'We don't feel that we are strangers here'
CENSUS STORIES THE POLISH INFLUX:WHEN POLISH-BORN Robert Partyka came to Ireland in 2005 he knew little or nothing about the country that was to become his home – aside from the facts it was English-speaking and there were opportunities for work.
“When I came at the end of 2005 I realised it was a really good time to be here. I saw opportunity here because of the Celtic Tiger, which was at the top at that time,” he says.
In spring 2006 his wife and his then 10-year-old daughter followed him to Ireland: “For us it was a new beginning . . . After two years we decided, okay, this is going to be our home country.”
Partyka and his family count themselves among the 122,585 Polish-born people living in Ireland – a figure almost 94 per cent greater than that revealed in the last census figures from 2006.
Despite the State’s changed economic fortunes since that census, there were 544,357 non-Irish nationals living here on the latest census night.
The figures indicate the number of non-Irish nationals has grown by 30 per cent overall since 2006 and, in the case of some nationalities, the increase is much greater: the number of Romanian nationals grew by 125 per cent; Indian nationals by 101 per cent; and Polish by 94 per cent.
The growth in the number of Polish people in Ireland means that, for the first time, there are more Polish nationals living here than UK citizens. The number of Polish people moving to Ireland has slowed as a result of the downturn (just 3,825 Polish people moved here in the first four months of 2011) and it seems the majority arrived pre-2008.
The demographic of Polish people in Ireland has also changed dramatically since 2006. This time around there were 2.4 times more Polish-born women living here than in 2006 and more than three times as many Polish-born children (aged 0-14).
This, the Central Statistics Office notes, is a “strong indicator of reuniting families among the Polish community in Ireland”.
Partyka’s family falls into this category, and they are also among the 119,526 people who speak Polish at home here.
Partyka’s first daughter, now 15 and doing her Junior Certificate, was born in Poland and had no English when she came here. Partyka now jokes that she has “two halves to her brain – one Polish, one English” – and uses both languages interchangeably.
His second daughter, aged three, speaks Polish predominantly but pronounces words in English with an Irish accent. She is one of the 10,000 people who speak Polish at home but who were born in Ireland.
Partyka says he and his family have been mainly well-accepted: “We met so many nice people here . . . sometimes people here offered us help without us even asking,” he said. However, he has experienced some rare instances of xenophobia where people have said: “We don’t accept you, go back” – just a few situations.
“But we don’t feel that we are strangers here.”
While the Celtic Tiger was still roaring there was plenty of opportunity for the family here. “Once you had a job, once you had some place to live, you could feel that was enough for happiness,” he said. Due to health reasons and the economic downturn, however, neither he nor his wife are now working.
Although Partyka remains optimistic, he says the family’s longer-term future here is uncertain due to the recession. “I had the opportunity to go back to college, which I wouldn’t have in Poland. But at this moment it’s 50/50 – we don’t know if we are going to stay here. We don’t know what the future brings. We are living on a monthly basis.”
Polish ambassador to Ireland Marcin Nawrot agrees Polish people are suffering due to the recession: “They share everything with Irish people . . . all these problems that Irish people face, they experience the same problems.”
However, he says immigrants are more positive about the economic situation than the Irish themselves. “I think it’s very optimistic for Ireland because the immigrants think that Ireland has a bright future – they feel this is a temporary problem.
“A lot of them decided to stay here longer because they believe that this country has a future and it’s a country that offered them many opportunities of personal development . . . This is about their children. The Polish children who are educated in Ireland are Irish-Polish and it indicates this process of integration is deeper and deeper,” he said.
He notes some outward migration among Poles, but says the numbers are small.
“Some have left because they found opportunity in Poland but I think the numbers are not significant,” he says, adding the recession has affected the number of young Polish coming over for short-term summer work.
He says the census may not fully reflect the number of Polish people living here temporarily, which the embassy estimates to be about 28,000 higher than reflected in the census.
THIS IS IRELAND
WHAT THE CENSUS SAID ABOUT POLISH PEOPLE
119,526: Number of people who speak Polish at home; of that figure 10,573 were born in Ireland
94%: The increase in Polish-born people living in Ireland between the 2006 and 2011 censuses
55,584: Polish-born women living in Ireland – a 240 per cent increase on 2006