Current levels of emigration in Ireland are not comparable with the 1980s a conference on contemporary Irish and European migration trends at University College Cork was told on Monday.

Piaras Mac Éinrí of the department of geography and the Institute for Social Sciences for the 21st Century at UCC said that current trends tended were more complex than the 1980s.

“I don’t believe that the figures put out by the ESRI that 1,000 people a week are leaving are correct. I don’t see a shred of evidence to support that. The most we had [leaving] last year was 63,000, but a minority of those, 27,700, were Irish,” Mac Éinrí said.

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“The rest of those who left were migrants from other countries so you are comparing 27,700 with, at its height in 1988-89, 70,000, so it ain’t the same. I’m not saying emigration isn’t a problem, but we need a more nuanced and considered discourse.”

The discussion heard that a notable difference was that the majority of those leaving present day Ireland are highly skilled professionals, several  of whom would return to Ireland.

“Of the people who left in the 1980s, half of them came back,”Mac Éinrí added. “The problem is that there are still people leaving in disadvantaged circumstances who don’t have the qualifications to do well elsewhere and they resemble the traditional type of emigration we’ve always had.”

The conference heard that there was an urgent need for the Irish government to allocate funding for retraining, so that  unskilled workers could find gainful employment if they are forced to emigrate.