A Polish woman who was the subject of a ‘mistranslated’ article suggesting she was a ‘welfare tourist’ has said she was shocked to learn of it and that the allegation was “completely not true”.
The article, published in the Irish Independent on Wednesday, contained a racial sterotype of a Polish woman who, it claimed, was living a life of (relative) luxury at the expense of Irish taxpayers. It was said to have been based on an article from a Polish newspaper, in which Polish emigrants recounted their experience in different countries. But compared to the original article, it contained several false statements, and claimed that she had mocked her Donegal home town and was taking advantage of the welfare system.
Tens of thousands of Polish workers were encouraged to immigrate to Ireland during the so-called ‘Celtic Tiger’ boom years. While many have returned to Poland during the recession, some continue to live and work in Ireland.
While the article emphasised the disparity in welfare payments between Ireland and Poland, in the original interview Magda said that she did not ‘want to live at the State’s expense’ and for that reason was using her social welfare payment to ‘start up her own business.’ These comments were omitted in the Independent’s article.
The article also described Magda as saying that working for the minimum wage made no sense and that life in Donegal was “a Hawaiian massage”. She had in fact said that she had done a Fas course in Hawaiian massage.
The woman known as Magda - which is not her real name - was interviewed on radio this week about the article.
Speaking on RTE’s John Murray programme, Magda said things had been “added and changed” in the article and that people who knew her would know straight away that it was “not me”.
“At first I was completely shocked. You don’t know what to think.
“How is it possible for anybody to publish something that is just not true, completely not true and it’s not just misinterpretation, you know, or mistranslation - it’s just a completely different story?”
Magda was in fact trained in childcare and had been living in Ireland for six years. She said she had worked in the hospitality industry for a couple of years but that jobs were scarce and she had been unemployed for about a year and a half.
She had done courses, including a Fas course to help her set up a small business, and she hoped to have her massage therapy practice up and running by Easter.
“I came for holidays, and I so fell in love with Ireland, with the place,” she said.
Labour Party Senator Jimmy Harte also became embroiled in the controversy when he said on Wednesday he would pay for the woman’s flight back to Poland. He later became involved in angry and insulting exchanges with members of the public on Twitter, before apologising for his comments.
The article was described as “inflammatory” by Polish ambassador to Ireland Marcin Nawrot.
“You [the Irish] have managed to get to know us well in recent years and you know our work ethic and our system of values which, I’m sorry to say, is inaccurately presented in this article published in the Irish Independent,” he wrote.
“The danger of an anti-immigrant atmosphere developing during harsh economic times is well-documented throughout history,” he added.
Tensions have increased in many working class areas as a result of a perceived competition for employment with immigrants from eastern Europe. Politicians have repeatedly said they are afraid to speak out on behalf of the immigrants, despite increasing discrimination and occasional racist violence, in fear of a backlash from voters.
Sinn Fein TD Jonathan O’Brien called on the Irish Independent to remove the article from its website. He said it was deeply misleading and would deepen anti-migrant and anti-social welfare claimant sentiments among the public.
“This piece covered an article that originally appeared in a Polish language newspaper and cherry-picked, then misinterpreted what had been said, leading readers to believe that the woman and her partner at the centre of the piece were bragging about the high-life they have on the dole in Ireland. This type of bad journalism can only deepen anti-social welfare claimant and anti-immigrant sentiment among Irish people.”
Mr O’Brien pointed to the woman’s repeatedly stated desire and efforts to contribute to the local economy, ignored in the Independent article.
“I am not surprised with the actions of the Labour Party Senator Jimmy Harte who offered to pay for Magda’s flights home,” he said.
“This has after all come from the party, who now believe that social welfare payments are some kind of privilege or hospitality, instead of waking up to the fact that it is their austerity policies that create the conditions where people end up dependent on social welfare.”