Spotlight on Research: Mary Gilmartin and Jennifer Dagg

Authors - Dr Mary Gilmartin (left) and Dr Jennifer Dagg (right)

Posted: 15 October, 2021

  • New research assesses immigrant integration in Irish society


The Central Statistics Office recently estimated that non-Irish nationals make up about 13% of the population of Ireland (CSO, 2021). This percentage has remained relatively stable for over 15 years. It shows the ongoing presence and significance of immigrants in Irish society.


Given this, how are immigrants getting on in Ireland? This is a question we’ve been asking and answering through our research project ‘Mapping processes of settlement and integration in contemporary Ireland’. Our main focus was immigrant integration, but what exactly does this mean? In our project, we defined immigrant integration as “the process of becoming an accepted part of society” (Penninx and Garcés-Mascareñas, 2016, p.14). We like this definition because it is an aspirational definition, but that makes it more difficult to assess. How, exactly, do we know if people are becoming an accepted part of society?


In our research, we considered three main ways to assess immigrant integration. The first was to measure levels of immigrant integration. The second was to look at the support provided to immigrants in the process of integration. The third was to highlight the views of immigrants in deciding what it would mean to be an accepted part of society. Taken together, these three approaches offer insights into how immigrants are getting on in Ireland, and some of the challenges they face.


First, we looked at levels of immigrant integration. Countries around the world make an effort to measure levels of immigrant integration, and they do this by comparing immigrants with non-immigrants across a range of measures, such as education, employment and housing. Often, these measures are for a country as a whole, and they don’t take in differences that already exist within the country, for example between urban and rural areas.


In our project, we found that where people lived affected their level of integration in Irish society. We discuss this in detail in our article on measures of immigrant integration across three regions: Dublin, the Border, and the West. For example, immigrants were more likely to own their own home if they lived in the Border region, and immigrants living in the Dublin region had higher levels of employment and household income. Our research shows the need to measure levels of immigrant integration regionally as well as nationally, because of the spatial differences that already exist within Ireland.


Mary Gilmartin (L) and Jenny Dagg (R) at a workshop on integration outcomes held at Maynooth University Social Sciences Institute, June 2017



Second, we looked at the support provided to immigrants in the process of integration. This support is sometimes described as ‘settlement services’: helping immigrants to settle and make a home. While there are some settlement services in Ireland – often provided by NGOs or local authorities – these are not as well developed or well funded as they could be. Access to services also depends on where people live, with limited services available in many parts of the country. Our article suggests that settlement services should be better funded, and should address people’s specific needs in particular places – for example, housing needs in Dublin, or English language classes in the Border region – more directly.


Third, we asked people to tell us what integration means for them, rather than solely relying on official measures. In our article ‘Integration as Making Place’, we highlight a number of different issues that could be better captured when we report on integration. This includes the wide variety of ways in which immigrants contribute to Irish society.


Understanding integration is important for knowing how immigrants are getting on in Ireland. Our research and publications show the need to expand how we define and measure integration and enhance how we support integration. Better integration outcomes will benefit Irish society as a whole.


Dr Mary Gilmartin is Professor of Geography at Maynooth University. Dr Jennifer Dagg is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Centre for Disability Law and Policy at the National University of Ireland, Galway. The research project ‘Mapping processes of settlement and integration in contemporary Ireland’ was supported by the Irish Research Council (IRC) under the Research for Policy and Society Scheme 2016.  

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of the Irish Research Council.

Read more

Gilmartin, M. and J. Dagg (2021) Spatializing immigrant integration outcomes. Population, Space and Place 27(2), e2390.


Gilmartin, M. and J. Dagg (2021) Finding the Gap: Immigrant Integration Outcomes and Settlement Service Provision in the Republic of Ireland.  Journal of International Migration & Integration. [Open Access]


Gilmartin, M. and J. Dagg (2021) Integration as Making Place. Journal of Immigrant & Refugee Studies. DOI: 10.1080/15562948.2021.1974148 [Open Access]



CSO (2021) Population and Migration Estimates. Available online at


Penninx, R. and B. Garcés-Mascareñas (2016) The Concept of Integration as an Analytical Tool and as a Policy Concept. In B. Garcés-Mascareñas and R. Penninx (Eds.) Integration Processes and Policies in Europe: Contexts, Levels and Actors (pp.11-29). Springer.

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