“You are Your Child’s First Teacher”: the Story of Manchester Parents Centre and Education Shop

Ann and Hilary outside the Parents Centre

“I feel I was born to do the job of Education Social  Worker  at Manchester  Parents Centre. It was an extension of everything I believed in my life. It was about addressing justice, giving back to people some control over what happened in their lives and to empower them to change things for themselves. It was not about me being their saviour – because they were capable of making those changes themselves – it was that they needed someone to show them how to and give them the opportunity to do so.”

So says Hilary Jones, who  was the longest serving worker at the Manchester  Parents Centre, which  had opened in November 1981 in the Moss Side Centre,  four months after the Moss Side riots.

Moss Side was a deprived area where many poor communities lived,  including over 100 ethnic minorities. The riots of 1981 reflected a bitter  divide between the  young black  people in the area (although some white people also took part in the disturbances) and the establishment represented by the police.  Issues of poverty, deprivation and racism were highlighted,  and the Parents Centre would be at the heart of the changes that would take place in the area. It was a radical initiative, one of only two such centres in the country.

Hilary grew up in Moss Side and comes from a Communist family,  a household where ideas of internationalism and anti-fascism were  seen as  issues that everyone should be concerned with and everyone should be involved with. Hilary set up a Tenants Group on her estate,  as well as  being a shop steward at work.

A single parent with three children , she  had returned to education and became a nursery nurse working in schools. When she saw Bangladeshi women and their children struggling with accessing the school system she set up a pre-school project – half day a week – to bring them together with other parents and children in the school.

Hilary in 1961

The aim was to address their and their children’s needs so that they could take full advantage of the school system. This was the  embryo of a parental involvement movement that would grow over the years.

In 1983 Hilary met Ann Hurst through her trade union, the  National Union of Public Employees. Ann encouraged her to apply for the vacancy at the Parents Centre in Moss Side.  Up to this point the two posts at the Centre had  had teachers appointed to them.

The Parents Centre was a in a  shop, originally a bookies,  on the first floor of the Moss Side  Centre. Walking in the atmosphere was not one of a traditional council office,  but a brightly coloured space,  decorated with posters created by the workers and parents  that told the story of the work done in the Centre.

They had a wide brief : “home, school, community”. Everyone and anyone could walk through the door and be listened to,  and people came by word of mouth as little formal  publicity was produced about the Centre.

Event at the Centre.

Hilary says: “We were a bridge to schools and other agencies. People would turn up with an issue around benefits and we would listen, give them information,  and help them to deal with the issue. Their being able to get to use the phone was crucial in those pre-mobile days.”

Booklet produced by parents and children about starting school.

Through the Centre parents met and worked together,  and eventually a core group of parents got together  who  would take the initiative in  setting up community lunches, getting involved with working groups,  and even fundraising for they  and their children to go on holidays together.

A holday for children and parents from the Parents Centre

Following the riots in 1981  there was a lot of suspicion between the community and the police. Militant groups were set up by black people locally and one of the big issues (and still is today) was about the underachievement of black boys and a school system that was seen as institutionally racist.

The Centre was part of this activity.  “We were part of a network of local groups that shared ideas and gave each other support. A panel was set up and the Education Department came and answered questions from parents.”  Ann and Hilary decided to produce their own anti-racist policy and,  running alongside it,  parents were brought onto the Centre’s Management Committee.

The Centre offered a neutral place to parents, breaking down barriers between the council and other agencies, offering a non-judgemental environment to people who were often seen  as “problems” to council and government agencies.

A local doctor summed this up:  “When I called there I realised I knew some of the people attending. They happened to be some of the parents who for years I had felt to be amongst the most vulnerable in the community. Often I had been amazed at how very well children of such parents often appear to cope – I suspect the answer may often have been that the hitherto unrecognised contribution of the Parents Centre has sustained and empowered such parents and has in fact saved many inner city children from faring as badly as could have been predicted.”

