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The Warsaw Voice » Other » March 4, 2009
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Bonds of Kinship
March 4, 2009   
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Declan O'Donovan, Ireland's ambassador to Poland, talks to Hilary Heuler.

What is the state of bilateral relations between Warsaw and Dublin? In what area do the two countries cooperate closely politically?
Ireland and Poland enjoy excellent relations, politically, culturally, socially and commercially.

In the past, contacts have been fairly limited due to historical and geographical circumstances, though there have been some interesting intersections as well. But the modern cycle of bilateral exchanges dates back to 1990, when we established an embassy in Warsaw after the end of the communist rule and when Ireland began training a large number of Polish public service officials. This was initially to help Poland take on the huge administrative challenges of the transformation years, and then to help complete the path to EU accession. After accession, the relationship between the two countries really took off among private citizens, and it has developed hugely in the last five years.

Everybody knows that enormous numbers of Poles moved to Ireland since 2004 to find work. There have been maybe 300,000 in total, maybe more, we cannot know for sure. While many Poles did-as the Irish did in the past-live abroad as long as necessary to achieve economic goals and gain experience, others will remain in Ireland indefinitely, and there will undoubtedly be a long-term presence of Poles in the country. At the same time, Irish tourists have been exploring Poland, and many Irish businesses have come to Poland to operate. With the growth in contacts between our peoples we expect to see a significant increase in the number of Irish people living in Poland, and of course we would always encourage new arrivals to make themselves known to us at the embassy.

In the political sphere, knowledge and appreciation between the two countries is growing on many levels. President Kaczyński traveled to Ireland in 2007 and the Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern visited Poland in 2008.

Ireland and Poland cooperate in a number of areas in the EU where our interests coincide, including agriculture, competition policy, taxation, development aid, social policy, humanitarian relief tasks, and peacekeeping. We both have long experience together in the Middle East and more recently in EUFOR in Chad.

And in business, Ireland and Poland now enjoy an exchange of trade in goods of over 1 billion euros-about double the figure it was when I first arrived here in September 2005. Trade in services has about doubled as well. Irish investment in Poland is harder to calculate, but it may be about 6 billion euros at this stage.

What are the common points in how Poland and Ireland see the future of the EU?
Ireland and Poland both strive to be at the heart of the EU. Ireland considers that the EU has been an exemplary and perhaps unique model of conflict resolution. It has also been a vital engine of economic growth, without forgetting the necessity for cooperation, cohesion and solidarity between member states. In its enlargement process, the Union has been a vehicle for the dissemination of progressive values and the transformation of the political and economic systems of Central and Eastern Europe. Ireland and Poland both subscribe fully to the shared values that underpin the EU's existence. For Ireland, the EU allows us to guard and promote our interests while contributing to a better future through the Union, in trade, in peacekeeping, in development aid, and in responding to the crises that affect the world.

What opportunities attract Irish companies to Poland?
Under the right circumstances, Irish companies looking for opportunities to generate income can find it rewarding to do business in Poland, particularly in these challenging times. One opportunity is the Euro 2012 Football Championships, which will see a huge amount of infrastructural development. Irish companies have the expertise and experience to capitalize on this. Plus, EU funding allocated to Poland from now until 2013 will mean massive expenditure in areas in which Irish business can make a real contribution.

Another factor encouraging Irish businesses to get involved in Poland is the willingness of many Polish companies to form links with Irish companies, especially those with a background in innovative, modern technologies. In the current climate, I would suggest that Irish business could stake out opportunities in renewable energy, an area which has great potential for development in Poland. In wind energy, for example, Irish firms can bring in considerable experience from home.

The Embassy and Enterprise Ireland are always ready to assist Irish businesses that want to look into these possibilities further, or who need assistance in resolving certain commercial difficulties. The number of Irish companies in Poland is already growing steadily. That's why an Irish Chamber of Commerce was established in 2005, and it is now a thriving network for business contacts.

Are there any cultural events planned for the near future in which the embassy will take part?
The Embassy will be very active in 2009 on the cultural front. In February we joined with Czuły Barbarzyńca bookshop in Warsaw to host a very successful Evening of Love Poetry, in a sideways tribute to the (perhaps surprising) fact that St. Valentine's bones are buried in Dublin. In the near future, we will be donating 100 Irish books to Warsaw University Library. In April, leading Irish novelist Ronan Bennett will visit Warsaw to read extracts from Zugzwang, his recently-translated historical novel featuring Polish characters. In May, accomplished Irish harpist Gráinne Hambly will give a concert at a stunning venue in the University of Warsaw, and hopefully another concert outside the capital as well. In summer, the Embassy will present a recital by Cathal Breslin, an award-winning Irish pianist who has performed and been recorded throughout the world. In September the Embassy will present the Irish language to Poland as a living, working tongue, through our participation in the European Day of Languages. We would also like to arrange a showcase of Irish short films, both live-action and animated, and the embassy is planning to mount a photographic exhibition called A Century of Irish History in Newspaper Photographs, which is a display of Irish Independent photos. Finally, we are looking into the possibility of screening the Beckett on Film project. There are also a lot of cultural events organized by Irish associations throughout Poland as well, and we try to support these however we can. We are always open to accepting contact details from people interested in attending Irish cultural events, and we welcome suggestions about what more we could do in the future.
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