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Marginalised Care: Migrant Workers Caring for Older People in Ireland


Older adult care in Ireland is a mix of public, private, voluntary and family provision. This model is characterised by deficient funding and support structures for both care recipients and carers, leading ultimately to fragmented service delivery, both in the community and in residential care. Against this backdrop, there has been a significant and rapid growth in the number of migrant registered nurses and care assistants providing care to Irish older people. With two potentially marginalised groups now at the centre of the caring relationship, questions arise regarding the sustainability of quality of care and quality of life for both providers and recipients of care. This research study draws on the perspectives of the older person, the migrant carer and the employer to develop an understanding of migrant worker care provision within the disadvantaged ageing sector in Ireland. The paper will frame migrant care workers’ experiences within the perspective of a marginalised sector, whose central consumers, older people, are not prioritised in policy or practice. Providing evidence of disadvantage for older adults and migrant carers, the research findings demonstrate that it is necessary to improve caring experiences and conditions for both groups if quality of care is to be enhanced.

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  1. 1.

    Care assistants are equivalent to direct care workers in the US/Canada and social care workers in the UK.

  2. 2.

    Prior to regulatory reform in 2007, non-EEA care assistants could apply for a work permit and would not have been subject to the same level of restrictions.

  3. 3.

    A thematic analysis was performed on the qualitative data with the use of Atlas TI qualitative data analysis software.

  4. 4.

    In the context of this study the triangulation of information sources refers to using multiple sources (in this case older people, migrant care workers and employers) to understand a single phenomenon—it does not refer to the combination of multiple and mixed methods, which are instead treated as complimentary sets of findings and are integrated at the level of analysis and interpretation (Moran-Ellis et al. 2006).

  5. 5.

    Three of the care assistants in this study were hired directly by older people and/or their families as live-in carers. While there is no official data available on the number of migrant ‘direct hires’, anecdotal information would suggest that this form of employment still encompasses a relatively small proportion of the care workforce.

  6. 6.

    Data on undocumented workers in the older adult care sector is primarily anecdotal, with little certainty about actual numbers.


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The authors would like to thank Atlantic Philanthropies who kindly funded this research. The authors would like to especially thank all those who participated directly in the research, particularly the migrant care worker interviewees, the older adult focus group participants, the employer interviewees and survey respondents and the stakeholder focus group participants. Thanks to the international project partners (the Centre on Migration Policy and Society—cross-national project coordinator—University of Oxford), the Oxford Institute of Ageing—University of Oxford, the Institute for the Study of International Migration—Georgetown University and the Community Health Research Unit—University of Ottawa) for their support and collegial contribution to this research. Finally the authors would like to thank all those who assisted and facilitated this research, particularly Adeline Cooney and Christine De Largy.

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Correspondence to Kieran Walsh.

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Walsh, K., O’Shea, E. Marginalised Care: Migrant Workers Caring for Older People in Ireland. Population Ageing 3, 17–37 (2010).

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  • Migrant care workers
  • Older people
  • Older adult care
  • Marginalised care
  • Quality of care