Number of immigrants in Ireland is out by least 85,000, admits CSO

THE number of foreign nationals living in Ireland may have been underestimated by more than 85,000 people, according to a startling new admission by the Central Statistics Office (CSO).

In its latest household survey (QNHS) for the third quarter of 2007, the CSO said that “tentative estimates” put the number of non-Irish nationals aged 15 and over in the country at 341,600. This figure represents just under 10% of the population.

However, a footnote to the survey points out that these figures are almost certainly wrong. “Initial analysis suggests that the QNHS underestimates the foreign national population by approximately 20% to 25%, ” it admits.

The readjustment would push the number of foreign nationals up to 427,000, over 12% of the population. The same readjustment would show the number of immigrant workers rising from 248,000 to 310,000, almost 15% of the workforce. “This would rank as one of the highest percentages of non-nationals in a labour force in Western Europe, ” the state jobs agency, Fas, said in its latest employment bulletin.

Even allowing for the underestimations, the CSO’s figures show that despite government assertions that the number of migrant workers from Eastern Europe has peaked, they have almost doubled from 86,000 last year to 126,000 today.

The number of workers from outside the EU has also increased, from 50,300 last year to 62,200 in the same period. Those from the UK have marginally dropped from 38,800 to 37,700 in the same period. The underestimation is a major headache for the Minister for Integration, Conor Lenihan, who relies on the regular CSO statistics to inform him before taking major immigration policy moves.

The CSO said that it would “recalibrate” its figures for migration estimates “at a later date”. One of the difficulties is that the QNHS is conducted in 39,000 households . . . or around 5% of the almost 1.7m households in the country. By contrast, last year’s census was conducted in every household.