Parents Centre Leaflet

The motto was “You are Your Child’s First Teacher” a radical approach to working with parents  that offered  them the opportunity to explore their own issues around bringing up their children and encouraged them to take part in collaborative work with other parents.

“The Real Equality in Education for all People” was a group set up by Doreen Kirven with parents which met twice a week at the Centre to discuss and exchange ideas. They produced  a booklet, Fun and Games  Old and New, which promoted play for children, showing how important it was, both  physically and mentally. It brought together children’s games from all different cultures and showed that children are learning even when they are playing.

Looking at the pictures of the Centre it does not look like a council run service. Hilary agrees: “We had a benign management who allowed us to make our own policies and decide how we wanted to implement them.”

It was about bringing all kinds of people together from different backgrounds with different languages and cultures. “We wanted to encourage parents to do better – for themselves and their children”.

Event at the Parents Centre

The Centre was next door to the 8411 Project which was a community education project which offered the parents courses to return to education and,  most importantly,  a crèche for their children to be cared for whilst they were learning. Parents were encouraged to become school governors – at that time few black people were represented on school management committees.

Other workers such as Pauline Richards  brought different skills. Tony Atta, an Afro Caribbean father, joined the parents’ group and later became a youth worker who  taught Information Technology  skills to the parents. Doreen Kirven set up a creative writing group with the parents from which books were published. She also liaised with local theatres (including the Royal Exchange) and obtained tickets for the parents to go to their performances for free.

In 1993 the Moss Side Centre was demolished and the Parents Centre was relocated to a local school. It never had  its own separate space again,  but many of its practices and policies were incorporated into Children’s Services across the city.

The Parents Centre was a unique project offering parents and children the opportunity to take part in activities to improve themselves and their children’s lives. The parents had a level of power and influence that was rare (and rarer today) in becoming their child’s first teacher. In terms of numbers of enquiries it started at 30 per month and by the time it closed its doors the number was 900 per month.

After 14 years at the Parents Centre Hilary left to take up another role in the Early Years Service. She continued to work with children and parents and was able to take part in promoting issues around parental involvement in other parts of Children’s Services.

Hilary reflects on her time at the Centrre . “It gave me a validation both personally and politically about how I saw the world and how I could bring that into my working life. I was proud to do the job and it gave me a level of respect that carried into my personal life. “

 

The archive of the Parents Centre is in the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Education Trust in Central Library, Manchester  see https://www.racearchive.org.uk/

 

 

 

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My review of “Daring to Hope My Life in the 1970s” Sheila Rowbotham

Sheila  is the country’s foremost socialist feminist thinker  and historian. This is the second part of her autobiography, following on from “ Promise of a Dream”  and takes us through the 1970s – all in 291 pages!

We watch as Sheila, like Alice through the looking glass, enters  another world. She is from a middle class background,  but instead of following the well worn path of university, marriage  and domesticity,  she threw herself into a journey of  personal self discovery with  a determination to join other individuals and groups who were also looking to turn the world upside down.

Today we are saturated in books and manuals that call on people to change their lives with the mantra, “be the best person you can”,  but for Sheila (and many other people at that time) it was about defining, and   redefining oneself as a woman,  and working collectively with others to change society for everyone.

We are taken by Sheila through her life and loves during  a very dynamic and exciting  period of history. She says “The seventies saw a great surge of rebellion and dissent that spanned politics, culture and personal life.”

As we follow Sheila through her life in these years  we experience how different this country was,  and how much easier it  was for people  to be politically active. Housing was cheap, there were plenty of jobs, you could sign on for benefits and you didn’t have to bother about how you looked. (no selfies!) Young people had the space to think about their life and get active in whatever they wanted to.

Breaking down barriers between classes of people was seen as vital in politics in the 1970s as students made alliances with  factory workers, cleaners, postal workers and so on in challenging an unfair society.

