Ireland Shaped By Growing Immigrant Population

"Immigration — whether by Celts, Normans, Britons or Vikings — is not a new phenomenon for Ireland," according to an article published today on MSNBC. "In fact, the figure who arguably had the greatest single impact on the course of Irish history was a bearded, snake-charming holy man who hailed from Roman-ruled Britain.

"His name was St. Patrick."

Immigration has vastly changed the landscape of a nation once seen primarily as a nation of emigrants, not immigrants, despite the forays of Celts, Normans, Britons and Vikings into Ireland.

"In the 1980s, Ireland was barely able to retain its own. The unemployment rate was around 18 percent and thousands of young people were fleeing the country annually for Britain, the United States and elsewhere," according to the article. "The endless conflict in Northern Ireland along with divisive battles over social issues in the south combined to scare off the best and brightest."

But recently, the tide has been turning.

"This transformation — fueled by a decade-long economic boom and relatively liberal immigration laws — means Ireland has gone from Western Europe’s poorest and most homogeneous country to one of its wealthiest and most cosmopolitan in little more than a generation," according to the article. Now one in 10 people in Ireland are foreign-born.

Portlaoise, a commuter town of 14,000 people southwest of Dublin, is overseen by a Nigerian-born mayor, Rotimi Adebari. In Gort, a town of 2,500 in western Ireland, half of the population is made up of immigrants, including 900 Brazilians.

Immigration has propelled Ireland's population to 4.2 million people, its highest level since 1861, and helped make it the fastest-growing country in Europe, according to the article.

"The Irish economy now depends on migrant workers — whether Asian medical personnel, Eastern European service staff or Polish construction workers," according to the article. "Between 1995-2000, the economy expanded at an astounding average of 9.5 percent per year; now it has eased to a still robust rate of 4-5 percent annual growth."

"Estimates for the number of Eastern Europeans — mostly Poles — living in Ireland range from 150,000 to 300,000. Since the mid-1990s Ireland also accepted an estimated 30,000 asylum seekers, especially from Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country," according to the article.

"Compared to the United States, the influx may not appear significant. Ireland remains nearly 95 percent white. But in a country that had virtually no people of color just a couple of decades ago, the change on the ground is unmistakable."

For example, Dublin is trending toward multiculturalism.

"Parts of north Dublin, chiefly Parnell Street and nearby Capel Street, are developing into the country’s first Chinatown….On the south side of Dublin's River Liffey, the influx of young people from across Europe has helped the emerging arts and cafe culture in the trendy, cobble-stoned Temple Bar district rival its better known continental counterparts."

Still, the transition hasn't been an easy one across the board, and there are incidents of discrimination against immigrants. One of the more egregious examples is that, "In Balbriggan, a Dublin suburb, children of African immigrants found themselves attending an all-black school this fall because the country’s overcrowded education system could not find a place for them in any existing schools. The incident was blamed on a paperwork snafu, but suspicions of racism lingered."

I find it hard to believe that this really was the result of a problem with paperwork. But this situation clearly shows that Ireland is still experiencing growing pains. While it's doubtful that "melting pot" is ever going to be the number one term people use to describe Ireland, hopefully the lesson of acceptance will take root.

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April 7, 2008 at 3:17 PM Malden Senior said...

let's see if Ireland can handle the change in a proper manner

November 12, 2008 at 2:10 AM Anonymous said...

There is a smoother integration than that of many other countries. Most immigrants live side by side with each other and with Irish residents. There is always going to be one area in particular that will populate with one nation that is unavoidable. Even though Dublin is a very small city there is room for everybody. As always all people are welcome to Dublin. Look me up when you come!

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