Saturday, July 5, 2008

The A to Z of Irish immigrants

You don't have to be older than 30 to remember the days when a black man walking down Dublin's O'Connell generated wide-eyed stares and stunned disbelief. The Ireland of the 1970s was a time when people moved in only one direction: out, most with the intention of never coming back. So homogenous was the population, hospitals only had to worry about keeping sufficient stocks of the blood group O. It was a time when almost everybody shared similar genes.

Fast forward three decades to a country whose image has changed faster and more dramatically than any other in the Northern Hemisphere. Figures released this week by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) are colourful proof that Ireland really is Europe's rainbow nation. On an April day in 2006, when people in the Republic filled in their Census forms, there were non-Irish nationals living in every single town.

In their largest numbers, they have come from Britain, Poland, Lithuania and Nigeria.

As our economic well-being falters and the Celtic Tiger loses its roar, the constantly changing tide of migration is moving in a different direction today, two years since the Census figures were collected. Last week, the ESRI announced that more than 20,000 of the 420,000 non-Irish people living here will leave Ireland next year.
But hundreds of thousands will choose to stay and by 2030, it is predicted that at least 1.5 million people in Ireland will be foreign-born.

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