One of the most important part’s  of Sheila’s story is how she works together with women who want to smash the traditional  view of what it means to be a woman. Reading about all the different women’s groups that popped up at that time is incredible when we look around today. The women were working at a grassroots level and their aim was to set up an    autonomous women’s movement. It is inspiring to read about  the way in which   women set up local groups  to discuss, debate and then organise collectively to  take up issues in conferences, on the street and in other  organisations.

One of the big differences between today and the 1970s is   women  believed could change their lives and those around them. The 1970s was a time of a  deepening  economic decline in the country –  which working class people were going to pay for it.

But there was a strong trade union movement with many working class women who were at the forefront of strikes and disputes. Alliances were forged between the new women’s movement and the growing number of strikes started by working class women.

One of the first mentioned in the book is the fierce  May Hobbs, a working class woman from Hoxton, who together with other night cleaners took action against low pay and poor conditions. Sheila and her women’s liberation group took up their cause and joined them by leafleting and supporting their strike action.

 

May Hobbs

It was not easy for the working class women and some of the biggest disputes were with their own unions  and the men who generally ran them.  For women such as Gertie Roche in the 1970 clothing strike what started out as a spontaneous walk out by many women textile workers led to a bitter dispute with their male comrades. Twenty five year old Sheila is challenged by Gertie who throws back at her “And you. Are you emancipated in your own life”.

The word “socialist” is thrown around all the time these days but to me this is what it means when people like Sheila stand back and support working class people and promote their campaigns, and in doing so do not hijack them  for their ambitions and self promotion.

When Sheila’s book “Women, Resistance and Revolution” was published in 1972 she immediately retreated to the laundrette. She did not want the media attention as she says “though we were intent on creating a movement that was non-hierarchical, the media persisted in creating celebrities and labelling individual writers as leaders”.

Nevertheless the book became an international best seller,  particularly amongst women who were also seeking likeminded sisters and  a path to emancipation.

In 1973 her book “Hidden from History” was published,  a  groundbreaking  text  on the  history  of feminism and socialism in the C19th and C20th,  revealing women’s role  in political and social activity. Sheila acknowledges the collective nature of her research.  It was written with the support of her friends with whom she had conversed on subjects as diverse as socialism and feminism, witchcraft and women’s work, and  who had given her copies of what  they had written.

Underlying all this activity is Sheila’s own constant  musings about her life as a woman and her relationships with the men in her life: how to be, and stay, independent,  while  still having  close, intimate relationships with men which allowed  her to grow, to have a child,  to develop her mind and her politics. Through her writing we can hear her chewing over all these dilemmas and I love her poems which she uses to give an insight into her emotions.

“Daring to Hope” captures the mindset of a generation of people in the 1970s.  Through her life and activity Sheila reminds us of how we can set ourselves free,  but that it takes a great deal of activity, of thinking and relating to other people. Labour historians   Edward and Dorothy Thompson were good friends of Sheila and it is one of Edward’s  phrases that  sum up the book and the era:  “Enduring militancy is built not upon negative anxieties, but upon positive aspirations….it is always the business of the Left to foster the utmost aspiration compatible with existing reality – and then some  more beyond.”

Buy it with 20% discount here

 

 

 

 

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My review of “The White Bird Passes” (1958) Jessie Kesson

On a recent train trip around Scotland I visited Inverness, a pretty little town, but was not aware that one of Scotland’s most famous working class novelists, Jessie Kesson (1916-1994) was born there. At the end of my trip  by coincidence I came across her first novel at the wonderful Edinburgh second hand bookshop Till’s

“The White Bird Passes” (1958)  is biographical as much as any novel can be.Jessie was the daughter of a prostitute as is the main character of the novel:  Janie MacVean, is the daughter of  Lizzie a prostitute ,who grows up in a poor,if close,  neighbourhood of a Scottish city. In  Lady’s Lane  she lives amongst a matriarchy that govern the comings and goings of their community.  The Duchess, Poll Pyke and Battleaxe are the women who police the streets and the children as they charge up and down the lane.

