As the grandson of immigrants, people who started a new life in Ireland with no family, network or connections, I find it rather odd to hear people talk about the “real Irish” or the “true Irish”. Maybe I don’t qualify? Who knows? But now that everyone’s doing it, let’s talk about immigrants.

The first thing to point out is that there has been a significant spike in the number of people arriving here. According to the Central Statistics Office, last year our population increased by 88,000 people, which is the largest annual increase since 2008, and 120,700 immigrants came into the State, which is a 15-year high.

This large number of immigrants in 2022 was almost double the numbers seen in 2021. In fact, it is the second-largest increase in immigrants over the past 30 years, surpassed only in the boom year of 2007, before the economy derailed. The majority (63,000) of these people came from beyond the borders of the European Union and UK. Up to April 2022, this figure included 28,000 Ukrainians fleeing war. The Ukrainian figure has jumped since then.

In total, immigrants make up around 13.8 per cent (768,900) of the overall population. About one in every seven people walking around Ireland today are immigrants. According to the Fiscal Council, foreigners as a percentage of the total population will rise to 18.2–19.7 per cent by 2051, so roughly one in five.

The false story being told – quite widely, unfortunately – is that these people, immigrants, are scroungers leeching off the rest of us. The reality of migration is different. Immigrants add enormously to economic growth and, over time, their taxes and ingenuity will pay for Irish people’s retirements.

Let’s have a look at some facts.

Immigrants were also less likely than Irish people to use the health system, either going to the GP or consulting a specialist doctor. According to the Irish Universities Association, there are more than 32,000 international students studying in Ireland and there are also well over 100,000 international students in Ireland studying English. Think about how much they add to the economy every day.

Like my own grandparents, people who come to the country (from Scotland, in their case) without contacts are much more likely to start their own small businesses or be self-employed because, as they say, “it’s not what you know, but who you know”; if you don’t know anyone, the chances are that you have to go out ‘on your tod’.

We know that small businesses can become big businesses. In the United States, 40 per cent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by first- or second-generation immigrants, while 18 per cent of fast-growing tech companies in the UK were created by a foreign-born founder, according to Tech Nation. This figure is about 25 per cent in the US, and a quarter of all US-based Nobel laureates were foreign-born.

These entrepreneurial and talent statistics suggest that host nations often get the best and brightest the world has to offer. Recent studies in the American Economic Association (the holy of holies for economics) highlight that an immigrant in the US is about 80 per cent more likely to found a firm compared with people born in that country. Since 2016, 25 per cent of all Irish start-ups have been founded by foreigners. Immigrants are “job creators” not “job takers”.

Globally, it is estimated that 270 million people in the world today are migrants and their worldwide economic contribution came to about $6.7 trillion. This means that these people, just 3.4 per cent of the world’s global population, contribute about 9.4 per cent of the world’s income.

Obviously the issue of immigration is a huge national debate. Some people are afraid of “the other”; I get that. Strangeness can be discombobulating. Some argue that the country’s infrastructure – particularly housing – can’t handle the strain. I understand that too. However, when it comes to the economy, tax revenue, company formation and the growth rate – which pays for everything – the evidence is overwhelming: to put it crudely, immigrants make a country rich.

In the 1850s, an anti-Irish political movement called the Know-Nothing party emerged in America as a response to the 990,000 Irish who emigrated to the US between 1851 and 1860 – 83 per cent of all immigrants to the US.

We would do well to remember that.

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