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Emigration is to blame as birth rate falls by 1,200

MASS emigration of Ireland's young people is having a knock-on effect on our birth rate -- which fell by 1.6pc last year.

Thousands of Irish men and women in their 20s and 30s have been forced to look for work overseas and now many of those are opting to start families abroad.

This has caused the number of births to drop by 1,223 to 74,377 in the space of one year. However, we still have the highest birth rate in the EU.

The Economic and Social Research Institute's (ESRI) 2011 figures, released yesterday, represents a 1.6pc fall since 2010 and a 2.2pc fall from 2009.

At the peak of the recession in 2009, births were at an all-time high and sociologists pointed towards similar trends in other global recession times.

But now rising emigration rates has impacted on birth rates. A significant number of European immigrants from countries like Poland, Latvia or Lithuania have also left Ireland to return home.

Professor Michael Turner, head of the HSE's obstetrics and gynaecology programme, said that the drop in births could be attributed to emigration rates -- more than 87,000 people left in the 12 months to April this year.

Despite this, Ireland maintains the highest birth rate of any of the 27 European Union countries.

And it appears that Irish women are leaving it later to start having children.

Almost 29pc of mothers were at least 35 years old and the average age rose to 31.7 years, with just 2pc aged 19 years or less.

The average age of women giving birth was 31.7 years. Almost a third were single mothers, nearly a quarter were not Irish and four in 10 were having their first child.

The statistics also show a 27pc reduction in the number of newborn babies who have died in the last 10 years.

There were less than 300 stillbirths, which was a 29pc drop since 2002.

A total of 153 babies died within their first week of life in 2011.