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Business View: A billion reasons to toast this international influx

By Margaret Canning

The Centre for Peace Building and Democracy - a body set up by the unlikely bedfellows of former Alliance Party leader Lord Alderdice and DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson - has aimed to provide some clarification on the impact migrant workers have had on the economy in Northern Ireland.

The centre found that migrant workers have contributed around £1.2bn to the economy between 2004 and 2008.

Separate research commissioned by the Northern Ireland Assembly two years ago found that around 120,000 international workers settled in Northern Ireland between 2000 and 2010.

Many will have come here following the unprecedented EU expansion of 2004, when borders extended to include 10 new countries, including Lithuania, Cyprus, Poland, Malta and many others.

Many made Northern Ireland their home - in fact, Dr Raymond Russell's 2012 paper for the assembly says that Northern Ireland attracted a disproportionate number of people from eastern European countries, compared to the rest of the UK.

Portuguese workers began arriving in 2000, along with nurses from India and Philippines.

Particularly after 2004's expansion, many migrant workers settled in Dungannon, Newry and Mourne, Craigavon and Belfast.

It's become something of a cliché to point out that poultry processor Moy Park - Northern Ireland's number one company - employs vast numbers of international workers.

And given that its parent company is Brazilian giant Marfrig, maybe it's appropriate that its workforce here is so international.

Nigel Smyth, director of the CBI, points out that our recovery would have ground to a halt without migrant workers.

No doubt Moy Park owes much of its present predominance to their international workers, too.

We are lucky compared to our friends in the rest of the UK in that our public discourse on immigration is not poisoned by the same frequent misconceptions and lazy assumptions.

But of course, that's because our discourse is poisoned by our own religious and political prejudices. We should be glad others have come to help our economy through tough times.

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