Irish attitudes to diversity highlighted by new study

New research has shown that attitudes to immigration in Ireland became more negative during the recession, and are now lower than the Western European average. Personal experience and social contact are found to promote positive attitudes to immigration and migrants in Ireland.

The new study entitled Attitudes to Diversity in Ireland draws on a survey of attitudes from the European Social Survey collected since 2002. It has found that the attitudes of Irish-born people to immigrants and immigration vary significantly over time, depending on the ethnicity of the migrants, on respondents’ education and financial security, and on the level of individual contact people have with those from different ethnic backgrounds.

The research published jointly by the ESRI and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission looks at Ireland’s increasing diversity and monitors attitudes for the period from 2002-2014. The results for Ireland are also compared with averages from ten other Western European states.

Key findings include:

Attitudes to immigration and migrants have been impacted by recession and recovery. The positive perception of immigrants’ contribution to the economy increased between 2002 and 2006, before decreasing in 2008 with the onset of the recession. The most negative attitudes towards migration were registered in 2010, with attitudes becoming more positive as the economic outlook improved.

Attitudes vary significantly towards specific groups. 58 per cent of those surveyed showed support for immigrants of the same ethnic group as the majority population in Ireland, in contrast with 41 per cent support for Muslim and 25 per cent support for Roma migrants. Support for Muslim and Roma immigration is lower in Ireland than the average for ten other Western European countries surveyed.

Frequent contact with people of different races/ethnic groups is directly associated with more positive attitudes, if the contact is positive.  Around one in four Irish-born people have contact with someone from another race or ethnicity every day, with 58 per cent reporting contact at least weekly.

No age, rural/urban or ideological divide. There was no statistically significant difference between the attitudes of people of different ages or between rural and urban areas in levels of support for immigration. Similarly, there is no clear link between left-right political views and support as is seen in other European States.

Regarding beliefs about race and ethnicity, just under half of adults born in Ireland believe some cultures to be superior to others while 45 per cent believe some races are born harder working than others. Both figures are somewhat above the European average measured in ten other States.

The report’s analysis includes lessons stemming from the findings for Ireland:

  • Facilitating meaningful and positive interactions between the Irish-born population and immigrants is likely to reduce anti-migrant sentiment, for example, through community-based initiatives and inclusive urban planning.
  • Providing accurate information on the characteristics of migrants, for example, levels of education and rates of employment, has an important role to play in informing the public about migration and in challenging perceptions of migrants as a uniform group.
  • Tackling poverty and promoting educational achievement in Ireland are likely to promote greater social cohesion and understanding of ethnic minority groups.
  • Attitudes monitoring is a vital tool for the future in understanding the social context of migrant integration.

Ireland is also due to be examined by the UN under the State’s obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (UNCERD) and this report’s findings will also inform the Commission’s submission to this UN expert committee.

Emily Logan, Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission stated:

“To support an integrated society, it is important for us to know how people in Ireland feel about changes in the population, and to understand the kind of social, economic and cultural factors which influence attitudes to diversity.

“This report offers an understanding of the prevailing attitudes to diversity and how those attitudes are formed, and will help the Commission in its mission to build a fair and inclusive society that protects and promotes human rights and equality.”

Lead author of the report, Frances McGinnity of the ESRI stated:

“Attitudes to minority groups are important as they can influence behaviour like recruitment decisions and voting, as well as how welcome minority groups feel. Given recent negative public debate about immigration in parts of Europe and the US, the ongoing monitoring of attitudes to migrants remains important as an indicator of the challenges that need to be addressed in order to support migrant integration and social cohesion in Ireland.”