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The Warsaw Voice » Other » February 23, 2010
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Close Relations
February 23, 2010   
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Declan O'Donovan, Ireland's ambassador to Poland, talks to Ewa Hancock.

What is the state of bilateral relations between Warsaw and Dublin?
Ireland and Poland continue to enjoy excellent bilateral relations in various political and cultural spheres, and trade flows are developing rapidly.

Though history and geography have limited our direct contacts, we are making up for that apace. Ireland established an embassy in Warsaw after communist rule ended and we began training a large number of Polish public service officials in the operation of a Western democratic system. We continue to do so. The original intention was to help Poland shoulder the huge public administration challenges of the 1990s, and then to help complete the path to EU accession. But it was after EU accession in 2004 that the relations between the two countries really took off, especially relations between private citizens. These relations have developed hugely in the past six years.

At least 330,000 Poles have moved to the Republic of Ireland since 2004 to find work-less than 1 percent of Poland's population but demographically dramatic in the Irish context, if you consider that the Republic's population 10 years ago was just 3.8 million. The Poles have done what the Irish have been doing for centuries, therefore we understand it. In some cases the purpose has been to live abroad as long as necessary to gain experience or achieve economic goals. In other cases, whatever the purpose, people will remain in Ireland indefinitely. New arrivals have declined sharply but outflow has been much more limited than many expected. There will be undoubtedly a long-term presence of Poles in Ireland. I see that as an advantage for the development of our society.

Apart from their contribution in Ireland to our domestic economy, Poles now constitute the fifth largest group of travellers to Ireland after those from Britain, the United States, France and Germany.

Irish people have been increasingly discovering Poland. In 2009, there were about 18 direct air routes between Poland and the island of Ireland. There were well over 100,000 visits to Poland by Irish people in 2007 and 2008. The number for 2009 will be less for economic reasons, but not too much so.

Many Irish businesses have come to Poland to operate. The numbers are increasing as domestic Irish companies look for opportunities abroad. Often, they are guided by Polish employees or associates. With the growth in contacts between our peoples, we also see an increase in the number of Irish people living in Poland. I am pleased to see that a small but growing number of Irish students are starting to move to Poland to study in private colleges and universities. We encourage new arrivals whether for business or study or life to make themselves known to us at the Embassy. We can help and we can inform them about what is going on in the Irish network.

At the governmental level, knowledge and appreciation is growing. In 2009 the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheál Martin, visited Poland, as did the Minister for European Affairs, Dick Roche.

Ireland and Poland cooperate in many 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 our troops have served together in UNMIRCAT in Chad.

In business, Ireland and Poland now enjoy an exchange of trade in goods of over 1.4 billion euros-double the level when I first arrived here in September 2005. Trade in services has about doubled as well: Poland is now our 19th largest recipient of services. Irish investment in Poland is much harder to calculate, but it has been very significant. Remittances from Poles in Ireland have been a serious source of funding at about 1.2 billion euros per year, contributing to the consumption boom in the Polish economy but also to house building and to the establishment of small enterprises. Remittances from Poles abroad, totalling about 6 billion euros in total, about equivalent to EU funds, have been a major factor in the growth and of the Polish economy and its resilience at a time of recession in the sending countries. For whatever reason, remittances from Ireland have been calculated as being higher than, or equal to, those from the United Kingdom, even though reports suggest that there are at least three times as many Poles in the United Kingdom as in Ireland.

In what ways do Poland and Ireland share a common view of the future of the EU?
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.

Ireland and Poland both aim to be at the heart of the EU. For Ireland's part, this was confirmed in October 2009, when the Irish people approved the Lisbon Treaty in a second referendum, reinforcing our commitment to a Europe that listened to the concerns expressed by the people in the earlier vote. In Poland, the European Parliament election results showed a strong identification with candidates supportive of the EU.

Ireland considers that the EU has been an exemplary and perhaps unique model of conflict resolution and of cooperation and solidarity between member states. That is its greatest achievement, too often ignored in the normal democratic clamour. More recently, the EU has been a disseminator of democratic standards in the political and economic systems of Central and Eastern Europe.

The EU has also been a vital engine of economic growth. Moreover in the last two years, it has been force for stabilisation of the financial system in EU countries and worldwide and for eventual recovery from the financial crisis. At the national level, Ireland has taken some tough but necessary measures to restore equilibrium to public finances so that confidence will return. We are turning the corner.

What opportunities attract Irish companies to Poland?
Irish companies can find it rewarding to do business in Poland. The boom in consumption, housing, city facilities, services, road infrastructure pushed on by EU funding and the UEFA European football championships in 2012 present big opportunities. Irish companies have the expertise and experience to capitalize on this and are doing so.

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. Right now, Irish business might look at identifying opportunities in renewable energy, an area which has great potential for development in Poland. Irish firms can bring in considerable experience from home in wind energy, for example.

The Embassy and Enterprise Ireland are always ready to assist Irish businesses that want to explore possibilities or who need assistance in resolving certain commercial difficulties. The number of Irish companies in Poland is growing steadily. An Irish Chamber of Commerce was established in 2005. It has grown steadily and is now thriving as a network for business contacts.

What is the Irish Embassy planning on the cultural front this year?
An interest in Irish culture is continuing to blossom throughout Poland and numerous cultural events are being organised in 2010 in smaller cities and towns. We know of many but not all. This is a phenomenon.

For the Embassy, cultural activity is an essential means of developing relationships between countries and peoples. We had an attractive programme of about 15 events in 2009, and among my favourites were the concerts by Irish pianist Cathal Breslin and Irish harpist Gráinne Hambly. In 2010 we plan to have a wide range of cultural activities in the fields of music, literature and the arts.

To mark Chopin's bicentenary, there will be a concert and lecture by a young Irish pianist, highlighting the Irish influence on Chopin's work, particularly that of the composer John Field, born three decades earlier. In my house, I sometimes play recordings of Field and Chopin and ask guests to tell the difference! It's not easy, especially for Chopin's earlier works.

We will also focus on Irish traditional music, with a number of concerts in Poland by an acclaimed uileann (elbow) piper.

The work of the great Irish writer Oscar Wilde, with George Bernard Shaw the greatest wit in the English language of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, will be celebrated in April at a special event in cooperation with the University of Warsaw Library. There will be lectures by Wilde experts from Ireland and Poland and a performance of excerpts from his work.

Visits and readings by a number of contemporary Irish writers and poets are also planned throughout the year. The Irish language will feature at the annual European Day of Languages in Warsaw in 2010, giving Polish audiences the chance to hear the language spoken and learn a few words for themselves.

Irish film will also be on display in Poland in 2010. A special point of interest will be the beautifully animated children's film The Secret of Kells, screening throughout the country as part of the Nowe Horyzonty Children's Film Festival. A selection of the best Irish short films is planned to be shown to Polish audiences during the year. Aside from all the foregoing, we may also have additional events.

Sporting contacts are not what they should be. It is natural, I suppose, given very different interests, apart perhaps from soccer and athletics. In Ireland we have our own native sports of football, handball and hurling (GAA) not played outside Ireland, except in different versions in Australia in the case of football and in our Celtic neighbour Scotland in the case of hurling (shinty). Given the primary importance of these games, it is amazing that Ireland is current champion of the six northern hemisphere nations in rugby and a good performer at soccer-and might be at the World Cup this year but for the hand of Thierry Henry of France. A great joy to me is the establishment recently of a GAA club in Warsaw.

We are always open to accepting contact details from people, Irish or not, who are interested in attending Irish cultural events. We welcome all suggestions.
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