The ups and downs of Irish demography…

One of the things about demography that makes it endlessly fascinating is that for an art which is supposed to help predict future needs, it is incredibly unpredictable. Former Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald reviews some of the massive changes in Irish demography in the last forty five years.

“…within little more than a decade after 1960 we had moved from being the European country with the highest net emigration rate to being a country with, for a decade, net immigration. And, more recently, we have moved within six years from recording the second-lowest marriage rate in western Europe to having one of the highest.

And, of course, between 1845 and 1960 we had moved from having one of the densest populations in Europe, matched only by Belgium and two Italian city states, to a situation where our density of population had become the lowest in Europe outside Scandinavia.

Looking back 45 years, we can see that the recovery in our economy after 1960 cut emigration to a fraction of its former level, with the result that within two decades the number of people aged under 27 had risen by a quite astonishing 70 per cent – and, with a rapidly-rising marriage rate in the earlier part of this period, the birth-rate for this young age group had almost doubled”.

More recently:

In most of Europe during that recent period the birth-rate has continued to decline. Only in a small minority of European countries – France, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Ireland – have increases in the birth-rate taken place since the mid-1990s.

And Ireland has had the largest increase, because in our case the impact of increased fertility among those over 30 has been reinforced by a significant increase in the total number of women of child-bearing age – which is now one-seventh higher than back in the mid-1990s.

In the early part of the present decade part of the increase in our birth-rate that was then taking place may have reflected a new practice of women coming to Ireland to have a baby here – a practice which until the Constitution and laws were changed in 2004 secured Irish citizenship for the child in question.

The recent stabilisation in the total number of births here may be explained by a fall-off in the number of such opportunistic non-national births following the changes in our Constitution and laws that eliminated this loop-hole to Irish citizenship. This decline may have obscured some recent continuing rise in the birth-rate of Irish nationals. An important factor influencing the drop in births that occurred between 1980 and 1994 had, of course, been the huge decline that took place during this period in the number of young married women.


  • Brian Boru

    I’m puzzled athim saying indicating a “stabilisation” of births following a supposed decline in opportunistic citizenship-tourism births. The figures for 2005 I understand are 63,000 compared to 59,000 in 2003. There is a High Court challenge at the moment by a Nigerian student whose visa expired last October (the one who failed his asylum-application and was let back after deportation). He is using the fact that his Irish girlfriend has just giving birth to a child as an argument against his new deportation. The High Court granted an injunction blocking his deportation pending a legal challenge to the deportation order. I hope that the govt appeals any anti-deportation decisions like in 2003 when a Nigerian women failed in the Supreme Court on appeal from the govt to stop her getting automatic citizenship by having a baby born in Ireland. Maybe opportunistic births haven’t gone away you know.

  • Dave

    Brian Boru

    “I hope that the govt appeals any anti-deportation decisions like in 2003 when a Nigerian women failed in the Supreme Court on appeal from the govt to stop her getting automatic citizenship”

    I remember reading about the above and thought? what ever happened to the (born in Ireland you are an Irish citizen” i wonder what would have happened had the persons (including unborn child ) been white? or black American?

  • George

    the Nigerian woman was the parent of an Irish citizen, not an Irish citizen herself so she had no automatic right to stay.

    The same happens in the United States, UK and virtually every other rich country in the world every day.

    If she was a African-American, it would be a different situation as Americans don’t need visas to enter Ireland so she would not have entered the country illegally.

    As to the question of what would have happened if she was white, might I remind you that the authorities are still happily deporting Romanians, Moldovans and Ukrainians while pre-2004 Czechs, Hungarians etc. were also popular targets.

    Only last June the Gardai deported 58 Romanians whose applications for asylum were rejected or withdrawn, including the parents of a 7-year-old boy who was left behind in County Kerry because he was not at school when immigration officers arrived. The Irish authorities kindly deported him a week later so he could be reunited with his parents.

    However, I concede that Nigerians are still the deportees of choice in this country although that is probably because they make up the largest number of asylum seekers.

    As I’m sure you know, Ireland removed the automatic right to citizenship for people born in Ireland in 2004 so like the UK, which never had the right, they now simply deport the babies too.

    You might be interested to know that the UK managed over 64,000 deportations in 2003 alone as compared to 590 people from the Irish Republic in the same year.

    The largest number of deportees from the UK in that year were Serbs, followed by Czechs, Poles, Romanians and Albanians so it seems colour isn’t the big issue.

    Over 1,600 UK asylum seekers were kept locked up in 2003, the majority coming from Jamaica, China, Turkey, India and Nigeria.

  • Brian Boru

    We need heat-seeking technology at our ports to detect illegals hiding in containers.