Wednesday, 27 February 2008
Ceisteanna — Questions
Census of Population.
Question 2: To ask the Taoiseach if he is satisfied the level of immigration as recorded in the last census was accurate, having regard to views (details supplied) that the census seriously underestimated the number of foreign nationals living here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20597/07]
Question 3: To ask the Taoiseach if he is satisfied the recent census gives an accurate record of the number of non-Irish nationals resident here; his plans to commission research in this area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22418/07]
Question 4: To ask the Taoiseach if his attention has been drawn to concerns expressed that the last census does not give an accurate record of the number of immigrants in the State; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29232/07]
Question 5: To ask the Taoiseach if he is satisfied the last census has accurately recorded the number of non-Irish nationals living here; his views on whether there are significantly more living here than was recorded; the measures he will adopt to deal with this discrepancy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29518/07]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 2 to 5, inclusive, together.
As the census is fundamental to planning the future of the country, it is extremely important it is conducted in a professional manner. The CSO employed a field force of close to 5,000 persons, of whom 4,400 were enumerators, to undertake a comprehensive field operation over nine weeks in April and May 2006.
Individual and household forms were available in both English and Irish and could be completed in either of the two official languages. To facilitate recent immigrants, translations of census forms were provided in 11 foreign languages: Arabic, Czech, Chinese, French, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian and Spanish. Respondents could study the language version of their choice while completing either the English or Irish language form.
The enumerated population in April 2006 amounted to 4.24 million persons, representing an increase of 323,000 persons, 8.2% compared with the April 2002 figure. The 2006 census form contained 34 questions relating to individuals which included questions on usual residence, nationality and place of birth. Of the 4.17 million usually resident persons present in the State on 23 April 2006, 420,000, 10%, had a nationality other than Irish, an increase from 224,000, 5.8%, four years earlier.
By comparing the results of successive censuses and making due allowance for the number of births and deaths which occurred in the intervening period it is possible to derive a measure of net migration, that is the difference between inward and outward migration. Between 2002 and 2006 the estimated net immigration flow was 191,000, representing a figure of 47,800 on an average annual basis. It is estimated that just over two thirds of this net inflow occurred in the two years following the accession of the ten new member states to the EU in May 2004.
On the basis of the census results, the CSO estimates between 2004 and 2006 our population increased by approximately 1.6% per annum due to migration alone. Such a rate of growth is unprecedented in our history and is also large by international standards. For example, the corresponding rate in the UK, where there was also significant immigration due to the EU accession, is estimated to have been about a quarter of the Irish level.
On the basis of this rate of net immigration, the CSO estimates the labour force grew by approximately 5% per annum in the two years before the census. This is a high growth rate by any standards and, given the strong link between migration and the labour force, a higher rate of immigration would have resulted in an implausibly high growth in employment.
On the basis of the care with which the census was undertaken and an overall assessment of the results, I am satisfied it provides an accurate measure of the level of the non-Irish national population in April 2006. Suggestions to the contrary are largely based on a misunderstanding of the difference between migrant flows and the population stock. The flow data are much higher as they include many short-term movements, both inward and outward, which do not add to the stock figures.
This issue was addressed in a statistical release issued in December 2007 entitled, Foreign Nationals: PPSN Allocations and Employment, 2002-2006. It showed just under half of the 447,200 non-Irish nationals aged 15 years and over who were allocated a PPSN between 2002 and 2005 had employment in the State in 2006, according to Revenue P35 end-of-year returns. A comparison of the published census data and the Revenue P35 data for non-Irish nationals indicates a high degree of consistency between both sources. The CSO will continue to monitor all relevant sources to ensure the accuracy of its ongoing population and migrations estimates.
I am happy with the degree of coherence between the various CSO data sources dealing with non-Irish nationals and, specifically, with the accuracy of the recent census results relating to these numbers.
I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive reply. Will he accept that accurate census figures are absolutely essential for planning infrastructure, housing and education?
Does the Government stand over the 2006 census figures? The Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, rubbished the census figures on immigrants and non-nationals working and living in Ireland. When challenged both in and outside the House, he repeated his claims. Has the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, asked his source of information? If Deputy Conor Lenihan's claims are accepted, then the figures are inaccurate. Has the Minister of State any proposals to change the census compilation methodology?
I stand over the CSO's figures. Just looking at the detail and amount of preparation for the census, the CSO's staff are to be commended. They delivered questionnaires to 1.5 million dwellings. As Deputies know, there were 400 field supervisors and 4,400 enumerators. The CSO, following consultation with the Office of the Chief State Solicitor, pursued a number of cases in which households refused outright to co-operate.
There are a number of key points. I know from my contacts with the CSO that it is confident that its census coverage was close to the targeted 100%, to the extent that if there was any under-enumeration of the population it would be no more than 1%, or around 40,000 persons. From the feedback received from field staff, it was considered highly unlikely that non-Irish nationals would have accounted for more than 10,000 of this conjectured under-enumeration. The amount of work was enormous. For example, the figure that emerged with regard to the Polish population on census night was 63,276. The work was detailed and required much preparation, and a large number of staff was required. I stand by the figures that were given to me. I agree it is vital that we have accurate figures for the purposes of planning.
Would the Minister of State agree that there was general acceptance of the accuracy of the census figures and that this matter would not have arisen at all were it not for his colleague's publicly made statement that they were rubbish? Has the Minister of State talked to the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, about this or instructed him on the accuracy of the figures, if he is satisfied as to their accuracy? Did he check whether the Minister of State, Deputy Lenihan, in fact had some special information that was not available to the Minister of State and the CSO?
