Press reports of ‘suicidal Poles’ in Dublin are an exaggeration, says Ambassador.
The Polish Ambassador to Ireland, Witold Sobkow, is not a happy man. I have come to interview him about an article published in Newsweek Polska three weeks ago claiming that Poles are often living in misery in Ireland. He didn’t like the piece, I gather.
“If this sort of article becomes the norm in the Polish press then the Irish government might just stop giving Poles PPS [social security] numbers”, he fumes.
The Newsweek article claimed that many of the 120,000 Poles who have turned up in Ireland looking for work since Poland joined the EU in May last year have had trouble fitting in to Irish society, do not speak English, have not found work and are living in sub-standard accommodation or are homeless. In the last 12 months, says the magazine, eight lonely Poles have taken their own lives in Ireland, so complete was their alienation and isolation.
Newsweek blames the ‘fairytales’ told by Polish media about Dublin’s streets being paved with gold Euro coins. These stories have filled young Poles with false expectations of how easy it will be to make a new life for themselves in the Emerald Isle. And the Irish, says Newsweek, are using Poles, Czechs, Lithuanians and so on as cheap labour, while falling to provide support for those who run into trouble.
On the day that I went to see the Ambassador, the Irish Times picked up an article in StrefaEire – a Polish language weekly published in Dublin – agreeing with Newsweek. The Irish Times reports the editor of StrefaEire, Tomasz Wybranowski, as saying that media back home in Poland paint a rosy picture of life in Ireland, where everyone can find work. “The Polish media only shows one side of the story – the big money side,” he told the Times.
Irish employers are ‘racist’ in their treatment of Poles and other central Europeans who are competing with each other for jobs, says Wybranowski. He also thinks that this ‘racism’ will get worse if Ireland's booming economy falters.
The Polish Ambassador argues, however, that the 500 or 600 Poles who are having problems with work and accommodation make up less than one percent of Polish migrants, and that they are not representative.
Ambassador Sopkow told me that he has written to the editor of Newsweek – someone he says that he has met on several occasions – saying that the article is sensationalist and presents the hard luck stories as the norm, when they are, in fact, the exception. “But I have yet to receive a reply.”
Personally, I couldn’t find Poles willing to say that the Irish were racist. Izabela, who works as a television presenter on the City Channel’s Polish language programme said that she had not met anyone who was having as bad a time as Newsweek or StrefaEire make out.
I also asked a policeman if he has ever had any trouble with Poles. “I’ve never had any contact with Poles at all. They have not come here to be criminals,” he said.
The Ambassador claims that Irish employers do not discriminate against Poles – quite the opposite, in fact. “Polish nurses work longer and harder than their Irish counterparts. They are also better trained. Irish employers know that.” He also thinks that the Irish government is genuine when it says that it opened its borders to the new EU countries to share Irish prosperity.
I couldn’t find anyone to support the racist argument, but it would be a very unusual place if there was no exploitation going on in Ireland. For the Poles who have no qualifications and who can’t speak English then things are going to be tough. And if they are having a hard time then young Poles have the choice of going back home to a youth unemployment rate of nearly forty percent.
Saturday, December 10, 2005
Posted by beatroot at 12/10/2005