Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Emigration Statistics.

Michael P. Kitt


3 Mr. M. Kitt asked the Taoiseach if he accepts that there is no real research on statistical information leading to a policy on emigration; and the steps, if any, he will take to make this information available. [17657/95]

The Central Statistics Office has made considerable progress in recent years in the provision of statistical information relating to migration. In May 1994 it introduced a new annual statistical series on population estimates and gross migration flow information covering the period 1986 to 1993. Subsequent releases have updated this information to April 1995. The annual series provides preliminary estimates of gross inward and outward migration flows classified by country of origin/destination, broad age groups and sex.

In the absence of administrative controls on the movement of persons into and out of the State the Central Statistics Office makes full use of available alternative information sources when estimating the annual migration flow data. These include the annual labour force surveys, the country of residence inquiries conducted at sea and air ports, passengers statistics and adminstrative records such as the Register of Electors and the child benefit scheme.

A check on the accuracy of the net migration figures is provided by comparing the results of successive Censuses of Population with due allowance being made for the effects of births and deaths. This may result in revisions to the preliminary estimates of migration for inter-censal periods.

If the Government is to have a policy on emigration, will it include a specific question on emigrants in the 1996 Census of Population?

The question arises as to whether this should be included in the form for the 1996 Census of Population. I acknowledge we have received a number of submissions on this matter from the Irish Episcopal Commission for Emigrants, the Irish in Britain Representation Group and from the Emerald Isle Emigration Centre. In reply to these requests the CSO stated it is not possible at this stage to include such a question in the census for the following reasons. First, the Government has already decided on the content of the 1996 census form and printing arrangements are now nearing finalisation. The Government's decision was taken following consultation with Government Departments and outside agencies. Second, a comprehensive question on emigration does not appear to us to be a practical proposition. Difficulties would arise under a number of headings. How should complete households which may have emigrated be accounted for? Who should answer for a person who may have emigrated many years ago and whose parents may now be deceased? The possibility of double counting or omission would arise if a sibling or a more distant relative were to answer. Problems with recall would also be likely to seriously affect the quality of the replies.

Will the Minister of State indicate when that decision was made? It has been said that we know more about the export of our livestock than of our people. Will the Minister of State answer some simple questions? How many emigrants leave this country? To where do they emigrate? At what age do they emigrate and what qualifications do they have? How many return to this country? These are simple questions which the Government should be in a position to answer.

In relation to the accuracy of the figures, it is generally acknowledged that the cross-checking of patterns is carried out by way of a whole range of questionnaires, surveys, etc. These include the labour force surveys, the country of residence inquiries conducted at sea and air ports, passenger statistics and administrative records such as the Register of Electors and the child benefit scheme. On this basis it is generally assumed that our records are reasonably accurate. In relation to the actual figures, they have been checked and cross-checked over the years and I can give the Deputy the figures if he so wishes.

In 1988 the outward migration figure was 61,100, inward migration was 19,200 giving a net migration figure of minus 41,900. In 1989 the outward migration figure was 70,600, inward migration was 26,700 giving a net migration figure of minus 43,900. In 1990 the outward migration figure was 56,300, inward migration was 33,300 giving a net migration figure of minus 22,900. In 1991 the outward migration figure was 35,300, inward migration was 33,300 giving a net migration figure of minus 2,000. In 1992 the outward migration figure was 38,900, inward migration was 40,900 giving a net migration figure of plus 2,000. In 1993 the outward migration figure was 41,000, inward migration was 35,000 giving a net migration figure of minus 6,000. In 1994 the outward migration figure was 41,500, inward migration was 31,500 giving a net migration figure of minus 10,000. In 1995 the outward migration figure was 39,500, inward migration was 33,500 giving a net migration figure of minus 6,000.

I would be the last person to recommend more impositions on travellers or any imposition on people's civil rights but I must confess that before and since my time in Government I have not been impressed by the level of statistical information emanating from the Central Statistics Office. I am not saying that everyone in that office does not work as hard as possible but the reply from the Minister of State raises the question as to why information cannot be available for the following year. With the availability of computerisation and technology I do not accept these types of answers. It should be possible to include the questions referred to by Deputy Kitt on the census form. When the labour force survey and the live register figures are published, a Minister has to stand up in the House and say that the answer may be something to do with emigration, etc. There is no reason a little common sense on the part of Departments cannot be used — at least by the use of the RSI number — to tie up all those figures.

For years and particularly in recent years, the statistical information on the national accounts has had to be revised. During these days of increased use of computers and technology, I am not impressed with the level of information being given——

This is tending towards debate rather than questioning. Let us have precise questions, please.

——and I would like the Minister to do something about the matter.

How can we include a question on a census form to ascertain precise information where an entire family emigrates or where one member of a family lives in Dundalk, another in Drogheda and another in Belmullet. It is desirable to have precise information but further consideration would have to be given to the inclusion of a question which would obtain accurate information in this regard. There is already a question on where people were born. The same applies in regard to the census of population in other countries. For example, in 1991 Irish born persons classified by country of usual residence was as follows: Northern Ireland, 35,000; Great Britain, 592,000; Australia, 52,000; Canada, 17,000; the United States, 170,000 and other countries, 34,000. The US census of population was for 1990 but it is as accurate as we can be.

Is the Minister aware that even where measurements are taken there is a margin for error which may be as high as 25 per cent? Are there any proposals to obtain accurate statistics in this area, particularly as regards certain age groups of emigrants?

We are open to suggestions on how we can improve the methodology and accuracy. Deputy McCreevy referred to the use of PRSI numbers etc. but I cannot think of any system which is completely accurate. Nevertheless I would like his proposal to be examined in detail to see if it would give a precise measurement. An RSI number applies to taxpayers, people who pay PRSI etc. and it is important to look at how it would give an accurate measurement of the number of people who have emigrated. There is no obligation on a person signing on at an unemployment exchange to indicate his intention to emigrate next week. I will ask the CSO to look again at this issue. Such a question is not included in the census of population envisaged for next April. As regards the accuracy of the figures, as Deputy Dempsey who was in this position last year knows, we defend our figures which are based on a cross section of a range of different measurements. That is the best we can do in the circumstances.

The live register figures, the labour force survey and the statistics on emigration, school leavers etc. are published at different times of the year and paint different pictures. Would it be possible to paint one picture from which proper planning could be developed.

It is generally recognised that the labour force survey gives the most accurate statistics on the level of employment and unemployment. The survey covers 5 per cent of households and this year it gave an employment figure of 39,000 for 35,000 households.

The live register is not satisfactory.

There is a growing disparity between the live register figure and the labour force survey but this phenomenon is not unique to this country. We are looking at the possibility of introducing more regular labour force surveys.

Quarterly surveys?

We are considering quarterly surveys and it is anticipated that this will become thede facto situation in the not too distant future.