While I am on my feet I will ask another question. How did the enumerators deal with gated communities? As somebody who likes calling to people's houses, I have found no method of reaching people who are inside the gates, especially in blocks that have swipe-card entrances. If there is a button, one can pester them long enough for them to come out, but I do not know how the census enumerators count these people. Did they leave them out and guess how many were inside? Usually there are only one or two people in each unit. I did not see any sign of large families.
I have not managed to speak to the Minister of State as we are all very busy, but obviously after this debate we will be having a discussion. To be fair to the Minister of State, Deputy Lenihan, there is the issue of migrant flows, as I mentioned in my own contribution, of which we are all conscious.
A person can get the impression from the migrant flows that there are more Polish people, for example, in the country than there are really. I have given the factual position. The Minister of State in question, as I understand from his article, was speaking outside the DÃ¡il about his contacts with various organisations representing immigrant bodies.
In the case of gated communities and private apartment blocks, which is, as the CSO knows from some of its other surveys, a growing phenomenon, the field supervisors contacted management companies to obtain access codes. One of the duties of the enumerators was to list in their record books every building capable of being occupied. They were all given a certain number of apartments or houses to visit, and on census night they marked each building on an up-to-date map. They also had to make contact with householders over a nine-week period in April and May, first to distribute blank census forms and then to collect the completed forms. Given the increasing complexity of Irish society, with more people at work and greater mobility, the enumerators made extensive use of calling cards in cases in which contact with householders was not easy to achieve. The CSO issued each of the enumerators with a mobile phone whose number was printed on his or her calling card to facilitate texting or telephoning by the householder to inform the enumerator of the best time to reach the householder at home. Where contact proved very difficult, the CSO allowed mailing of forms. Around 16,000 forms were posted back to the CSO. Every enumerator had a select number of houses or apartments to visit. I accept there are new issues for enumerators with regard to gated communities.
We all have that problem in our political lives. Maybe we could learn from the census staff with regard to access to gated communities.
The Minister of State said in his response "to be fair to Deputy Lenihan". The Minister of State, Deputy Lenihan, is quoted as saying that it is pretty much acknowledged in Government circles that the figures were a huge underestimate. Who is talking rubbish here? Is it Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, or Minister of State, Deputy Lenihan?
Both of them cannot be telling the truth. Is it not the case that the Minister of State Deputy Lenihan's comments constitute an allegation either that the Polish community here was dishonest and was in serious breach of the law or that the enumerators were not up to the job? Which is it? Both of these are serious allegations. The Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, is telling us that he has not asked the Minister of State, Deputy Lenihan, where he got his figures from or sought clarity from him on this issue. I put it to the Minister of State that his colleague has questioned the competency of the CSO. He made these comments last September and they have not since been clarified.
I would expect that enumeration of illegal migrants would be more difficult as these people do not rush to the door when they hear a knock. What specific steps were taken to obtain a figure for illegal migrants? Does this represent the 1% estimate given by the CSO of the number of people that were not actually included in the figures?
The Minister of State, Deputy Lenihan, spoke based on his contacts with immigrant groups. As I mentioned, one possible explanation for what he suggested â he was not speaking in the Houseââ
He was not speaking with the knowledge of the figures that I have. I suggested that his opinion was possibly based on migrant flows. I also made the point that figures released on PPS numbers showed that just under half of the 447,200 non-Irish nationals aged 15 or over who were allocated a PPS number between 2002 and 2005 had employment in the State in 2006. There is obviously an issue with regard to PPS numbers and their reflection of the number of people really working here, as we are all aware. I am bringing actual figures before the House today. As I also stated, the possible error was as little as 1%. This is shown in the extensive data that I have presented as best I can to the House. I am standing by these figures. There are no two ways about it.
In light of the fact that the Minister of State is standing by the figures, will he ask his colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Lenihan, to apologise to the enumerators and to the Polish community for the aspersions he cast on their characters?
My colleague said he believed that last year's census gave a serious underestimation of certain figures. He is entitled to a view if he is speaking outside the House. I am also entitled to giveââ
The reason I brought up this point during Question No. 1 was that I thought the grouping was Questions Nos. 1 to 5. I apologise. I was not pre-empting these questions. Due to the noise during the exit after Leaders' Questions I did not hear the grouping of the questions and I made the assumption that these questions would be lumped together.
I thank the Minister for his response butââ
Is he integrating at a rate beyond the awareness of the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, and his colleagues? We are talking about anything between 100,000 and 140,000 people of Polish origin alone. I wonder if Deputy Lenihan had offered his opinion, how many more hundreds of thousands of people of other nationalities he had secreted in other parts of the jurisdiction. In response to Deputy Naughten the Minister of State made a suggestion but, watching him, I have no doubt the Minister of State was thinking that Deputy Conor Lenihan was talking through his hat.
Can the Minister of State confirm that?
We speak of the undocumented in respect of Irish emigrants to the United States most particularly. Is there any method employed to gauge the numbers of undocumented in this country, particularly when one couples the CSO report on the census in 2006 with the information exposed this morning as very questionable? I refer to the number of visitors coming to our shores via airport and seaport access points. We have no idea of the numbers of people who access this jurisdiction on a North-South basis, coming through the ports of Larne, Belfast and the respective airports. What is the Minister of State proposing to get some sense of the percentage represented in respect of the undocumented people?
I will give a very brief answer regarding the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Conor Lenihan.
The best way to deal with the undocumented is through our embassies abroad. I have personal experience of it and it is a valid point in regard to the numbers, the contacts and the support network. I will raise the matter with the CSO on the Deputy's behalf.