POLISH workers have sent home €5.5bn from wages they have earned since arriving here seven years ago.
Experts believe most of the money was sent home by young Polish workers to buy property -- although some older workers sent back large amounts to support their families. It is the first time the extent of the funds, measured by the National Bank of Poland, has been revealed.
In the past, remittances from Irish workers in Britain and the US were credited with keeping the country going during the economic recession in the 1950s. Families living on small farms were supported by members working abroad.
But Trinity College employment research centre director James Wickham said he believed the highly educated young Polish workers who came here sent back money for their own use -- just like young Irish emigrants in Australian and Canada do now.
"I don't believe that the majority of young Irish who have left are sending back remittances in the traditional sense. They (the Polish) work in Ireland for a couple of years and earn money to finish off buying their apartment or pay off credit card debts," he said.
During the economic boom, the remittances from Polish workers grew steadily from €146m in 2004 to €1.2bn in 2008. But the amount of money sent home by Polish workers has fallen due to the recession, which has seen many of them lose their jobs.
Remittances fell to €841m in 2009 and €670m last year. That figure has dropped again to €240m for the first six months of 2011, suggesting the level of Polish remittances for this year will be down substantially again.
Although this money was taken out of the Irish economy, the State would have earned revenue from taxes and VAT on money they spent on consumer goods while working here.
But Mr Wickham said the Polish workers were free to do what they liked with their money, just like Irish emigrants earning money abroad now.
"There are Irish citizens now working all over Europe and that will increase. And Irish citizens for a long time have worked in Britain and the States and sent back remittances," he said.
According to Polish embassy estimates, the number of Polish workers rose to 220,000 during the boom but has since fallen to below 180,000. The true figure will not be known until the detailed results of the 2011 Census are published. The embassy also believes up to 80pc of the Polish workers here were regularly sending home money.
"They want to return to Poland, they send money and invest in properties, in many different things," its consular section official Piotr Apostolidis said.
But he said around 20pc of Polish workers saw their future in Ireland.
"They live here with their families and probably they will stay for a longer period of time," he said.
Mr Apostolidis agreed with the results of a survey of Polish workers abroad, which named Ireland as the destination where they had the most positive experiences.
"Ireland has a very good reputation. It's more about the Irish people -- that they are friendly, open and have a good attitude toward foreigners," he said.