Putting Down Roots

Putting down roots

With Irish people leaving the country in droves, it’s easy to forget that only a few years ago Ireland was one of the most attractive destinations for immigrants.
Ireland traditionally had a culture of emigration but this was turned on its head during the boom years of the 90s.

1996 was the first year to see more people enter the country than leave it. This pattern continued unabated for 13 years, peaking in 2007 with an estimated 150,000 new arrivals, but, since 2009, Ireland has reverted to its previous status as a nation of emigrants.

The statistics gathered in the 2011 census show that, while there are much fewer immigrants arriving in recent years, those who arrived during the boom are more likely to stick around than their Irish counterparts. According to the census, there are 544,357 non-nationals resident in Ireland, making up 12% of the population.

NewsFour spoke to three individuals who arrived in pre-recession Ireland and have stuck around, despite the economic downturn.

Lukasz Hajduga, 31, arrived from Krakow, Poland, in 2005. Poland accounts for almost a quarter of Ireland’s immigrants with 122,585 Poles registered on the 2011 census. The U.K (112,259) and Poland are the only nations to provide more than 100,000 immigrants to Ireland. The third highest group, Lithuanians, number a much smaller 36,683.
At the other end of the scale is Argentina, with only 458 of its citizens registering on the census. Juan Fravega, 36, hails from Mendoza, the country’s fourth largest city, and came to Ireland in 2001.

Living here since 2003 is 38-year-old Jose Carlos de Jesus Cardoso, a native of Porto, Portugal, a country which shares our current economic woes. While many have left Portugal for this reason, few have chosen Ireland as their destination. The census reports a relatively small total of 2,739 Portuguese residing here.

The one common reason for all three choosing Ireland as their new home is the English language. Hajduga claims to have had a good standard of English but wished to practice it by conversing with native-speakers on a daily basis. Having worked in Portugal’s hotel industry, Cardoso was fully fluent in English, a factor which he claims made his integration easier. On the other hand, Fravega arrived with very basic English, taking an intensive six-month English course on arrival.

Both Hajduga and Cardoso had always been attracted to Ireland’s image as a “green” land. “When I got here, it was even better than I imagined,” says Cardoso, “It’s a country with great natural beauty.” With this idyllic idea in his mind, Hajduga was somewhat surprised by Dublin. “It took me a while to see a green part of Ireland,” he says, “I didn’t expect so much concrete.” Fravega’s romantic concept of Ireland came from the writings of Jorge Luis Borges, an Argentine writer who used Ireland as a setting for several of his stories.

The strength of Ireland’s economy was a big attraction for Hajduga. “In my first three years here, I could see Ireland changing for the good,” he says, “There were new roads, bridges, improvements in public transport, and many job opportunities.” Coming from recession-hit Argentina, Fravega was surprised at how good we had it. “When I came here, Ireland was growing and my country was having a lot of trouble,” he says. “Now things have been reversed, Argentina is in a very healthy state these days.”

Both Fravega and Cardoso have been relatively unscathed by the economic downturn, holding down steady employment as an Area Manager for a pharmacy chain and a Senior Bartender respectively. Hajduga, however, has found himself a victim of the recession, having been recently made redundant from a retail management position. “I’ve been unemployed for almost six months now,” he tells NewsFour, “the longest I’ve ever been out of work”.

When asked what they miss most about their countries, all three reply “the weather”, though while Fravega and Cardoso pine for the warm Latin Summers, Hajduga yearns for the snowy Polish Winters. Likewise, they all confess to missing the unique food of their homelands. Fravega also notes the vast difference in pricing of cultural activities. “In Argentina, an opera production that would cost €80 to see here would be state-subsidised, meaning you could buy a ticket for a fiver”.

Despite these minor complaints, none of the three have any immediate plans to leave. Fravega has two children with an Irish partner and is currently studying for a business M.B.A. Cardoso recently became a father and lives with his Czech partner in Sandymount. Hajduga tells us his stay is dependent on finding employment. “If I find a job, I hope to become a citizen and stay in Ireland for a few more years,” he says, “If not, I’m taking my backpack and walking off into the sunset”.

Pictured: Jose Carlos de Jesus Cardoso, a former resident of Portugal, now living in Sandymount.

By Eric Hillis