“Only the children of the Lane were irked by such vigilance. To get up through the Lane unnoticed took on the face of an adventure, and became triumph indeed, if they could reach their own doors  without the Duchess confronting them with a pillow slip, threepence, and a threat: ‘Run up to Riley’s back door for a stale loaf, tuppence of broken biscuits. And see you that the loaf isna’ too stale.’”

Janie is a child full of hope; hope that has not been wrecked by the life she is living. Earning money for running a message for a neighbour she debates as to how she should spend it. She buys  her Mum some tobacco and a book for herself. But “Dimly Janie realised that her Mother’s gladness at getting, just didn’t equal her own gladness at getting.”

Janie’s life is about avoiding the Cruelty Inspector, the Free Boot Man  and the Sanitary Men. She has no father to protect her but makes one up, one that is dead in the cemetery that she visits with her Mum.

And it is Janie’s relationship with her Mum, Lizzie,  that is central to the book.   Jessie has a lot of sympathy for Lizzie as she tries to keep her home and child together. The facts of Lizzie’s life are made bare,  including her life as a prostitute and her life as a mother.

Janie and her mother go to visit her grandmother. Lizzie grew up in the countryside and there is a wonderful scene where she talks to Janie about her childhood, her knowledge of the flowers and fruit on the bushes, and the stories of the ancient wood.

Janie as a young woman refuses the usual job description of a  poor working class woman. She says: “I don’t want to dust and polish..And I don’t want to work on a farm. I want to write poetry. Great poetry. As great as Shakespeare”.

Jessie portrays  the harsh life of working class  girls and women in this book but there is a lot of light, singing and  joy. Her characters may be down but they are not out.In her own life she came out of the orphanage with a poor education and worked in many low pay jobs.

But all the time she continued to write and write about her class in a positive and life affirming way. That is the strength of her novels and in her time no doubt was why they were popular. Two  of her books, “The White Bird Passes” and “Another Time,Another Place ” were made into films unfortunately neither  are available to watch.

Jessie Kesson’s  work should be better known because she writes from a Scottish working class experience:  her girls and women are not victims but cry out for justice and demand a better life.It is hard to imagine today any young woman with her life experiences getting her work published.

I am lucky that my local library has a biography of her; “Jessie Kesson; Writing her Life” by Isobel Murray.

I also found online this biography

Her books are now out of print but you may find them in second hand bookshops or online

here

 

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My review of “Stranger in a borrowed land: Lotte Moos and her writing” David Perman (2012)

Thank goodness lockdown is easing and once again I can browse the shelves of City Library in Manchester. And this book is the kind of gem that you can only find in public libraries. The name “Moos” stopped me as I had already read Merilyn Moos’ extraordinary novel,   “The Language of Silence,” and recently  read her new book, “Anti-Nazi Germans” co-authored  with Steve Cushion.

David Perman – who wrote this book – got to know Lotte (1909-2008)  in the early 1980s when he heard her  perform her poetry. She was then in her 70s,  and was gaining  a reputation  for her poetry which was appearing in magazines and  publications. David went on to publish her Collected Poems in a Rockingham Press imprint.

But he knew little about her past – and what a life she had lived.  Lotte and her husband Siegi had fled Germany to the UK in the 1930s, leaving  behind her parents.  Not an  unusual story for that era,  but   Lotte was not the usual refugee.

The British authorities , who were never that keen on allowing refugees from Germany into this country , suspected her of being a Communist spy which was not surprising as Lotte went from England  to Moscow in 1936 and then  on to  USA in 1939. Returning to England  in 1940 she was interned in Holloway Prison and interrogated by M15. In 2003 two thick MI5  files  on Lotte’s life were released into the National Archive which laid bare her life and the interest that  the  British  authorities had in it.

David,  and many of her friends,  did not know the turbulent life that Lotte had lived. Her daughter, Merilyn, only became aware of the extent of Lotte’s writings when she cleared her flat in Hackney when Lotte went into a care home.

