Wednesday, 20 April 2005
Dáil Eireann Debate
68. Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he accepts the finding in the Central Statistics Office’s population and labour force projections which suggested that Ireland will need 50,000 immigrants a year over the next 12 years to meet labour force needs; if he accepts this projection; the way in which he intends to respond to the projection; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12095/05]
Mr. Martin: Economic migration policy in Ireland is predicated on economic needs and addresses identified labour and skills shortages. As the economy grew in recent years, there was a consequential increase in the demand for labour. Where suitable workers were not available in Ireland or the wider European Economic Area, which consists of the EU, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and for this purpose Switzerland, the shortage was catered for through the work permit system.
In a gesture of solidarity with the ten new EU member states, the Government decided to allow free movement to nationals of these countries from the accession date on 1 May 2004. It was also decided that future economic migration from outside the European Economic Area would be confined to more highly skilled and highly paid personnel. In 2004, 34,000 work permits were issued, of which more than 10,000 related to new applications. In addition, in excess of 50,000 nationals of the ten new member states entered the State from May to December 2004.
I am aware of the projections by the Central Statistics Office to which the Deputy refers. These projections are based on certain economic growth assumptions. Taking account of the projected future pattern of labour migration, including returning Irish emigrants, I am satisfied that Ireland’s labour needs will be met in the years ahead. To this end the new employment permits Bill being finalised will contain provisions which will enable me to respond quickly and flexibly to skills shortages as they arise.
Mr. Howlin: Will the Minister address the question? He stated he is aware of the CSO report. The question I asked is if he accepts the projection that this economy will need 50,000 immigrants a year over the next 12 years if economic growth is to be maintained at a 3% to 5% range.
Does the Minister also accept that there is a need for joined-up Government? His Department is often working at variance with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in these matters. For example, a case I am dealing with today indicates that people who have long-established roots in this country who apply for naturalisation must wait for two years or more for their case to be heard. Does the Minister accept that the changing face of employment and social structure in Ireland requires joined-up Government in a way that does not currently pertain? Will he as Minister ensure that there is a cross-departmental focus on this issue so that there is an orderly transition to a changing demographic and ethnic mix in Ireland and that the needs of the economy are met in a structured, rational and acceptable way?
Mr. Martin: I accept the CSO projections but all such projections come with the qualification that they are based on a range of assumptions. Given the assumptions made, especially those concerning economic growth and demographic factors, we are working on the basis that the figures given are those that will be required on an annual basis. The numbers that have entered the country from the new accession states is about 60,000. I will try to get hard data on that. The total up to the end of December 2004 was 50,000.
I accept the Deputy’s point on joined-up Government. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, and I have agreed a joint process whereby we will initially create a virtual one stop shop for people that will embrace the entire immigration service, visas, work permits and so on. We are now engaged in a joint programme to achieve that. My Department obviously has responsibility for economic migration policy and the new legislation on work permits will reflect that. I also retain authority over the issuing of work permits. Ultimately we want to reach a stage where people apply to the one office, in essence, and everything else will follow from that. Historically, both Departments will have come to this point from different perspectives. My Department is anxious to facilitate economic development and growth to ensure there are no labour shortages within the economy. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has a whole range of other objectives and protections to consider in terms of the wider State that it must statutorily deal with. The bottom line is that we are very anxious and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, has recently issued proposals as regards the one-stop-shop approach. He has also recently issued a thoughtful publication on immigration services and policy generally. “Yes” is the answer to both questions.
Mr. Howlin: I thank the Minister for his reply because it is important. Will he accept that there are basically three pillars to the issue? One is a rational policy of migration to meet the economic needs of the country and to allow people who want to increase their economic well-being to come here. The second is a rational policy to deal with asylum seekers, which is quite separate and often confused with the first pillar. The third is a rational and structured policy of integration to avoid strains and stresses on ethnic change in society. Will the Minister accept that this requires a joint effort from Government rather than it being the sole responsibility of an individual Minister? I deduce from his original answer that this type of thinking is now under way in his Department and within Government. When will the joined-up process manifest in structures that meet the needs of a changing Ireland?
Mr. Martin: It has already commenced. On the Deputy’s first two points about the economic migration policy and asylum seeking, rational policies are in place as regards both of them. A sophisticated skilled forecasting mechanism has been in place since 1998. It is the future skills needs group established jointly by the Tánaiste and myself. If we have learned anything from that, it is the necessity for flexibility and adaptability in terms of projecting what will happen in global economic trends and the different sectors requiring skills at various times. In terms of asylum seeking, Deputy McDowell has a clear framework in place.
Mr. Martin: We have had significant successes on both fronts. In terms of the integration issue, I accept this has to be a cross-Government approach. Again, there is evidence that employers in various sectors and under the aegis of different Departments have engaged in much proactive activity on the issue of integration, multicultural diversity etc., to try to provide a range of supports for people who come from other countries. We can do more and I have had preliminary discussions with the unions on how we may facilitate in particular the absorption and integration of workers from other EU countries, and indeed from outside the EU, who may have significant language difficulties, for example. By virtue of having significant language difficulties, they have problems in accessing information, which can be to their benefit, in terms of protecting their rights and so forth. I am broadly supportive of the points the Deputy has made. I would argue that we have rational policies in place in respect of the key issue of economic migration and asylum seeking.
Mr. Eamon Ryan: Will the Minister agree that in the interests of joined-up thinking, it would be good to know not just the numbers of migrant workers coming in but also to have some indication where they are working? The national spatial strategy is now being treated more or less as a joke by reasonable commentators. From what the Minister says, we are possibly looking at 60,000 to 100,000. If a significant percentage of this number is working in the Dublin area, for example, this has massive implications for infrastructural investment and national planning. Does he or his Department have any information about where those workers are employed? It would also be useful to know what they work at.
Mr. Martin: Because we took away the work permit requirement for citizens of the European Union and particularly those from the new accession states, there is not a ready-made database with information on the people coming in. It means one has to go through CSO statistics or locally based assessments of what is happening in terms of where people are living and so on. The Deputy is correct. The economic growth rates we are likely to experience to the end of the decade mean growth in the economy of around 5.5% on average as well as growth in the labour force. The CSO is saying that the labour force will continue to grow from 1.9 million, for example, at 2004 levels, to about 2.4 million in 2016. That is a very significant increase, which basically impacts on infrastructure, housing, utilities and a range of issues, including education, health etc.
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