Meath working out well for Latvian


DIFFERENT VOICES/Eastern Europeans: Ainars Korsaks is very interested in Irish history and has toured many historic sites around his adopted Co Meath, including Trim Castle, the Hill of Tara and Newgrange.

This is the third year the 33-year-old Latvian has spent working in Ireland, initially harvesting mushrooms and currently cutting leather in a furniture factory in Navan.

He was among the first group of five Latvians to come to Navan in 1999. Up to 800 non-EU workers from the Baltic states and central and eastern Europe are now working in factories and small agricultural industries and hotels in Co Meath.

An area of Navan called Flowerhill, where many asylum-seekers and migrant workers live, has been dubbed by locals Notting Hill after the multicultural area of London famed for its annual carnival.

Ainars returned home last year to Riga, the Baltic state's capital, to marry his Latvian girlfriend Inta (23). The couple's 11-month-old son, Richard, was born there. He says he hopes eventually to return to Latvia "maybe in two years, maybe five, maybe 10".

"Riga and Latvia is my country," he said. "Ireland, I just work here. I like, I am long time here, but my country is my country."

For now, Ainars is content to work hard and to try to save.

"In Latvia we work all day, from eight in the morning to nine. It's normal," said Inta. "At the moment we just send money for our parents."

Ainars does not speak very good English but he gets by. He takes home about €200 a week, slightly above the minimum wage. That is good money in comparison with Latvia, where Ainars said he earned about €150 a month in a furniture factory.

Inta has worked in the Republic in the past, but is currently visiting her husband on a three-month holiday visa. The couple first worked together in a mushroom farm, harvesting the crop when it ripened in bursts called "flushes", which sometimes meant starting work at 5a.m. Ainars shrugs when asked about that job. "Mushrooms is mushrooms. It was hard work. It was OK."

The couple say many people of their generation go abroad to work. When Latvia joins the European Union in the coming years, this labour migration will be less restricted.

Before coming to Ireland, Ainars did seasonal work harvesting flowers in greenhouses in Norway.

"Some people go to Germany, France and other countries in Europe. But I like Ireland. It is a little bit different to other countries," he said.