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The Warsaw Voice » Other » March 12, 2008
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Home Away from Home
March 12, 2008   
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Declan O'Donovan, Ireland's ambassador to Poland, talks to Ewa Hancock.

What is the state of bilateral relations between Ireland and Poland?
Bilateral relations between Ireland and Poland are excellent. That is often said of relations between countries but in the case of Ireland and Poland it is true at a personal level: we like and admire each other and we have more reason to do that now given the presence of so many Poles in our country making a valuable contribution to our economy and society since Polish accession to the EU in 2004. It is also true in state relations: our governments also like and admire each other. We have a great deal in common, notably in the EU where we have the potential to work closely together. Currently, we are both contributing significantly to a UN-mandated EU-led military peace-keeping mission in Chad. Business links between us are growing very rapidly and form another area of exciting development in our relations. In fact, it is hard to think of disagreements between us, which of course makes my life as ambassador an easy one!

At the end of last month, the Taoiseach (Prime Minister of Ireland), Mr. Bertie Ahern T.D., visited Warsaw and had a very friendly and useful meeting with Prime Minister Donald Tusk on a wide range of subjects, including important EU issues which will arise at this month's European Council meeting in Brussels. The Taoiseach called on President Lech Kaczyński whom he knows from the president's state visit to Ireland in February 2007. They also had a fruitful discussion. The Taoiseach met too with members of the local Irish business community in Poland.

Such personal contacts between political leaders are very important, especially as the EU has expanded to comprise 27 members.

What areas of the Polish economy are most attractive for Irish investment?
The Polish economy is developing so quickly that it is difficult to give an up-to-date answer to this question. Financial services, engineering services, consultancy, the construction sector and agriculture have been the main areas of interest for Irish business. Irish property investors have been very active on the Polish scene for 20 years now. Many key developments in Polish cities have Irish involvement.

Irish business people will be keen to explore new opportunities that will arise in the future, particularly as Poland avails of EU funds to develop its national infrastructure and to prepare for such major events as the co-hosting of the Euro 2012 soccer championships.

How big is the Polish expat community in Ireland?
The official Irish census taken on a particular day in 2006 showed just over 63,000 Polish people were resident in Ireland at that stage. But this is accepted to be a very low figure. There is free movement in the EU for Poles so far as we are concerned, so we do not have exact figures. We can make estimates based notably on PPS figures, PPS being the number allocated to workers for employment, tax and social security purposes. Estimates have put the number of Poles in Ireland as high as 250,000. The reason for such variations probably stems from the rather different nature of modern migration patterns. Cheaper air tickets permit people to travel between countries on a temporary basis with little or no difficulty and hence numbers can fluctuate greatly; 150,000-200,000 is probably a reasonable estimate at this point.

I want to emphasize that the presence of Polish people in Ireland is very welcome indeed. Poles have contributed greatly to our society in economic and social terms. They have integrated very well.

What do you feel about so many Polish people emigrating to Ireland?
My feelings are similar to those that occur when I think of many Irish people, including members of my own family, who have been required to go abroad to the United States, UK and elsewhere in order to find new opportunities. While this can be hard on families and friends who remain behind and on individuals themselves, it is certainly welcome that such opportunities exist and that these days they are far more accessible.

Unlike in previous episodes of emigration, however, better air connections and the internet mean that home is no longer so far away. The Polish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Radosław Sikorski, told me recently that "Ireland is no longer abroad" and he is right. Not just in the sense that Ireland is a very friendly country and easy to get to, but in the sense that we have so much in common in the new Europe that we can feel at home in either country and work in both. An Irish person leaving for Poland or a Pole leaving for Ireland is not so dramatic an event as it used to be. That is a very good thing. Some Poles will stay in Ireland, some will go back but many will keep a foot in both countries in the future. My feelings about Polish people going to Ireland are entirely positive. I think we live in exciting times.

On St. Patrick's Day, Monday, March 17, a visiting Irish government minister will meet with President Lech Kaczyński at the presidential palace and present him with an Irish crystal bowl of shamrock. Just as the shamrock has long been a symbol of Irishness for Irish migrants all over the world, so we would like to honour Irish migrants to Poland but also now especially Polish migrants to Ireland who have made such a valuable, vibrant contribution to our economy and society. The gracious acceptance by the president of the shamrock will also mark the close ties which are rapidly developing between our two countries.
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