Dáil debates

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed)

Migration Data

1:05 pm

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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1. To ask the Taoiseach the current rates of emigration. [19859/18]

Photo of Michael MoynihanMichael Moynihan (Cork North West, Fianna Fail)
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2. To ask the Taoiseach the current rates of immigration. [21098/18]

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal, Fine Gael)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 and 2 together.

I thank both Deputies for their questions. Statistics for migration are included in the CSO's annual Population and Migration Estimates release. The principal source of information for the estimation of annual migration flows, incorporating both emigration and immigration, is the labour force survey, formally the quarterly national household survey. The latest release was published in August 2017 and the latest annual figures available are for the year to April 2017. The release shows that an estimated 84,600 persons migrated to Ireland in the year from April 2016 to April 2017, while an estimated 64,800 left Ireland in the same period, with net inward migration of 19,800 persons. In the previous year to April 2016 there were 82,300 inward and 66,200 outward migrants, giving net inward migration of 16,200 persons.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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It is becoming increasingly apparent that there are shortages of skilled workers in a number of areas. I am forever hearing that the problem in dealing with the housing crisis is capacity, by which we mean the capacity of the local authorities to have skilled workers who can build houses. There are capacity problems in the health service. I am referring to qualified health workers such as nurses and midwives. In education, in providing services for persons with special needs, and the mental health service there is a real deficit which is becoming a problem in the provision of skilled workers. Part of the problem at least is that a lot of younger people who are skilled and whom the State has paid to educate are leaving the country because wages are not sufficient to enable them to put a roof over their heads. They go elsewhere, taking their skills and abilities with them and consequently robbing the State of the ability to deal with the lack of capacity in key public services and the provision of infrastructure. The figures bear it out. The Minister of State will say there is net inward migration. However, it is clear from the further breakdown of the figures he has given that the biggest cohorts among the 64,800 leaving every year, a big number, are younger people who are educated. The biggest cohort is young people with a third level education, while the next biggest is young people who have completed the leaving certificate programme. It is obvious why they are leaving - they cannot afford to live here. They are moving elsewhere, to places where they will be better paid and can afford to live. It is a real problem which has to be acknowledged. We are going to run into deep trouble if we do not find ways to retain them to use the skills they have developed in a publicly funded education system to actually contribute to and benefit our society.

We have to make it possible for them to stay here. Will the Minister of State comment on who is leaving? From the figures available from the CSO, it is clear who is leaving, namely, the 18 to mid-30s cohort. That is a terrible loss and one we cannot afford if we are going to resolve some of the key challenges facing this country.

1:15 pm

Photo of Michael MoynihanMichael Moynihan (Cork North West, Fianna Fail)
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On the other side of it, regarding the people coming into this country, as Deputy Boyd Barrett said, there is a chronic shortage of skilled workers. For example, in the mental health debate both in this House and on the national airwaves, the shortage of clinical psychologists and psychiatrists was raised. There is a problem attracting skilled workers into various sectors.

Has the Government the details of which sectors are affected by skills shortages? There is a whole raft of different issues in the construction industry. Some local authorities tell us their planning offices are short-staffed. Recently, an announcement was made by the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Heather Humphreys, on fast-tracking work permits. There are difficulties for people to get work permits validated. This process goes at a snail’s pace.

Our health service is running because of a significant number of people from outside the country working in it. While they are doing excellent work, there is a chronic shortage of workers in the health service. We are educating the finest people but they are leaving almost immediately after being educated. Young people are saying the cost of living in Dublin city is beyond them in terms of setting up a home, escalating rents and so forth. We need to ensure that the Government and the State knows where the skills shortages are.

There has been a nonsensical drive for development on the east coast. For the past couple of weeks, there were many debates about people leaving the western seaboard and the significant crisis on the eastern seaboard. Will the Minister of State accept that for young people to live and set up home in the capital city is now simply beyond them?

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputies for tabling these questions because this is a space where we do not have enough time as a Parliament to debate and plan for future projections and the country’s direction. The idea behind the national development plan is to look at where people will be living and what type of demographics we will be dealing with.

Many of our young highly skilled, highly qualified and highly educated people left over the past ten years. It is complex. From Donegal, I know anecdotally that over the past four years many people were moving back from Australia but not as many from Canada. Reasons included that they were well paid and there was a good quality of life and long-term opportunities in Canada. That is anecdotal and not definitive to explain the movement.

As a former sociology student, I thank the Deputies for the chance to delve into the figures again. Ten years ago, we had net migration of more than 104,000 people which compares with 19,000 this year. We had net immigration of 151,000 versus net emigration of 46,000. In 2007, 90,000 houses were built which suggests a massive influx of people to pick up the trades and do the work required.

It is important we identify the skills shortages. That is the job the CSO can do. In fairness to the CSO, while it is strict about its independence, it welcomes input from politicians to look at a piece of work. The CSO could be identifying the skills shortages.

In the past year, 64% of inward migrants had third level education qualifications. This is pointing to recruitment in the health and financial services sectors which are looking for highly qualified and highly trained people. Up to 56% of those inward migrants get work straight away.

