Kenny lauds Ireland’s Polish for playing part in recovery

Brexit dominates Taoiseach’s visit to Poland along with bilateral trade valued at €3bn

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has praised Ireland’s Polish community for “massively contributing” to the country’s recovery.

After "worthwhile and fruitful" talks with Polish prime minister Beata Szydlo in Warsaw on Thursday, dominated by Brexit, both leaders stressed their interest in strengthening cultural links and annual trade ties worth €3 billion.

Speaking alongside Mrs Szydlo, Mr Kenny described the 150,000 Polish people who live and work in Ireland as a "credit" to their homeland.

“We respect their work ethic and contribution they have made to our country,” he said. “The Polish people are very welcome in Ireland and have contributed greatly to our country.”

At a joint press conference both leaders stressed their interest in an orderly Brexit process without diluting EU fundamental rights, but differed on EU reform priorities. For his part, Mr Kenny used his Warsaw visit to underline Ireland's unique links to Britain and lobby for Polish support to preserve Ireland's pre-existing special rights and minimise the Brexit impact on the Northern Ireland peace process and trade ties.

Mrs Szydlo said her government understood Ireland’s concerns but declined to be drawn on how far it would back Dublin. The EU was at the start of the Brexit process, she said, adding that agreement would be worked out “on the basis of reciprocality”.

Warsaw's main concern post-Brexit, as the EU's 60th anniversary approaches, is to boost citizen support in the EU by returning powers from Brussels to the 27 capitals. "Poland is saying changes have to be introduced – deep and far-reaching changes – to strengthen national parliaments," she said.

Treaty change

Mr Kenny demurred on this front, saying he saw greater growth potential in concluding unfinished EU business, such as the single market, rather than taking on new EU reform projects requiring treaty change – and a referendum in Ireland.

"But I think we do need to address where Europe sees itself in 10, 20, 30 years' time," he said. With an eye on Brexit, Mr Kenny said that Ireland and Poland had a shared interest in an "open, friendly, free-trading relationship" with all EU countries – and with post-Brexit Britain.

Ahead of next month’s Brexit talks, he forecast a process that would be “quite complex” and might require a transitionary period. On bilateral ties, the Taoiseach promised extra efforts to integrate the Polish language into the Irish school curriculum and Mrs Szydlo accepted his invitation to visit Ireland.

Despite distance and disparities in population size – there are almost 10 times as many Poles as Irish – more than 60 flights weekly have contributed to thriving family, cultural and economic ties.

Mr Kenny opened Bord Bia's 13th international office in Warsaw. Poland is the eighth largest EU market for Irish food and drink, worth €185 million and growing by 15 per cent annually. He told an Enterprise Ireland innovation gathering that Ireland's economy was growing again "because of the sacrifice of the people".

With an eye on growing pay pressures at home, however, he warned that the Irish recovery “still requires prudent management of the economy”.

Unlike German chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday in Warsaw, Mr Kenny made no reference in his press remarks to EU concerns about the rule of law in Poland and the independence of public media and judiciary under Mrs Szydlo’s government.

As Warsaw faces a deadline to respond to Brussels' concerns this month, Ireland and other EU capitals view the stand-off as a lower priority than Brexit, and a political no-win situation for the European Commission.

Even if the commission’s legal procedure continues to its final, sanctions, stage, such a move would require unanimous backing from EU members.

Hungary has vowed to support Poland and veto sanctions should the probe get that far.