Attitudes toward immigrants reached an all-time low as the economy collapsed and unemployment soared, a study has shown.
Researchers recorded a rise in the number of Irish people who believed those from outside Europe made Ireland a worse place to live by 2010.
Fewer people also felt immigrants were good for the economy while there was an increase in those who thought the country's cultural life was undermined by them, the annual integration monitor report study revealed.
Killian Forde, of The Integration Centre, said the key to successful integration is proactive government policy and a tolerant, welcoming host population. He said: "On the former we have none, and the latter negative attitudes towards migrants are increasing. The government, as a matter of urgency, need to create a national policy on integration, and co-ordinate activities between government departments on integration."
The study, by The Integration Centre and researchers at the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) and the Geary Institute, found attitudes to immigrants in Ireland had been among the most liberal in Europe in 2002, 2004 and 2006, when just 6% of the population said no immigrants from poor non-European Union countries should be allowed. By 2010 the figure had soared to 22%.
"We find that positive attitudes towards immigrants increase from 2002 to 2004, and then decrease after 2006, reaching an all-time low in 2010, with more respondents reporting that immigrants make the country a worse place to live than did in 2002," it stated.
When compared to Germany, Netherlands, Spain and the UK, researchers revealed Ireland had some of the most negative attitudes to immigrants, with only the UK being worse. Highly-educated groups and younger people had more positive attitudes, compared to lower-educated groups and the over 65s.
More than half a million non-Irish people from almost 200 countries lived in Ireland on Census night in April 2011. Some 34,500 adults were made Irish citizens between 2005 and 2011, with another 9,500 granted in 2012 as a backlog of applicants was cleared. However, at 12% immigrants are twice as likely to be living in poverty. The unemployment rate was 18.5% for immigrants last year, compared to just under 15% for Irish nationals.
Dr Frances McGinnity, senior researcher with the ESRI, said non-Irish nationals have been harder hit in the labour market by the current recession.
"The evidence seems to suggest that rapid growth in the immigrant population, followed by economic recession, has resulted in increased concerns about, and resistance to, immigration in Ireland," she added. "The change in attitudes is modest, but of concern."