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Irish Speakers Have Head Start in Jobs Race

Irish speakers are a new elite in employment and education, according to a cross-border analysis by leading academics.

The report, co-authored by Professor Vani Borooah of the University of Ulster, found that the Republic’s labour market has an inbuilt bias that favours Irish speakers, even though many do not converse or use the language in their work. 

They are better educated and have a small but significant advantage over non-Irish speakers in securing professional, managerial and technical (PMT) jobs. 

In Northern Ireland, the ratios of people who have Irish and are in PMT jobs or have degrees are broadly similar to the Republic, the report finds. 

Professor Borooah has just been named in the top 10 per cent of more than 2,000 UK economists - and highest ranked in Northern Ireland - by a world-renowned research and publishing unit of the University of Connecticut. He is Professor of Applied Economics. 

The other authors of the report, entitled 'Language and Occupational Status: Linguistic Elitism in the Irish Labour Market', are University of Limerick academics, Donal A. Dineen and Nicola Lynch. 

The report, using samples from UK and Irish census returns, set out to establish any advantages that Irish might speakers have in the Republic.  

There, 42 per cent of Irish speakers were in PMT jobs, compared to 27 percent of non-speakers. In Northern Ireland, the corresponding ratios were 36 and 23 per cent.  

In the North, similar ratios of Irish speakers and non-Irish speakers were unemployed, while in the South unemployment among non Irish-speakers was twice that of Irish speakers.  

The report found that in Wales there were almost equal ratios of Welsh speakers and non-Welsh speakers in PMT jobs, 27 per cent and 25 percent respectively, whereas 23 per cent of Welsh speakers had degrees, compared to 16 per cent of non-Welsh speakers. 

The report pointed to the growing number Irish-language schools and “networking” as possible reasons for Irish speakers’ success. 

In the Republic, all other factors being equal, the report said that “the likelihood of an Irish speaking worker being in the upper echelons of social class were significantly higher, and the likelihood of an Irish speaker in the labour force being unemployed were considerably lower.” 

Professor Borooah says: “If you look at people who are in PMT jobs, such as doctors, teachers, nurses etc, a greater proportion of Irish speakers are in these jobs than non Irish speakers. 

“One thing that emerges is that Irish speakers are better educated than non-Irish speakers. They do the kind of subjects that take them into these kinds of occupations.  

“It's a network effect. If you are in a network of Irish speaking people and part of that culture, and some of them are already in good jobs, well if a vacancy comes up, all things being equal they will prefer an Irish speaker to a non-Irish speaker. It is a network; you belong to a ‘club’. 

“Irish language schools produce results almost as good as fee paying schools and they certainly produce better results than English-language government school.”