Ireland’s population surges to highest level in 150 years

By Joe Leary
Special to the BIR

The population of Ireland before the famine was a little over 8 million people. Many thought this was an over-population that was at least partly responsible for the tragedy.

Now there are predictions that, despite the impact of the recession, an 8-million population number on the island of Ireland is within the foreseeable future.

In June, Ireland’s Central Statistics Office published the first results of the 2011 census. According to the new information the Republic of Ireland’s population now stands at 4,581,869, an increase of 341,421 or 8 percent over the last count in 2006. The results were about 100,000 above what was predicted by the census office just a few months ago.

According to the Irish Times, the Republic’s population in the early 1860’s was 3 million-plus after the loss of large numbers of its citizens to famine death and immigration. Today’s figures show the population is surging once again.

The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency reports on its web page that its estimate of the Northern Ireland’s population has reached 1,812,000 in 2011. The island of Ireland’s total population, therefore, consists of nearly 6.4 million people.

Last year, a new North-South professional study, commissioned by Intertrade Ireland, a body established under the Good Friday agreement, and compiled by Engineers Ireland and the Irish Academy of Engineering laid out what would be required for the island to survive a huge population increase over the coming two decades.

The year-old-report indicated the population will rise to 8 million people by 2030, 6 million in the South and 2 million in the North. But the recently released census figures seem to indicate an 8 million population will come much sooner than 2030, meaning that new hospitals, new schools, and new jobs will be urgently needed.

A nearly complete restructuring of the infrastructure will impact all of Ireland, but will most dramatically affect what is referred to as the Belfast/Dublin corridor where over half of the 8 million people are expected to live.

New sources of power may require that at least 30-40 percent of electricity will have to come from wind turbines. Water availability, a perennial problem for western Ireland, will require a major east/west pipe system that will draw from lakes and rivers as it goes across the country.

Some innovative source of funds will be required such as the infrastructure bank that Germany has today.

One of the most interesting recommendations was the investment of $3.6 billion in a Japanese-style high speed rail link between Belfast and Dublin that would reduce travel time between the cities from two-and-half hours to 75 minutes.

Ireland, with the highest birth rate in Europe and some of its brightest minds, is already preparing for its future.