Attitudes towards immigration remain largely positive in Ireland despite some recent declines, ESRI research finds

25 Mar 2024


On 22 March 2024, the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) published new research which found that attitudes in Ireland towards refugees and immigration remain largely positive, both compared with previous data on attitudes in Ireland and compared with other European countries.

However, the research also found that some attitudes became less positive in the last 6 months of 2023 in particular, and that attitudes are more positive towards some groups than others. There has also been an increase in the proportion of people who feel immigration is one of the top two issues facing Ireland today.

Trends in attitudes and factors associated with different attitudes.

Irish positivity towards immigration has increased significantly over the last decade. Based on data between 2002 and 2022, beliefs that immigration make the country a better place to live generally, culturally and economically were historically high, with significant improvements following dips during the recession.

However, in recent years, there have been declines in some indicators including positivity towards immigration both from EU countries and non-EU countries. Several attitudes declined, especially between June and November 2023, including people’s positivity towards non-EU immigration and people’s feelings immigrants contribute a lot to Ireland. These declines in Ireland mirrored similar declines in average attitudes across the EU27.

There was a sharp and substantial rise in the salience of immigration to respondents in Ireland, with 14% of respondents stating immigration is one of the top two most important issues facing in Ireland in June and November 2023, compared with 3% in July 2022. This compares to 56% of people who said that housing is one of the two most important issues facing Ireland.

In addition, the research found that despite very recent declines in support for immigration, in November 2023, Ireland had some of the most positive attitudes towards immigration of all EU27 countries, ranked fourth most positive towards immigration among EU27 countries and the UK.

The research also analysed factors associated with different attitudes to immigration. Examining education level and perceived financial strain found that people with lower qualifications and those who find ‘making ends meet’ more difficult are less positive about immigration. Living in private rented accommodation is associated with more positive attitudes to immigrants and immigration when compared to those living in owner occupied accommodation, however people concerned about access to housing and services are somewhat less positive towards immigration than people concerned about racism, climate change or poverty in Ireland.

In addition, people’s perceptions of the past and future are linked to their attitudes towards immigration. Those who feel that their quality of life was better in the past or who have less confidence in the future are less positive about immigration overall and feel less comfortable with migrants in their everyday lives, especially with asylum seekers.

Attitudes towards different groups

The research found that there are varying attitudes towards different groups of migrants in Ireland. According to an Irish survey from March/April 2023, people in Ireland are more positive about immigration from other EU Member States and Ukraine (85%) compared to immigration from outside of the EU/Ukraine (73%). The research also found that people in Ireland are more supportive of helping Ukrainian refugees (87%) than asylum seekers (76%).

While the research showed high support for helping refugees, a survey experiment showed that this support may be conditional on the potential costs that providing support might bring, such as pressure on services or a tax increase.

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