Saturday 24 March 2018

Leap into unknown pays off for Polish in Ireland

Agnieszke Kowolezyk originally hails from Warsaw but moved to Dublin two years ago with her young daughter Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Agnieszke Kowolezyk originally hails from Warsaw but moved to Dublin two years ago with her young daughter Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

'I'm happy here. I'm not crying because I don't know how to pay my bills," says Agnieszke Kowolezyk.

It was a leap of faith for the Polish shop-worker to leave her life and her two adult children behind in Warsaw and move to Ireland two years ago.

She brought her six-year-old daughter, Gabbi, with her and they settled in Balbriggan, Co Dublin.

Gabbi now speaks fluent English, excels at Irish and tells her mother she "never wants to go back to Poland".

Agnieszke (40) got a job working at the large Polonez supermarket on Moore Street in the city centre which sells Polish staples like kluski noodles, sausage and sauerkraut.

Her English has come on in leaps and bounds thanks to a weekly class she takes in Balbriggan. Life is better here, she says simply.

"I don't have to think about my life - I can buy food and life here is very easy."

Her experience is a fairly typical one amid Ireland's solid Polish community of around 122,500 people, as shown in the Census 2016 figures.

It speaks of the success the Polish people have made of their lives here, becoming the largest minority group in this country, but the Census also throws a spotlight on the work that needs to be done.

Krzysztof Kiedrowski of the Irish Polish Society says the community needs to be represented at a political level. "In Poland, we have minority of German people and they are involved in politics much more than the Polish in Ireland," he says.

Barnaba Dorda, a SIPTU organiser, says language is the main barrier to full integration.

He has seen Polish people exploited in the workplace because they are unable to argue their case.

Some employers provide classes outside work hours but many workers are too exhausted to attend them, says Wojciech.

With the Government spending a lot of money on translation services in hospitals and courts, he believes State subsided English classes would make sense.

It is also important for children from Polish families to be able to study the language at school and to sit the exams in the Leaving Cert, he says, with Government plans afoot to put this in place.

Wojciech Bialek who runs the Cork-based support group Together-Razem for Eastern European migrants says the organisation has heard of UK-based Polish people who have moved to Ireland as a result of Brexit concerns.

He has to calm the fears of those who worry Ireland will go down the same route because of the close ties with the UK.

"There is a lot of tension in the EU and people want security," he says, adding that, in the end, about 80pc of the Polish population who settle in Ireland "will stay here forever."

Irish Independent

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