Poles who pinned hopes on Ireland face tough times

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As the economic crisis burst the Celtic dream, thousands of Poles will have to decide whether to stay or return home – where the situation may be worse.

DUBLIN – Drawn in by its booming economy, thousands of Poles once flocked to Ireland. But as recession hits, they must decide whether to stick it out or return home – where things risk being worse.

"I'm fed up with Ireland. The economy is going down," said Marcin Kaminski. The 33-year-old truck driver says his "Celtic dream" is over and he is heading to Canada to seek a better life there.

"I've got friends there. All of them left Ireland. They're happy now."

Four years ago, Kaminski hoped Ireland would provide the future he wanted, saying: "You were choosing the company you wanted to work (for) and the salary was four times better. It was a dream."

But the days when the Celtic Tiger was the envy of Europe, with 10 percent growth in 2000, are long gone. The country Tuesday forecast a decline in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 7.7 percent this year, and a contraction of 2.9 percent next year before returning to growth of 2.7 percent in 2011. Ireland also announced austerity measures amounting to about EUR 3.2 billion.

Kaminski has just lost his job, after his transport company collapsed when its main client, US computer manufacturer Dell, moved its production lines from the central town of Limerick – to Poland.

Dell laid off 2,000 of its 3,000 workers, the majority of them Polish.

"That's the irony of the situation. A lot of Polish people will lose their jobs" following Dell's relocation, said Arek Gliniecki from the Irish Polish Cultural and Business Association in Limerick.

In Dublin, Paulina Mieroslawska once relied on a steady stream of Polish customers to her restaurant, "Polska Gospoda" (the Polish tavern), which she started with her fiance in 2007.

Business was "good enough", the 29-year-old said, until October, when "Polish people started to leave, especially a lot of construction workers." Christmas was quiet, then business slumped and she struggled to pay the bills.

She considered moving back to Poland, but decided instead to change her approach, renaming her restaurant "Paula's" and specialising in "Fine European Cuisine" that might appeal more to Irish customers.

Mieroslawska added T-bone steaks to the menu alongside Polish dishes, and Heineken alongside Polish beers. Only the pictures of Krakow and Warsaw betray her origins.

"We've got our fingers crossed," she said of the future.

Jacek Rosa, deputy head of mission at the Polish embassy in Ireland, estimates that about 3,000 Poles leave Ireland each month.

But this represents only two percent of the 150,000 Poles here, and Father Maszkiewicz of St Audoen's church in Dublin disputes the idea of a mass exodus of Poles, saying he has seen no signs of it in his congregation.

Many people here insist they will stick it out, whatever the cost.

"I'll stay here even if I lose my job. Life will still be better than in Poland," said Piotr Glisciak, 40.

He has had to use his savings to keep his window-making business going, saying the first three months of 2009 were "very quiet".

But he and his wife want to "stay forever".

"Ireland is still a very, very good country," he said.

"It's still much easier here in Ireland," added Marcin Winicki, 35, who used to work for Dell in Limerick but has been unemployed for a year.

"I have friends in Poland, they used to go on holiday every year with us. This year, they say they can't go. But we are going.

"If I have to move, it wouldn't be to Poland. Poland is a poor country."

Ela Sliwinska, a journalist at Polska Gazeta, Ireland's first Polish weekly, said Ireland still does well in any comparison.

New European funding is available for entrepreneurs in Poland but wages there remain low, she said, adding: "There is a crisis in Poland too."

Winicki said that in Poland, it would take him a month to earn what he earns in a week here. He had two jobs and still struggled to pay his mortgage, which was why he moved here five years ago.

"If you want to go to restaurants, have a car, a house, a family, it's difficult in Poland," he said.

A year after being laid off, Winicki is reaching the end of his unemployment benefits. To make ends meet and keep their three children fed, his wife, a taxi-driver, is working more and he is going from door to door offering to do odd jobs.

Things remain tough. "I fear, I have to think about not being able to pay for the rent. If it goes better next year, we'll survive, but if it stays like that for two years..." he said, without finishing his sentence.

AFP / Expatica

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