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Irish Economy Attracts Eastern European Immigrants
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Irish Economy Attracts Eastern European Immigrants

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Irish Economy Attracts Eastern European Immigrants

Irish Economy Attracts Eastern European Immigrants
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For many years Ireland was one of the most homogeneous societies in the world. But that has changed with the sudden blossoming of the Irish economy and the free movement of labor from East European countries. Ireland now faces a flood of immigrants.

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

This week on MORNING EDITION we're examining how immigration is changing some countries in Europe. Yesterday we heard how thousands of people have been leaving Poland in search of a better life. For many of them, the destination is Ireland.

MONTAGNE: Just a few years ago, Ireland had almost no immigrants at all. Now, thanks to the Irish economic miracle, the country has been transformed and immigrants have flooded in.

NPR's Rob Gifford reports from Dublin.

C: 30 in the morning, and the Breakfast Show is going out on Dublin's City Channel TV Station.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BREAKFAST SHOW)

Unidentified Woman: (Speaking foreign language)

: Anchor Izabela Chudzicka hosts a five-times weekly Polish Magazine program for the 150,000 or so Poles in Ireland. It contains news from home and tips for recent migrants on how to adapt to a new city.

Chudzicka herself was in the first wave of Poles to arrive five years ago. Two years ago, Ireland allowed Poles and other eastern Europeans to work without visas. Chudzicka says the effect has been dramatic.

IZABELA CHUDZICKA: The Ireland I'm living in at the moment is completely different to the Ireland that I lived in five years ago. Dublin is amazing. You go down Gaston Street and it's difficult to find an Irish person. I'm not joking, you know? So it is very interesting, and I think it's very interesting for Irish people to see that change because they haven't experienced that before. They were the ones who were moving out, you know, moving to different countries.

: The Irish were indeed, for so long, the ones moving - emigrating to different countries. And there's no more grim reminder of that than the memorial here in front of me on the north bank of the River Liffey in central Dublin. Six starving figures dressed in rags, carved in bronze. This is the memorial to the victims of the Irish famine of the 1840s. A million died at that time, and a million more left Ireland. Now, that immigration is being reversed.

Thousands of young Irish men and women who left to find jobs abroad are now flooding home. And it's not just eastern Europeans who are joining them.

As many as 80,000 Chinese immigrants have come, and a large Chinese church has grown up catering for them. One section of central Dublin is now known as Little Africa, with hundreds of Nigerians selling all sorts of African goods and foods. In all, Ireland is taking in about 40,000 immigrants a year, almost 10 percent of the entire population of around five million is now immigrant. And many western Europeans, especially the French, are coming here too, in search of opportunities they can't find at home.

Jean Christophe Murat runs a recruitment agency in Dublin.

(SOUNDBITE OF SINGING)

JEAN CHRISTOPHE MURAT: And the fact is that in France there are a lot of problems, and the government is finding it difficult to solve it. So basically, people don't earn a lot of money, you know, and it's very competitive. So it's very difficult. So as soon as they see an opportunity in Ireland, you'll get a French candidate who will come over to Ireland. You'll probably have five or six offers within a month, you know? So, I mean, it's a big surprise for them. We can offer them multiple types of positions, you know, for, depending on their skills, and they'll go for several interviews. And at the end they'll be sure to have a job.

: So far, there seems to have been remarkably few incidents of tension between the immigrants and the local Irish population. But some observers believe this cannot last.

DAVID MCWILLIAMS: Everybody is collectively, in Ireland, anesthetized by economic success.

: David McWilliams is a columnist for the Irish Independent. He says no one in government seems to have thought about how this sudden influx of immigrants might affect Irish society.

MCWILLIAMS: Thus far it's gone fine, but it's all predicated on jobs for everybody. At the moment unemployment is 4 percent, so it's lower than the United States. But if that were to change... History tells you, U.K.'s history - if the economy slows down then people look for a scapegoat. And I have no doubt that when the downturn happens here, the immigrants will work for less than the average Irish guy, and we will have serious problems in blue collar (Unintelligible).

: McWilliams says the government needs to be realistic about how many migrants a country, an education system, a health service can absorb. But the Irish government does not seem to be thinking about quotas or restrictions, in fact quite the opposite. It's going out and recruiting more immigrants from places like China and India to fuel island economic boom.

Rob Gifford, NPR News, Dublin.

MONTAGNE: Tomorrow, a story about millions of North Africans returning home for the holidays.

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