Trinity Immigration Research Programme Presents its findings on Immigration in Ireland

Posted on: 02 July 2010

The Trinity Immigration Initiative, a three-year research programme addressing the key challenges of immigration in Ireland launched its report recently (June 30th).  The research findings cover the areas of employment, education and integration.  It is intended that data generated by the research programme will help inform and promote policies in relation to these issues.  The research was supported by funding from AIB.

Commenting on the significance of the overall findings of the report, the Trinity Immigration Initiative chair, Professor James Wickham said:  “With the recession, new mass immigration to Ireland has ended. However, contrary to some expectations, the immigrants have not ‘all gone home’. This report shows how the last ten years have changed Ireland irreversibly into a much more diverse society.”

The research findings of the report, ‘Addressing the Current and Future Reality of Ireland’s Multi-Cultural Status’ in employment, education and integration are:


Professor James Wickham led research that examined employer and migrant employee strategies in the Irish labour market focusing on individual migrants’ careers and employment practices in the Irish workforce. The core of the project comprised multiple interviews with Polish migrants. The migrants were involved in jobs ranging from less-skilled service positions to managerial and professional positions in construction, hospitality, software and financial services.

The research showed that despite the economic recession’s impact on the levels of immigration, the labour market retains and can be expected to retain its multicultural nature.   In keeping with international migration research, the study indicates no general exodus from Ireland.   While the demand for continued large scale immigration is currently at an end, the labour force will remain multi-cultural and a realistic migration policy has to be concerned with more than managing ‘labour supply’.

While the initial decision to emigrate is taken primarily on economic grounds, the decision to stay is more complex. The longer migrants stay abroad the stronger are the social networks in the host country.  Such networks help sustain the migration process independently from short-term economic changes, including recession. Many migrants found the lifestyle in Ireland attractive. Quite apart from the wages, some find Irish workplaces less authoritarian and more personally rewarding than those in their country of origin.

The research also found evidence that immigration impacts on the employment sector in negative as well as positive ways.  In the hospitality sector, for example, Irish employers used the availability of a plentiful supply of labour to casualise its workforce. As a result, the provision of extensive vocational training provided by the State for entrants to the sector declined, membership of trade unions fell, and a long-standing State backed system of wage regulation became marginalised.

Education – English Language Support Programme

Figures show that 7% of primary school pupils and 5% of post-primary students in the Republic have a first language that is neither English nor Irish. Ensuring that they can access mainstream education is one of the greatest challenges posed by the recent surge in immigration in Ireland. The challenge is particularly acute at post primary level. The English Language Support Programme led by Professor David Little carried out an extensive survey of current practice and developed a collection of learning materials for use in English support and mainstream subject classrooms.

The survey showed that the provision of English language support was poorly coordinated and in some, it was haphazard. There was widespread tendency to assume that newcomer students belong in the same category as students with special needs. Teachers identified serious deficits in the system, in particular a lack of language learning materials related to the different curriculum subjects. 

The survey and case study research uncovered widespread dissatisfaction with the Department of Education and Science English language support policy. The policy provides only two years of support per pupil and makes no allowances for individual variables such as age, previous education among other factors. Mastery of academic language can be achieved only by engaging directly with the different curriculum subjects which means that educational integration requires the teaching of curriculum subjects to include an appropriate focus on language. This would also benefit Irish students, but it has major implications for syllabuses, examinations, textbooks and teacher education.

Resulting from the survey and analysis of curriculum language by the researchers,   the English Language Support Programme has developed learning materials which are available to schools free of charge via the project’s website ( where they can download 200 units of language support activities for Junior and Leaving Certificate subjects together with lesson plans for teachers.

Integration -Children, Youth and Community Relations

The research led by Professor Robbie Gilligan, conducted an in-depth study of the multi-cultural experience of children in 20 classrooms in seven primary schools in inner-city Dublin and a study of the experiences of 169 young immigrants aged 15-17 across the country.

In general, a positive picture of young migrants in Ireland emerges. They are highly motivated and have a strong sense of the value of work and education. Their families are encouraging of their efforts. In certain aspects of the school curriculum, they may be quite advanced. They tend to demonstrate with increasing age, a sense of maturity.

There are also real challenges that young migrants face in Ireland and they will need support from the wider community and society, if their integration is successful.

These challenges include language and accent issues.  Even when these are removed, communication and cultural misunderstandings arise within schools with teachers and with other students. This can be a source of frustration and sometimes conflict. One aspect of this is when for example, hardworking and ambitious students may be put in classes which they feel do not match what they see as their true level of academic performance.

Racism and bullying are experienced across the age range.  The research shows prejudice ranging from milder forms of ethnocentrism to much more aggressive hostile attitudes and actions.

Migrant children often have very limited social lives outside of school and compared to local peers engage in very few organised activities other than in religious services or related social activities.

Young people who arrive in Ireland in their teens can have particular problems.  They may have greater difficulty learning news languages and accents. They have fewer friends because of having missed primary schools. They may also find differences between the style and content of education in their home country and Ireland.

Integration – Migrant Networks: Facilitating Migrant Integration

The research led by Dr Ronit Lentin showcases the wealth and variety of migrants’ activism through its study of 430 migrant led associations including migrant women’s networks.  Migrant networks are a key feature of migrants’ own efforts to adjust to their new circumstances. These networks configure and re-configure through various stages of development demonstrating flexibility in their approach to addressing members’ needs.   The associations and networks display strengths and capabilities which belie the marginalisation or social exclusion many feel. Migrants know their rights, develop strategic plans, define areas of intervention and concern and implement strategies for improving their conditions and standing.

In addition to the above projects, there are two additional strands of research which will be completed shortly. They are the ‘ National Policy Impacts’ led by Dr Eoin O’Sullivan which focuses on the impact of immigration on the criminal justice system and on the housing system.   And the ‘Parallel Societies/ Overlapping Identities’ led by Dr Peter Muhlau examines the integration processes of migrants across Europe.

About the Trinity Immigration Initiative:

The Trinity Immigration Initiative (TII) brings together key strands of TCD’s strategies in research, teaching and contribution to society, positioning the university to play an influential role in developing a more inclusive, multicultural society for Ireland’s future. The first key initiative in the TII is a major Research Programme on Diversity, Integration and Policy. This programme is designed to stimulate a quantum leap in research activity in relation to immigration, helping to generate evidence relevant to local and national policy and contributing to international debates and the development of international practice.   The programme is a unique and multidisciplinary suite of six interlocking projects which will: address key challenges posed by the unprecedented numbers of migrants arriving in Ireland in recent years, and  help Irish society develop appropriate policies and practices for the new reality.

The Trinity Immigration Initiative has been developed by the following TCD researchers:

Professor Robbie Gilligan, School of Social Work and Social Policy

Dr Ronit Lentin, School of Social Sciences and Philosophy

Professor David Little, Centre for Language and Communication Studies (CLCS), School of Linguistic, Speech and Communication Sciences

Dr Eoin O’Sullivan, School of Social Work and Social Policy

Dr Peter Mühlau, School of Social Sciences and Philosophy

Professor James Wickham, School of Social Sciences and Philosophy