Immigrants search for liberty

The Liberty talks to Vira Lapuniak about her experiences as an immigrant in the Liberties.

There are many supermarkets on Cork Street, but this one is special. The bread is not from Ireland, but from Poland, and at the counter a young man buys special sweets from Eastern Europe. When asked about the difference to Irish food, shop assistant Vira Lapuniak (31) smiles: “Maybe it’s more natural?”

The Ukrainian came to Ireland with her husband Vlad about one and a half years ago. Her family still resides on the continent. They came to the Emerald Island because it was easier to find a job here. In the Ukraine, she was an artist, designing pottery. Now she weighs vegetables and sells Eastern European newspapers.

But Vira Lapuniak seems happy with what she is doing. “It is a nice country”, she says about Ireland. And already the Lapuniaks have found new friends here. Friends, who also came from Eastern Europe.

The communities of the immigrants are strong. They are remains of the Celtic Tiger years, which would not have happened the way it did without migrants working in low-pay jobs. According to the Central Statistics Office, in the years 2005 to 2007, the number of Eastern European immigrants increased from 34,100 to 52,700 a year. Even now, when the economic crisis hits Ireland, many of them opt to stay rather than to return to their homelands; although 2008 the numbers declined for the first time and have continued to decline ever since.

Many of the newcomers do not speak the English language very well – another factor contributing to the migrants keeping close to each other. Vira Lapuniak, too, had difficulties learning English and still sometimes struggles to find the right words. A problem Rosanna Flynn knows only too well. She is a member of Residents against Racism and tries to help them integrate into Irish society.

“We need more money for language training”, Mrs. Flynn says. “But the government only pays lip service to immigration politics, while on the other hand blaming their own failures on the immigrants.”

Considering that the immigrants can hardly communicate with native English-speakers, they tend to prefer the company of their fellow countrymen. According to Mrs. Flynn, this trend is intensified by the fact that the rents are comparatively cheap in areas like Blanchardstown or the Liberties. Since many immigrants earn low wages, they gather in these areas.

“But to fear that they might ‘undermine’ the Irish culture is rubbish,” Mrs. Flynn says: “A culture without immigrants is static. The influxes of many races influenced and enriched the Irish history during the centuries.”

Nevertheless, the problem of integration cannot be ignored in Irish society. Just over eleven per cent of the population do not have an Irish passport. Some of them may stay forever; some just came for a job and will return to their home country one day. Vira Lapuniak does not know if she will ever do pottery in the Ukraine again. “Maybe,” she says. And smiles.

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