One of my favourite scenes in the Simpsons is a dialogue between Mayor Quimby and one of his advisers, as an angry mob of citizens outside chants “Down with Taxes! Down with Taxes!” but also refuses to countenance any reduction in public spending (in this instance on their new bear patrol). The Mayor asks “Are these morons getting dumber or just louder?” The aide responds: “Dumber sir, they won’t give up the bear patrol, but they won’t pay taxes for it either.” The Mayor thinks out loud to himself: “Ducking this issue calls for real leadership” before turning to the mob and saying: “People! Your taxes are too high because of… illegal immigrants, that’s right, illegal immigrants. We need to get rid of them!”
Limerick’s very own Mayor Quimby, Kevin Kiely, has been making the news this week for comments he made about non-Irish EU citizens receiving unemployment benefits. You can see the reaction not only on the internet forums but also in the national newspapers. Naturally, any sort of comment these days bringing up issues of nationality is likely to be portrayed as racist, but surely we should look at the numbers before casting judgement. After all, Ireland’s in a big hole, and if somehow breaking EU law and managing to deport all non-Irish were to save us an absolute fortune, surely that would be a good thing, right?
Unfortunately, there’s absolutely no evidence to back up Mayor Kiely’s Modest Proposal to prevent the Foreign People in Ireland from being a burden to the country. Here are the top three reasons why.
1. The number of new-EU workers signing on is tiny compared with the total numbers signing on. An average of 43,000 people from the new EU member states signed on during the third quarter of the year, compared to 350,000+ Irish signing on. Also, the problem looks to have turned a corner with the numbers signing-on falling every month since April. The graph below shows the “severity” of the problem – the red line is the one Mayor Kiely is worried about, just in case you’re wondering.
2. For every single unemployed Eastern European in Ireland, there are four times as many still working. According to the last Quarterly National Household Survey, only 29,000 were classed as unemployed, while 124,000 were employed. Not only that, they are a pretty self-regulating bunch, as large numbers have been leaving of their own volition over the past two years. The total number of new-EU, employed and unemployed, has fallen steadily every quarter since late 2007, and by 30,000 in total. There are now just 150,000 – mostly happily employed -new-EU members of the labour force in Ireland.
3. Lastly, the “new Irish” in total haven’t cost us a cent since they arrived, in net terms. In fact, they’ve made substantial net contributions to the Government finances, thereby easing the burden for Irish taxpayers. Looking purely at the employment/unemployment numbers, and assuming their earnings profile is relatively close to the average manufacturing wage (which is lower than the economy-wide average), these people are currently “costing” the Exchequer about €32m a month in unemployment benefits. Meanwhile, they’re bringing in, through PRSI and income tax, somewhere in the region €75m a month.
It gets worse for Mayor Kiely. Summing up over the past 12 months, their contribution to the Exchequer has been about €1bn, while the Government has had to pay out about €350m. Perhaps, in some alternate universe, if there’d be 50 times as many of them (that’s right, if they’d doubled our population), we would have a problem and even then only a problem about as large as our government finances!
And that’s before taking into account things like the VAT the Goverment gets from their day-to-day expenditure. Or that the presence of 175,000 workers and their families has helped sustain Irish businesses that depend on consumer expenditure. Or any number of other factors.
Even looking crudely at just the Exchquer implications, though, the plain facts of this Modest Proposal speak for themselves: €350m out, €1,000m in, and that’s at the height of our recession. In Simspons language, I think Mayor Quimby will have to go back and have a long hard look at the Bear Patrol again.