Henry McDonald, Guardian (Manchester), November 15, 2009
Ireland is offering money to immigrants to leave the recession-crippled Republic. The Irish Department of Justice has confirmed that it is opening an EU-funded project to persuade foreign workers and asylum seekers to return to their country of origin.
A spokeswoman told the Observer this weekend that the scheme will only apply to non-EU nationals living in the Republic and would involve the department spending almost €600,000 this year to pay for immigrants and their families to return to nations outside the European Union.
“The grants will not be given to individuals but rather the scheme will operate through projects and organisations,” she added.
“They [immigrants] can apply for the fund only through organisations and community groups. It is the first time we have introduced the scheme.”
The department has made it clear it had no projected figure in mind as to the number of immigrants the government hopes will take up the repatriation grants.
Advertisements promoting the scheme were published in Irish national newspapers on Friday. Application forms will also be available for non-EU nationals in the main immigration centre on Burgh Quay, Dublin.
The voluntary repatriation programme comes at a time of rising fears about the cost of immigration into Ireland.
Last week the mayor of Limerick caused a political storm when he called for the deportation of EU nationals who were out of work for more than three months and were claiming social welfare benefits.
Kevin Kiely said: “We are borrowing €400 million per week to maintain our own residents and we can’t afford it.
“During the good times it was grand, but we can’t afford the current situation unless the EU is willing to step in and pay for non-nationals.”
However the mayor was forced to withdraw his remarks after a storm of protests. His own party, Fine Gael, distanced itself from his comments.
In a subsequent statement, Kiely said: “I still am of the opinion and so are others, who have approached me in recent days, that there is abuse of the Irish social welfare system.
“But in seeking to highlight this I inadvertently caused offence to others, which I very much regret.”
During the latter years of the Celtic Tiger boom Ireland underwent a demographic revolution in terms of its ethnic make-up. Up until the early 1990s Ireland was 95% white and Catholic.
However, according to the Republic’s central statistics office, about 18% of Ireland’s inhabitants are now non-nationals.
Most of them are from eastern Europe, China, Brazil and west Africa or are British citizens who have settled on the island.
Some academics, such as Dr Bryan Fanning of University College Dublin, estimate that the real figure is more than 20%, meaning Ireland’s “foreign” citizens make up over one fifth of the Republic’s entire population.
The majority of the immigrants who arrived during the boom years were enticed to Ireland to fill vacancies in the construction, retail and tourist sectors–the main parts of the Irish economy to be severely hit by the current recession.