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Current and Emerging Issues | Ireland |

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Current and Emerging Issues

Emma Quinn

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Ireland is currently experiencing a significant economic downturn. Between the first quarter of 2008 and the first quarter of 2009 the number of people unemployed doubled. By December 2009 the unemployment rate stood at 12.5 per cent and is expected to continue to rise during 2010.

The impact on non-Irish nationals has been particularly severe. In the third quarter of 2009 the unemployment rate for non-Irish nationals was 17.2 per cent compared to 11.9 per cent for Irish nationals. The sectors experiencing the most significant job losses, for example construction, wholesale and retail trade, are sectors where migrants tend to work.

The number of unemployed people entitled to social welfare continues to grow, representing an increasing burden on the state. Although many immigrants are not eligible for social welfare because they cannot prove "habitual residency", the number of non-Irish unemployed workers entitled to support is substantial.

The changed economic conditions have marked the start of a new phase in Irish migration history. It is likely that some migrants will begin to return to their countries of origin and, if international economic conditions improve, large-scale Irish emigration may resume. There are some indications that this has begun: emigration rates rose by 25 per cent between 2006 and 2008; however, net migration remains positive. Clearly some migrants will remain in Ireland to establish a permanent home and for this group there is a need for a more developed integration policy.

It remains to be seen how the experience of immigrants living in Ireland will change in the context of an economic downturn; however, international experience suggests that Ireland should be alert to the potential for increased discrimination as competition for jobs increases. In this context the budget cuts seen at the end of 2008 across a number of state agencies dealing with equality, human rights and anti-discrimination are particularly unwelcome.


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