Thanks to a happy combination of a more peaceful place and the enlargement of the European Union, in recent years there has been an influx into Northern Ireland of new arrivals from East European countries. This is in addition to other European places of Portugal and Spain.
The British Council organised the Ordinary Lives project, which explores stories of European migration through the eyes of 18 young people from the Czech Republic, Latvia, Northern Ireland, Poland, Portgual, and Spain.
The stories are structured in sets of trios: those who took the decision to move to Northern Ireland, with the people they met on arrive and with those they left behind. This provides an intercultural dialogue, as well as an insight on the effects of migration on societies experiencing both departure and arrival.
Malachi O’Doherty presents a concise introduction; his six pages worth reading if nothing else in the short book.
Indeed, Malachi writes with prose; the subsequent individual accounts are interesting enough, but read as transcripts of recorded interviews, which is what they actually are. I preferred Malachi’s analysis.
Having said that, I have a few favourite excerpts. Justyna Pers, from Poland, describes the importance of being able to relate to one’s own culture in a new land:
Life in a foreign country is easier for migrants when some parts of its reality relate to their own culture. That’s why there are a growing number of shops selling Polish food. Tesco and Dunne’s Stores have a range of Polish products … access to Polish tv … go to a Polish [language] mass at least once a month.
Justyna believes that access to an interpreter accelerates newcomers ability to learn English and assimilate with the wider community.
Meanwhile, longer-term Northern Ireland residents have a hopeful, if sanguine, view about migration and a positive, shared future. As 24-year-old Sinead Dorris says:
I think that much of the population believe that [new arrivals are] not good for the country’s development, but personally I think that the people of Northern Ireland need to be a lot more accepting and open-minded, instead of replacing the Catholic-Protestant divide with an ethnic one … It’s up to the people of Northern Ireland now to decide where we go from here.
Or as another local resident, 26-year-old Anne Beattie, puts it:
It is an exciting, interesting and progressive time for Northern Ireland and its people.
This is what Northern Ireland needs — a breath of fresh air to remove the musty stale smell of our past.
Now there’s a great slogan!