Ireland Sees Spike in Foreign Workers; Immigration Policy Pondered

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 17, 2006 | Go to article overview

Ireland Sees Spike in Foreign Workers; Immigration Policy Pondered


Byline: Anthony Healy, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

DUBLIN - First-time visitors to Ireland may be surprised to find that the comely colleen serving Guinness in the local pub is, in fact, Polish.

After several centuries of a hardscrabble life that has seen Irish men and women emigrating around the world, taking their culture and legends with them, a decade of rapid economic growth has made the land of shamrocks a primary destination for hordes of immigrants, mainly from Eastern Europe.

Foreign nationals now account for 10 percent of the population, twice as many as just two years ago, forcing the government for the first time to begin drafting a formal immigration policy to deal with the influx.

"Make no mistake, we are in competition with other economies for go-ahead people with experience or qualifications that are in short supply at home," said Michael McDowell, the minister for justice, who must find a way to balance the nation's deep-seated traditions with the "Celtic Tiger's" growing demand for skilled labor.

"Immigration policies are first and foremost about what is best for Irish society."

But recognition of the economic need for foreign workers has done nothing to ease the shock experienced by one woman on a visit to Dublin from rural Ireland. "I asked three people for directions, and not one of them spoke English," she complained.

Similar anecdotes about pubs where all the staff speak Polish are borne out by recent figures from the Central Office of Statistics.

More than 80 percent of the new immigrants are under age 44, and almost half come from states that joined the European Union in 2004. Large numbers are employed in the retail, agriculture and construction sectors, helping to fuel one of the fastest-growing economies in Europe.

The ethnic and linguistic mixing, confined a few years ago to the capital, now reaches into even the smallest and most remote towns and villages. Amid the wild scenery of Connemara in the far west of Ireland - where John Ford filmed "The Quiet Man" - is the Killary Adventure Center. …

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