Poles flee ailing Irish economy
Published 28/10/2008 | 09:28
When the European Union expanded eastward in 2004, Ireland opened its doors to workers entering from former communist states to help maintain record economic growth. Now, immigrants are heading for the exit.
The number of people leaving Ireland next year will outstrip those moving to the country for the first time in 14 years, according to Economic and Social Research Institute in Dublin. The biggest exodus will be among the 170,000 workers who arrived the past four years from Poland and other east European states.
''It's a very hard situation,'' said Artur Kawczynski, 30, who lost his factory job in Galway on Ireland's west coast 10 days ago. ''I rang my friends in Poland to ask what job opportunities there are like.''
Immigrants like Kawczynski fed the manufacturing and building booms that helped double the size of Ireland's economy during the past 10 years and made it the most dynamic in western Europe. Now the seizure in credit markets has plunged the country of 4.4 million people into its first recession in two decades, pushing unemployment to an 11-year high. Economic growth remains above 5 percent in Poland.
As many as 30,000 immigrants have already left Ireland over the past year, with a further 35,000 set to exit next year, according to estimates by Jim Power, chief economist at Friends First, a Dublin-based insurer. The economy shrank 0.5 percent in the second quarter and by 0.3 percent in the first.
''People are responding to changes in the economy,'' Power said. ''In a small country like Ireland, where immigrants have made such a major contribution, it's far more visible that in a bigger economy such as the U.K.''
Poles have changed the face of Ireland. Bars sell Polish beer alongside Guinness; butchers advertise Polish sausages and pork cuts along with Irish beef.
In all, 1.2 million Poles may have moved to the U.K. and Ireland since 2004, according to Warsaw-based Centre for International Relations. Of those, 400,000 may lose their jobs, Krystyna Iglicka, a professor at the think-tank, said.
''When I came to Ireland, it was completely different,'' said Damian Sasiak, 25, who arrived four years ago from Poland. ''I remember when I changed a job three times in a day. It's much more difficult now.'
Sasiak reckons that numbers at the gigs he organizes for Poles have fallen by a third to 350 as people leave. Three weeks ago, Chaplins, a pub in central Dublin, closed the Polish-themed bar it ran on its first floor for two years.
At first, the bar, which opened three nights a week, sold Polish beers such as Zywiec and showed Polish soccer internationals was ''flying,'' said George Bourke, manager of Chaplins, which lies close to the banks of the River Liffey.
''As people started to get laid off and going home, business collapsed,'' said Bourke. ''Some nights we would have maybe two people up there.''
Zagloba, a Polish bar across the river from Caplins, stopped serving pierogi, stuffed dumplings, and golabki, cabbage rolls, after sales dropped by about 30 percent in recent months, according to Renata Nowak, its manager.
''Ireland is going down, while Poland is going up,'' said Slawka Gruzewska, 23, an air steward for Dublin-based Ryanair Holdings Plc, at the bar. ''Poland will be the new Ireland.''
In Ireland, immigrants hold 16 percent of jobs, according to Power. One in three catering positions is held by a foreigner, and they account for 16 percent of the construction industry.
''Jobs are likely to be lost in all these sectors over the next couple of years,'' said Power. ''People are going to go home or try other places where the economy is better.''
Poland's government is targeting average economic growth of 5.1 percent this year and next, boosted by EU investment in roads, consumer spending and building of new offices and apartment blocks. The unemployment rate there has halved to around 9 percent over the last two years.
By contrast, Irish joblessness is rising, led by a 18 percent decline in construction work in September from a year earlier. Irish house completions will fall 45 percent this year, as real estate prices slump, according to Dublin-based Davy, Ireland's largest stockbroker.
Not everyone is planning to leave. Hourly pay in Poland is 3.80 euros per hour, a quarter of the Irish level, according to the IW economic institute in Cologne, Germany.
''There are plenty of jobs in Poland,'' said Piotr Czyzewski, 34, who organizes mortgages for Poles in Ireland who want to buy property at home. ''But the money isn't so good.''
And the slowdown is benefiting at least some Poles in Ireland. Jolanta Czarnecka runs a tourist company in Dublin, taking her compatriots sightseeing all over Ireland.
''My customers say they want to see it now, because they're leaving in two months,'' said Czarnecka, 35, who runs Jolanta's Magic Tours. ''They're going home for Christmas and don't know if they'll ever come back.'' (Bloomberg)