Ireland Learns to Adapt to a Population Growth Spurt

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sun Aug 19 17:29:32 UTC 2007


August 19, 2007
Ireland Learns to Adapt to a Population Growth Spurt

DUBLIN — Inside a north Dublin warehouse, 15,000 cardboard boxes
containing the documents of Ireland's most recent census rise on new
shelving from the concrete floor. The sight is nondescript, but the
collated and computer-scanned documents contain evidence that the
Republic of Ireland is the fastest repopulating small country in the
world. Findings from the April 2006 census, which are being published
in a series of releases this summer, showed that in the four years
since a previous survey, the Irish population swelled by 322,645,
roughly split between immigrants and births. That lifted the total
population to 4.2 million.No European Union country has a younger
population: statistically, the Irish have been barely aging at all,
with the median age staying close to 33. The country will remain young
for decades, say the experts, and escape the "graying" fate of the
rest of Europe.

Further, demographers now predict that the population could rise to
over five million in about a dozen years, and to six million within a
generation. With a growing population in Northern Ireland, the island
could match its largest population — more than eight million before
the devastating 19th-century famine that prompted waves of emigration
— by 2032. Edgar Morgenroth, a member of a panel of experts who
predict Irish population growth, said the famine started a diminishing
of the population that lasted to the late 1960s. "It was only in the
1990s that our population stabilized and started to grow, rapidly," he
said. The population might reach the 19th-century level, but it will
look very different.

The population changes have been uneven geographically. New houses
stretch in a wide arc from north Dublin to the west of the city. But
the city's core, despite being replenished by an influx of immigrants,
has lost residents to the suburbs and to once unimaginably distant
commuting centers in the midlands. In the south, the city of Cork
shrank while the county grew. Some experts think the scale is beyond
most citizens' imaginations: in about half a generation, the
population may grow by another Dublin, which has 1.1 million people in
its greater metropolitan area. "The worst is that we find ourselves
without growing our services to cope with the numbers," Mr. Morgenroth
said. "The benign outlook is that we have tackled our services and,
like Switzerland or Luxembourg, we have great wealth and a great
quality of life. The smaller countries can do it right."

Eunan King, an economist at NCB Stockbrokers in Dublin, has long
argued that a rising population — more workers and more consumers —
will help sustain Ireland's remarkable economic renaissance of the
past dozen years. The largest increases in immigration since 2002 have
been from Poland, Lithuania and Nigeria. The latest census showed
63,276 Poles living permanently in Ireland, up from 2,124 four years
earlier. In some small districts in Dublin, Limerick and Cork, the
census showed, 52 percent of residents were non-Irish, said Aidan
Punch, a senior census statistician.

Ireland permits all residents, not just Irish citizens, to cast
ballots in local elections. That has helped immigrants win seats in
local councils. The mayor of the midlands town of Portlaoise, Rotimi
Adebari, is from Nigeria. To encourage assimilation, the government
recently named a minister for integration, Conor Lenihan. The
department was organized, Mr. Lenihan said in an interview, to show
Ireland's commitment to share and develop its new wealth with new
arrivals. "We have chosen a midpoint between the U.S. and Europe in
terms of our economic success," he said. "I think we can choose a
midpoint in integration as well."

Mr. Lenihan said his department would investigate ways to provide
extensive language classes for adult immigrants and to increase
training for unskilled local Irish workers.
But immigrants' representatives say the government needs to do more.
"Ireland should be taking a lead in Europe," said Jean-Pierre Eyanga
Ekumeloko, a naturalized Irish citizen from Congo and a co-founder of
Integrating Ireland, an independent support group for immigrants.

Mr. Ekumeloko said the Irish prime minister should lay out a plan for
welcoming and integrating immigrants. He said many were working jobs
for which they were overqualified. "A lot of things have changed in
interactions between the Irish community and immigrants," he said,
adding that in the past he had heard racist remarks. "Things have
changed very positively. Now Irish people know Africans." At a
restaurant table in Lucan, in western Dublin, Dulce Huerta, a Mexican,
and her husband, an Irishman named Lorcan Donnellan, cradled their
5-week-old child. They talked about the strains population growth was
causing in their area, near the district of Lucan Esker, which
according to the census numbers is the youngest spot in the country.
More children under 4 live there than anywhere else in Ireland. "The
maternity hospital was packed and needed more staff," Ms. Huerta said.

They fretted about how the huge housing estates under construction
would add to local traffic. "The roads cannot cope already," Mr.
Donnellan said. "It's going to get more choked."  A new mother at a
nearby table, Suzanne Leyden, an actuary, said the authorities seemed
to have anticipated the growing needs by opening or expanding primary
schools. "Secondary schools will be the next big challenge," she said.

Derek Keating, a local councilor for the Lucan area, said: "The big
picture is that we are playing catch-up all the time. There is a lack
of infrastructure, in everything from schools to recreational
activities." In the northern Dublin suburb of Swords, Gerard Kelly, a
teacher for 25 years and now a principal, said his school would
struggle to meet the demand for classroom seats when it opened in
September. "Back in 2001 we had 21 children," Mr. Kelly said. "Next
September we will have 340. We have children from 40 countries."


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