In planning for the future, we have to be conscious that the birth rate since 2014 has started to decline. Another peak was at the time of the visit of a very famous person in 1979. Maybe in the next month, we might be looking at a peak again.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I find it hard to get my head around that 1979 peak, given the rather conservative attitudes towards sex the person in question had.

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal, Fine Gael)
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That was tongue in cheek.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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The statistics do not break down those leaving by trade but by whether they are at work, unemployed, students or other. By far the biggest cohort is the “at work” category. Those working, who have come out of college or school, discover, as have the nurses with whom I was protesting outside St. Vincent’s hospital, that they have to leave, although they would like to stay. The reason they cannot stay is because they cannot afford the rents and the health services are a nightmare because there are not enough people. They all know people who are working abroad in far superior conditions and where the cost of living is affordable. We are haemorrhaging these people, whom we badly need, out of education, health and construction. I do not know as much about the agricultural sector but I am sure it is true. Skilled people are leaving and we need them. It is a real problem.

At least we do not have the crazy xenophobes like they have in Britain and the racist far-right groups like they have in Europe who do not seem to understand that Europe needs people. At least, we do not have that horror here. People are leaving because we are not looking after our young people and providing the basics. We need to provide conditions of employment which are decent. Precarious employment is another reason many are leaving. I welcome those workers who are coming in. They are often willing to put up with worse housing conditions, lower pay and more precarious employment conditions because in some cases they are only planning to stay for a short while.

There are other people, however, who want to make a life here. These are people who were born, raised and educated here. They say they cannot do it and that it is simply not possible for them to do it. That is a bad indictment of our position as the fastest growing economy in Europe. We need to look in detail at who is leaving. We need to address their concerns to enable us to get them to stay. This means providing decent terms and conditions of employment, decent pay and affordable housing.

1:25 pm

Photo of Michael MoynihanMichael Moynihan (Cork North West, Fianna Fail)
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The Minister of State mentioned the national development plan, the various debates in the House on the plan, what underpins the plan and so forth. The national development plan must not be only about the physical infrastructure that we are going to build. The physical infrastructure needs to be built to accommodate the people. It has been said that we do not often discuss the future.

Let us consider why the Central Statistics Office does not have the data on shortages in the workforce, in industry and in the health service right across the spectrum. Are the Government and the Department of Health aware of the shortages of staff and the resources needed in the health service to enable it to operate at reasonable capacity? We should ensure it is not only operating on the basis of crisis management. All aspects of the health service must function well.

The Government should take bold steps to provide for the CSO to gather this information. This information should be readily available to any Government embarking on a national development plan. We saw all the bells and whistles associated with Project Ireland 2040. What about the people integrated into that development plan? Surely that development plan was about how we are going to have people living and working in the country.

I am somewhat aghast that the figures are not readily available on the shortages throughout the spectrum. What plans are in place? What programmes are in place for Irish people who have left in the past ten years that will encourage them back to Ireland? What programmes and incentives are under way within Government?

It is not often that Deputy Boyd Barrett and I agree, but I noted the question of conditions of employment and Deputy Boyd Barrett alluded to these as well. Conditions of employment are of great importance. The Minister of State said the national development plan is not only about the physical infrastructure. More important, he said it is about people. What is happening in the country at the moment with unbalanced regional development will have serious knock-on effects in the decades ahead. We need to cater for education now. We have seen the pressures when it comes to catering for education and college places. Indeed, as people grow and live longer there will be major democratic decisions for Government right into the decades ahead.

There is no integration. First, the CSO needs to get all the data on where the shortages and employment opportunities are and make that information available to the Government. We need to use that to sell the island and encourage more people to stay. We also need to ensure that the plans are about people as well as physical infrastructure.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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We are over time. Perhaps the Minister of State could give a brief reply.

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal, Fine Gael)
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The important thing today is the follow-up. There are two suggestions for separate projects. One relates to the data and analysis of where skills shortages are emerging. The second project relates to the categories of employees who are leaving. Do they include young doctors or plumbers? The question is who is leaving. That is important because it is complex.

A friend of mine went to London to work as a teacher a year and a half ago. I met him a month ago. He came back home and was getting his CV ready. He wanted to go to the education and training board and the schools. He wanted to put his name out to get a job in a school in Donegal. He was all excited about it. I met his mother last night. His mother said that he had got a promotion in the school in London as head of the biology department. Now, he is faced with a decision. Does he take that promotion and get that good experience? It would help his CV. Does he come back home?

It is complex. I am a former emigrant, having lived in Dubai. I remember spending a year there. I was warned at the time that if I spent more than two years there, the temptation would be to stay. A variety of complex push-pull factors are at play. There is work we can do to analyse them because we have skills shortages in various areas. People are in different parts of the world. How we can try to reach out to them and incentivise them?

I thank both Deputies today for the question. This is an area of work I am keen to pursue as well. I will suggest some follow-up. I met one of the officials from the CSO yesterday. He is from west Cork. I will not name him. He is a pragmatic and interesting person on this subject. Perhaps a meeting with him and the two Deputies might be appropriate. I would be happy to do that.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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That sounds like a good idea. That brings the morning's business to a conclusion.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.

Sitting suspended at 1.35 p.m. and resumed at 2.35 p.m.