Huge scale of immigration is making our housing crisis worse
When we are debating issues like housing, schools, jobs, wages, hospital places or welfare spending, we never seem to factor immigration and its effects into the debate.
On the 'Marian Finucane Show' on Sunday, pretender to the throne of Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, listed three of the things Fine Gael stands for, namely free markets, Europe and "managed migration". I'm all for managed migration as well, but it begs the question, what does "managed migration" mean?
I presume it means the level of immigration we can successfully cope with.
One thing this means is that the level of immigration cannot be such that it puts too much strain on our infrastructure, which is to say on housing, on schools, on hospitals and the other things listed above.
It also means that immigrants are being successfully integrated into their new society and are not becoming alienated from it.
It means that immigrants by and large accept the core values of their new society.
An extremely important new report has been published this week by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) called 'Monitoring Report on Immigration 2016'.
The report is big and takes time to absorb, but the authors believe that overall Ireland is doing a good job at integrating its immigrants, although "challenges" remain. For example, while the employment rate for immigrants is high overall, it is much lower for Africans.
But what is clear from the report, or rather what it confirms, is that Ireland, proportionately speaking, has one of the biggest immigrant populations.
In 2015, 17pc of people living here were "foreign-born" (to use the term in the report). In Britain, the equivalent percentage is 13.
Aside from tiny Cyprus and Luxembourg, no country in the EU has a higher percentage of migrants from other EU countries (10pc).
Now, think about this for a moment.
In Britain, there is a very big debate about immigration. Many British people are concerned about their country's ability to absorb such a large number, to "manage" migration properly, as Mr Varadkar might put it.
The debate is so big that even the Labour party at the last general election promised measures to curb immigration.
Here, there is almost no debate about immigration whatever. In Ireland, any party expressing the sort of concern expressed by the British Labour party would be instantaneously condemned as 'racist' and that would be the end of the matter.
This is incredibly unhealthy. If immigration is putting pressure on our housing stock, on rental property and prices, on school places and hospital places, then we ought to know about it because it is adversely affecting Irish-born people.
A political system that won't even contemplate this possibility, that won't ask the questions, that doesn't even know what questions to ask, is quite literally delinquent in its duties.
Last year, I decided to ask the Department of Social Protection what percentage of rent supplement was paid out to non-Irish EU nationals, and non-EU nationals.
As at February of last year, the figure was 35pc. This is a remarkable total. Remember, 17pc of the population is "foreign-born", so immigrants are over-represented in the figures by two to one.
More recently, I asked Fingal County Council what percentage of its social housing stock is occupied by non-Irish EU nationals and by non-EU nationals. The total comes to 15pc, but the great majority (86pc) of the 15pc come from outside the EU.
I also asked what percentage of those waiting for social housing fell into these same categories. Some 61pc are Irish citizens (some might be naturalised immigrants), and the rest (39pc) are citizens of other countries, with 16pc from outside the EU.
The ERSI report shows that 70pc of non-Irish are in the private rental sector, as distinct from being homeowners etc. That's a lot of people. So, what effect is that having on the cost of rent and the availability of rental property?
Between 2012 and 2014, according to the same report, "the proportion of residents born in other EU member states decreased by one percentage point from 11pc to 10pc".
But over the same period the proportion of residents from non-EU member states rose from 4pc of the population to 7pc. That is, it almost doubled in just two years.
We had no debate about this. Short of leaving the EU, or the EU radically changing its rules (very unlikely), there is nothing we can do about immigration from other EU countries, but we can do more to control immigration from non-EU countries. Why aren't we doing that?
Saying it is 'racist' to even ask such a question is patently absurd. If the entire population of Cork was to move to Dublin tomorrow it would be absolutely valid to worry about the pressure this would put on housing, schools, hospitals, jobs and so on in Dublin.
It would be totally irresponsible not to allow these concerns to be aired.
When Mr Varadkar says he is in favour of "managed migration", we need to hear exactly what he means and how he measures it and what policy changes, if any, he intends introducing, if given the chance. As the son of an Indian immigrant, he is well placed to answer these questions because he can hardly be accused of racism.
But every Irish politician needs to answer the same questions, starting with the leaders of all the main parties.
It's time for some honesty in this debate.