in 2014.
A tiny portion of those rising numbers planning a trip to the continent this summer, and strategically opting for an EU member state passport, would explain the increases attributed to fear of a President Trump.
If that trend continued in 2015, and into this year, it could be the case that US citizens wanting to make life easier for themselves by acquiring an Irish passport also contributed to the increase.
That’s not to mention that, more broadly, Ireland has the fastest-growing economy in the EU at the moment, and 53,500 more individuals were counted as employed in Ireland at the end of 2015 than at the beginning.
Claim 2: Brexit fears are causing an increase in the number of Irish passport applications from Britain
Verdict: Cannot be verified. There has been a moderate recent increase, by one measure above average, but there are plausible alternative explanations, and no evidence to support the causal link claimed.
We can take it that the same warnings about causation apply to this claim as applied to the first one.
There is no objective, quantifiable evidence that fear of British exit from the EU is motivating those applying for Irish passports (again, whether first-time or renewal).
And there could be several other explanations and contributory factors (as there always are) for the changing rate of applications.
So let’s turn to the numbers, which is a bit trickier for this one, since there is no single event across which we could compare application rates.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron first promised the referendum in January 2013. But since the data we have only goes back that far, we cannot compare any time period before it.
He announced the date of the referendum in February, which intensified the public debate and news coverage that had been growing over the past two years.
However, our data is only as recent as April, and a two-month margin is too small from which to draw any inferences.
In March, the Guardian claimed that:
Between 2014 and 2015, the number of adults born in England, Scotland or Wales applying for their first Irish passport on the basis of having an Irish-born grandparent increased by more than 33%, from 379 to 507.
Applications from those with one or more Irish parent rose by 11% in the same period, from 3,376 to 3,736. In the previous year, the total applying in both categories fell slightly.
Those figures do not reconcile with the data given to us by the Department of Foreign Affairs this week, but a comparison between 2014 and 2015 seems like a good place to start in gauging the possible link between intensified Brexit fears and first-time passport applications in Britain.
- Between 2014 and 2015, there was a 6.5% increase in the number of first-time Irish passport applications from Great Britain
- There was a 0.9% increase from all other foreign countries
So the demand for Irish passports in Britain has risen in the past year, and it has risen further than it did across the rest of the world.
However, there was actually a decrease in the number of British applications between 2013 and 2014, perhaps providing a lower base for the subsequent 6.5% increase.
- Between 2013 and 2015, there was a 3.8% increase in the number of first-time Irish passport applications from Great Britain
- There was an 11.1% increase from all other foreign countries.
So, if we re-frame the data slightly, and in a reasonable way, given the prospect of Brexit was first significantly introduced at the start of 2013, we can see that demand for Irish passports has grown by a much smaller rate in Britain than everywhere else in the world, over the past two years.
Let’s look again at the first four months of this year, as the June referendum draws closer, and public debate and scrutiny intensify.
Again, we took the number of first-time applications from January to April 2016, and compared them to the average numbers for those months, between 2013 and 2015.
As you can see, the actual numbers in 2016 have been significantly higher than the numbers seen in 2013-2015.
However, the trend has been virtually identical, indicating that the steady increase in first-time applications so far this year is not out of the ordinary for January to April.
This doesn’t prove that Brexit fears are not a contributing factor in demand for Irish passports. Just as that 17.4% increase in the US doesn’t prove that the growing prospect of a President Trump is, in that case.
Without hard evidence as to the specific motivations behind passport applications, and given the tendency for regular, seasonal fluctuation in demand for Irish passports shown in the data, it’s difficult to draw any conclusions from recent trends.
And it is essentially impossible to attribute those trends to one specific factor, when there are always several at play – employment and tourism in the destination country, and economics and population shifts in the country of origin, for example.
Because of the absence from both these claims of proper evidence that the stated “fear” is actually causing the increased demand for Irish passports, and given the principle that the burden of proof should fall on anyone who makes such a claim, it is tempting to rate them as false.
However, the data does show a recent increase in Irish passport applications in the US and Britain, and by some measures that increase has been above the global average – especially in the American case.
The specific causes being attributed, however, remain neither proven nor disproven.
For this reason, we rate these claims – that fear of a Donald Trump presidency and a British exit from the EU is driving up Irish passport applications – Impossible to Verify.
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