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From ‘flood’ to ‘trickle’: Irish migration to Britain 1987

Bronwen Walter


A dramatic change in the size and direction of emigration from Ireland has taken place over the past 20 years. The most striking feature is the sharp decline in movement to Britain from the Republic of Ireland, a traditional supplier of labour for well over 200 years. By contrast there has been a small increase in emigration from Northern Ireland, an important element of which is higher education students from Protestant backgrounds, who may be permanent migrants. Detailed statistics available from the Central Statistics Office of the Republic of Ireland show that proportionately more women have left as gross numbers have declined. This reflects the persistence of social, rather than predominantly economic, causes of emigration, also evident in the range of socially excluded people for whom Britain represents a ‘safety valve’. Two groups now characterise the Irish population in Britain; the ageing 1950s cohort and their children and grandchildren, the large second and third generations.

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