Ire­land sees huge spike in for­eign work­ers

The Washington Times Weekly - - World - By An­thony Healy

DUBLIN — First-time vis­i­tors to Ire­land may be sur­prised to find that the comely colleen serv­ing Guin­ness in the lo­cal pub is, in fact, Pol­ish.

Af­ter sev­eral cen­turies of a hard­scrab­ble life that has seen Ir­ish men and women em­i­grat­ing around the world, tak­ing their cul­ture and leg­ends with them, a decade of rapid eco­nomic­growth­has­made­the­land of sham­rocks a pri­mary des­ti­na­tion for hordes of im­mi­grants, mainly from East­ern Europe.

For­eign­na­tion­al­snowac­count­for 10per­centofthe­p­op­u­la­tion,twiceas many as just two years ago, forc­ing the gov­ern­ment for the first time to be­gin­draftin­gafor­mal­im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy to deal with the in­flux.

“Makenomis­take,wearein­com­pe­ti­tion­withothere­conomies­for­goa­head peo­ple with ex­pe­ri­ence or qual­i­fi­ca­tions that are in short sup­ply at home,” said Michael McDow­ell,them­i­nis­ter­for­jus­tice,whomust find a way to bal­ance the na­tion’s deep-seated tra­di­tions with the “CelticTiger’s”grow­ingde­mand­for skilled la­bor.

“Im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies are first and fore­most about what is best for Ir­ish so­ci­ety.”

But recog­ni­tion of the eco­nomic need for for­eign work­ers has done noth­ing to ease the shock ex­pe­ri­enced by one wo­man on a visit to Dublin from rural Ire­land. “I asked three peo­ple for di­rec­tions, and not one of them spoke English,” she com­plained.

Sim­i­lar anec­dotes about pubs where all the staff speak Pol­ish are bor­ne­out­byre­cent­fig­ures­fromthe Cen­tral Of­fice of Sta­tis­tics.

More than 80 per­cent of the new im­mi­grants are un­der age 44, and al­most half come from states that joined the Euro­pean Union in 2004. Large num­bers are em­ployed in the re­tail, agri­cul­ture and con­struc­tion sec­tors, help­ing to fuel one of the fastest-grow­ing economies in Europe.

The eth­nic and lin­guis­tic mix­ing, con­fined a few years ago to the cap­i­tal,nowreach­esin­to­even­thes­mall­est and most re­mote towns and vil­lages. Amid the wild scenery of Con­nemarainthe­far­west­ofIre­land — where John Ford filmed “The Quiet Man” — is the Kil­lary Ad­ven­ture Cen­ter. All the bar staff and kitchen staff are Pol­ish.

“It’s good to be able to talk to each other in Pol­ish,” said Anna, who has been in Ire­land for two years and in­tends to re­turn to Poland “when I’ve saved some money.” She asked that her last name not be used.

In­the­south­east­ofIre­land­inDun­gar­van, pop­u­la­tion 15,000, there is now a Pol­ish Ad­vi­sory Cen­ter, lo­cated just down the road from the Pol­skie Sk­lepy — the Pol­ish Gro­cer. The lo­cal movie theater re­cently hosted a Pol­ish film fes­ti­val.

Then­ation’smainIn­ter­net­ser­vice provider, Eir­com, now pro­vides its ser­vices in Pol­ish, as do many large com­pa­nies.

By far the largest bloc of new im­mi­grants come from Poland and Lithua­nia, hav­ing re­ceived an au­to­matic right to work in Ire­land when their coun­tries joined the Euro­pean Union in 2004.

Stunned by the un­ex­pected in­flux, Ire­land has fol­lowed Bri­tain in im­pos­ing­tougher­restric­tion­sonci­t­i­zen­sofRo­ma­ni­aandBul­gar­i­awhen their na­tions join the EU in Jan­uary.

Michael Martin, the min­is­ter for en­ter­prise, trade and em­ploy­ment, has said it is time “to take stock, be cau­tious and con­cen­trate on ad­dress­ing the in­te­gra­tion needs of those who have al­ready come to live and work in Ire­land.”

It is not clear how the new leg­is­la­tion will af­fect the hand­ful of Bul­gar­i­ans and Ro­ma­ni­ans al­ready liv­ing in Ire­land — peo­ple like Chris, a Bul­gar­ian who over­stayed a stu­dent visa, works in a su­per­mar­ket while study­ing ac­count­ing, and has mar­ried an Ir­ish­man.

“It is very strange, is it not?” said Chris, who spoke only on the con­di­tion that her real name not be used. “In most coun­tries in the world, the men­chasethe­women,butinIre­land it is the women who chase the men.”

Agence France Presse / Getty Images

Thou­sands of demon­stra­tors marched in a na­tional day of protest in Dublin last De­cem­ber against the dis­place­ment of Ir­ish staff by for­eign­ers and al­leged ex­ploita­tion of mi­grant work­ers.

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