THE number of Irish people being forced to emigrate to find work has hit a 20-year high, with the numbers edging towards the 30,000 level.
The level of overall emigration, including non-Irish nationals, has remained constant at 65,300. But the number of Irish nationals leaving these shores including families was 27,700 in April, up 42pc on last year.
Migration from other countries to Ireland has also slumped. The number of migrants dropped significantly to 30,800 in April from 57,300 last year, according to new figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO).
The figures also show the highest level of net outward migration to 34,500 in April since 1989.
Economists said yesterday that our youngest and brightest are being forced out of the country to find jobs because of slump in the economy.
"The bulk of this is forced emigration," said Friends First economist Jim Power.
"What we're doing is what we did very well in the 1980s and it is unambiguously negative.
"There are no opportunities for young people and graduates. Young families are also having to leave the country because there are no job prospects."
Youth support groups have called on the Government to commit itself to a dedicated employment strategy in light of the figures.
Youth Work Ireland (YWI) warned the loss of a key productive sector of the population will hamper any future recovery if growth returns.
"We need to see young people as a resource for example in starting new smart-tech companies in new economic areas," said Michael McLoughlin of YWI.
The UK remains the most likely destination for Irish emigrants although others are travelling to Canada, Australian and the US.
"It (the UK) accounted for 14,000 leaving emigrants, while a relatively high 23,000 are going to the 'rest of the world' which includes Australia," said Ronnie O'Toole, economist with National Irish Bank.
"A total of 14,000 eastern European workers returned to the region in the year, partly because of the pull of the Polish economy."
According to the CSO, the overall population remains strong with our high birth rate.
There were 74,100 births in the year ending in April, while deaths stood at 28,200 -- resulting in a natural increase in the population of 45,900.
A breakdown of the figures also shows the number of people aged 65 and over exceeds half a million for the first time. The overall population increase was strongest in the mid-east with the strongest growth of 1.6pc while Dublin experienced the biggest decrease of 0.3pc.