03 February 2006

Numbers fall as age and time take toll on Irish in UK

Irish Independent

Bernard Purcell
London Editor

BRITAIN'S Irish population is disappearing, according to official statistics.

The social phenomenon of returning emigrants, or their children, is not new but for the first time since records began the number of Irish people in Britain has gone into decline.

The trend appears set to continue as age and time takes toll on a generation of 1950s, and later, emigrants.

Historian Ultan Cowley, a member of the Irish Episcopal Commission for emigrants and author of The Men Who Built Britain, points out that 500,000 Irish moved to Britain in the years after World War Two.

In 1960 alone, emigrants' remittances amounted to Stg£15.5m, just half a million pounds short of the overall Irish education budget, he says. Between 1939-69, Stg£2.2bn was posted back to Ireland.

Some of those people, the pre-1953 workers who have no Irish National Insurance Contributions, now receive a partial State Pension.

As of 2004 there were just 12,000 people in Britain (and Northern Ireland) in receipt of such payments.

But the people who sent home those Postal Orders and sterling notes are dying and dead, returning home in their infirmity or seeing their adult children and adult grandchildren move to Ireland.

The Office of National Statistics has just recorded for the first time a downward trend in the numbers of Irish in England and Wales.

It is the first statistical phenomenon of a widely observed social and business trend.

In 1991 the Department of Foreign Affairs routinely assessed the number of Irish in Britain at 845,000 people with three million second and third generation.

Among those were 592,283 'Irish-born' Irish living in Britain. But by 2001 this had dropped to 494,850. Overall the 2001 Census recorded 632,000 Irish in England and Wales. This figure has been plummeting because of a combination of deaths over births and reverse migration.

The just published ONS figures show population growth but record an overall decline among those people officially categorised as 'White British' and 'White Irish'.

They show a net decrease of 19,000 or 1.5pc of Irish people between 2001 and 2003. Irish government statistics of the net inflow to Ireland in the last three years mean this trend has yet to peak. In the past, mortality was more than offset by a constant flow of new Irish into Britain but since 2000 the numbers migrating to Ireland have exceeded 20,000 a year. Since 2001, , at least 132,000 people moved to Ireland.

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