As David says: “Lotte began writing in the aftermath of the First World War and continued writing compulsively into her late eighties. She really was a narrator of her turbulent century with its revolutions, wars and massive movements of people as refugees. Lotte regarded herself as a refugee for most of her life and had a particular sympathy  for other refugees.”

Lotte   was born in Germany on 9 December 1909 as Margaret Charlotte Jacoby into a middle class, wealthy family. Like many German Jews their Jewishness was not an issue until the Nazis began persecuting Jews in the 1930s.

She began telling stories from an early age, both  at home and at school. In the 1920s as the political situation deteriorated  Lotte, on her way to school, watched as refugees from Poland and Russia, escaped into Germany:  she recorded this in a story that was published in the Berliner Tagesblatt.

Lotte wanted to be an actress and attended the Berlin State Theatre School in 1926. Failing at this she went onto to become a photographer’s assistant.  Interested in politics she joined the left wing Workers’ Theatre  and it was there she met her husband  Siegi Moos. He was a communist who wrote radical plays and poetry and  Lotte joined the party around the same time.

In 1932 politics in Germany shifted to the  right with the rise of the Nazis. In the New Year the Left staged a demonstration of over 100,000 people in the  centre of Berlin which Lotte and Siegi took part.  But events took a turn for the worst when the  Nazis came to power:  left wing parties were outlawed and their  leaders and deputies were murdered or arrested.

In 1933 Siegi and Lotte fled Germany for Paris. Lotte summed up her experience in a story called “Arrival” written many years later. “I am no historian, nor someone who has studied history. What I have to tell is history suffered, so to speak, by someone who was turned into a refugee in 1933.”

Lotte and Seigi made a life in the UK. Siegi took up a career in economics,  eventually becoming an adviser in Harold Wilson’s  government of 1966. Lotte continued her writing and had some  success. In 1944 she had their only child Merilyn.

In 1976 both of them joined the Hackney Writers  Workshop and a whole new chapter of their lives began as they took part in a group that encompassed people of all ages and  produced  work that reflected the politics of the working class community they lived in.

Lotte never forgot her own refugee status and she reflected this  in her poetry. She took the side of the oppressed and championed their rights.  Her poem “If You Think” (1981) sums this up.

If you think

Blows

struck in Ireland

Won’t hurt you

Think again

They will hurt you

If you think

The knife

Slid between the ribs of a Pakistani

Will glance off your lighter skin

Think again

If you think

Bullets hissing towards beating hearts

In some country we know nothing about

Will miss you

Think again

They will not miss your beating heart

If you think

Needles

Jabbed into veins

To make the blood run docile

Won’t prick you

Think again

They will hurt you, hit you, prick you

And they will not miss you

We are all one

One trembling human flesh.’

 

It is Lotte’s own words in stories, plays  and poems that illuminate this book. We hear her voice, walk alongside her through some horrendous experiences, and can only be inspired by her, Siegi and many other comrades as they lived the history of this period.

David Perman should be commended for writing this inspiring biography of Lotte. It is well written and includes an appendix of her work. It is also produced by a small, independent press and so is without the usual “Cold War” politics that are rampant in many books produced about this era.

Today poetry has never been so popular,  but much of it is individualistic and shallow.  What we need is a revival of writers’ workshops that will bring in working class people  and activists who will  write up their experiences and reflect the reality of life in this country.

You can see Lotte performing a poem in this film about the community in Hackney in the mid 1980s https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-somewhere-in-hackney-1980-online

If you cannot find the book in your local library   you can still buy secondhand copies here https://www.abebooks.co.uk/book-search/title/stranger-in-a-borrowed-land-lotte-moos-and-her-writing/author/perman-david/

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Jodie Clark: Proud Cork woman and Irish Community Activist

 

IBRG march: Spirit of 1916 in 1991. Photo by T.Shelly

 

 Jodie Clark’s involvement in the Irish in Britain Representation Group reflected the way in which the organisation drew in Irish working class people who were prepared to get stuck into grassroots organising. Women and men who experienced anti-Irish racism of the everyday variety,  but also the more corrosive institutional racism endemic in British society. It is an inspiring story and an important part of the radical Irish history of this country.

