It is estimated there are over 200,000 Poles working in Ireland. They
have arrived since this country, Sweden and the UK opened their borders
to the new EU guestworkers in May 2004. They are here to do the
lower-paid jobs in construction, hospitality and domestic service
industries that the new mega-wealthy Irish would not condescend to do
themselves any more.
Being familiar with both cultures, it is no less disconcerting to walk
along the Liffey and hear nothing but Polish spoken. In the Temple Bar
tourist area a Polish cowboy called Pan Witek busks at twilight as
naturally as he would in Krakow. Would the Irish pay to hear a Polish
ballad? There was money in his hat but that could be because some of
the Americans probably thought he was singing in Gaelic.
On the surface, the Irish appear to be very comfortable with their new
Polish brothers and sisters. There were fears that the basically
monocultural Irish would buck at Johnny Foreigner flooding their
streets. But this seems to be a genuine marriage of
convenience. Of course, being Catholic helps.
Dublin is a voracious newspaper town with five national dailies, two
commuter giveaways and six Sunday papers – and the media have been
quick to latch onto the dividends of diversity. Tony O’Reilly’s Evening Herald publishes a 12-page Polski Herald feature every Friday. The Limerick Leader recently won a multicultural media award for its daily Polish Note supplement.
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Ireland first multi-ethnic radio station, Sunrise 94.9FM, began
broadcasting to a potential audience of 300,000 in Dublin on St
Patrick’s Day. TV’s City Channel targets Poles with its Oto Polska
Extra program shown several times a week. With cranes still dotting the
Dublin skyline (I counted 11 lying in bed this morning) the O’Poles are
likely to be riding the Celtic Tiger economy for a good while yet.
Meanwhile, the latest polls show there could be a change of government
in Ireland at the general election due next year. Support for the
Fianna Fail-Progressive Democrats coalition of Taoiseach Bertie Ahern
dropped from 42% to 38% last month in the Sunday Business
Post Red C poll, while the Fine Gael-Labour coalition opposition led by Enda Kenny
gained 3% in the same period.
If these results are repeated in
the general election, FG and Labour would be able to take power with
the support of the Greens (yes, Ireland has Green Greens, honk) and
some Independents. Sinn Fein’s support remains at 8%, while the Green Party has
dropped from 7 to 6%. Independents from 9 to 8%.