We are all in the same sinking ship


OPINION:Some Irish people are not as friendly as they used to be to immigrants, and blame them for their economic troubles, writes Ania Majewska

I MET this lady in the supermarket. While we were queuing for the till, we struck up a conversation.

She thought I was French, and then she asked me where I was from.

I said: "I am Polish," and she stopped smiling.

Then she asked me: "Do you want to stay in Ireland long? The economy has much improved in Poland and it is easier to find work there."

I tried to explain that even though the standard of life is a little better, the salaries are still on a low level. Salaries in Poland are actually five times lower than in Ireland.

She didn't want to listen.

"Poles have caused a recession in Ireland," she told me.

"They came here because of the money. They saved it here and then they invested it in Poland. They bought and built houses there.

"That is why the Polish economy is so good and the property market in Ireland collapsed."

A friend of mine told me she doesn't want to tell Irish people any more that she comes from Poland.

"This Irish man came to the shop where I work," she told me.

"He was nice until he found out that we - my colleague and I - were Polish. There was no one else in the shop except us and he said that we should go back to Poland - the sooner the better."

It seems that, after all the welcomes, some Irish people are not as friendly or polite as they used to be.

Some of them blame immigrants for their current economic trouble.

There are 400,000 immigrants living in Ireland and they represent more than 10 per cent of the population. Polish people are the major immigrant group, numbering about 250,000, and they are on the front line.

The number of immigrants receiving social benefits is increasing on a daily basis.

Some Irish people fear they will have to pay for basic services for the newcomers.

They are also concerned about jobs going to foreign people rather than local  people.

Eastern Europeans are highly skilled, and they accept low wages. It seems to me that the word "immigrant" has changed its meaning, and now can be used to mean "competitor".

It is a difficult time for everyone in Ireland, not only for Irish citizens.

Many immigrants live here with their families. Some have bought properties, or they are obliged to live in this country in some other way.

We contribute to the Irish economy too. We pay taxes, we drive the housing market, etc. We are all in the same sinking ship.

I love Ireland and I like Irish people a lot. I don't want to go anywhere else. Irish people are friendly and easy to connect with. They are understanding and helpful to newcomers settling down here.

A Spanish friend of mine came to Ireland 10 months ago.

He managed to find a job and a flat in the second week after he arrived in Dublin.

He moved in with an Irish man, and after a few months they both moved to a bigger flat. Now, they are not only flatmates, but have become good friends. They support and learn from each other.

Ireland opened its doors to immigrants in 2004. Since then, Irish people have gone to Poland to offer jobs here to Poles there. This is how I got a job in Ireland.

While I was a student I worked as a waitress in a restaurant in Warsaw. I met two Irishmen there - the managers of two bars in Dublin - and they offered me a job.

I arrived in Ireland two months later and phoned one of them. Even though we hadn't been in touch, he hired me immediately.

I started work the same evening.

I later changed my job and worked in the coffee shop in the International Financial Services Centre in Dublin.

I was very happy to work there. I chatted to every single customer who queued up to get coffee.

They all smiled at me, and taught me English and snippets of Irish history. They were working in the financial and business centres, and I was only the coffee girl, but they respected me and never showed off or implied that they were more important than me.

I drew smiley faces on their cardboard trays and they always left the coffee shop with a smile on their face.

I came to Ireland with only two friends, but I didn't feel alone. It was amazing the way Irish people made me feel welcome in their country.

But now things have changed and foreigners are being asked to leave.

I have the feeling that some Irish people are pointing their fingers at me, as I am an immigrant.

I like it here and I want to stay. But I find myself wishing for the old Ireland to come back . . .