Here is her story.

 

Jodie was born in Lambeth in 1949,  her parents were from Cork . The family split up  and her father kidnapped the children and took them back to Cork to be looked after by their aunt. The children were told  that their Mum was dead:   Jodie  did not see her again until she was 10 years old.

After returning to England to live with her Mum, new partner and two  step sisters, her father kidnapped her  again and  returned  with her to Cork.

When she was 11 Jodie  was sent by her gran to work in a glove factory and then a knitwear factory where she learned sign language in order to communicate with two other workers who were deaf and dumb. Her gran kept her wages, just  giving her the occasional sixpence.

Jodie’s Mum found her when she was 15 and brought her back to London. She then worked with her Mum in catering and was the first woman manager at Joe Lyons cafe.  After that Jodie  went to work at Woolworths and in the evening at a Wimpey bar.

It was here she experienced racism for the first time. She says “I was told Paddy go home. Unbelievable but I gave as good as I got.” Her manager would not do anything. Jodie, was  worried about being attacked going home, so she got her older brother to escort her.

Jodie married an English man, Peter,  and had a daughter in 1972. She decided to bring her younger sister to live with them but needed a bigger flat. She went to the local housing office at Southwark and was told by the officer that “We only give to our own” and “go back to where you come from”. This upset her,  but next day she went back with her birth certificate and those of her family and they were allowed to go on the housing list.

She ended up in temporary housing for the homeless,  but its condition was poor with no heating, damp and only a mobile toilet. Through a contact at the Tenants Housing Group she managed to get a better house. This spurred Jodie on to get active in the Tenants Association in Peckham. She says:  “one of the first things I did was to make sure that anti-racism was in the constitution of the organisation.”

In the 1980s she found out about IBRG at a local Council meeting. There was a full-time Lambeth Irish in Britain Representation Group office at that time. She also met Irish activist Nina Hutchinson who became a close friend and encouraged Jodie in grassroots activity.

Lambeth IBRG Membership Form.

Jodie joined IBRG and also took part in the Southwark Irish Forum which was a network of people who wanted to promote the needs of Irish people in the borough.

A consultative conference was organised with the Irish community,  out of which a report was produced called the “Failte Report,” documenting the needs of the community.

“My own experience of housing and racism made me get involved because I felt I could get things changed.”

She worked alongside John Carty, Ann Mathews, Nina Hutchinson, Steve Brennan and Diarmuid Breatnach of Lewisham IBRG.

In 1990 she became a Labour Councillor and was  a member for Irish Affairs on the Council. She was involved in the first free  Southwark Irish Festival in July that year. Housing was a big issue for her and  in particular recognising the needs of the Irish locally. “I established local housing offices, with training for staff on Irish Awareness, and with space for tenants groups to meet.”

Other initiatives that Jodie was involved with included a St.Patrick’s Day and a   free Xmas lunch for Irish pensioners. Morley College ran an oral history project there  called “Now We’re Talking.”

Anti-Irish racism was still rampant. Jodie experienced this personally  and she felt she was also targeted because she had two mixed race children. “They sent me letters threatening the lives of my children. My front door was daubed with racist graffiti.”

 One of her most frightening experiences happened outside her front door. “Someone shouted my name from a car. I leaned inside and my head was grabbed and I was threatened with a shotgun. I was then thrown out of the car and they drove off. A black man in a car asked me what had happened and when I told him he told me to get in his car so we could  follow them. We did, I got the registration, but the police did nothing about it. It was the fascist group Combat 18.”

Southwark Council decided to appoint an Irish Policy Officer but she was not invited onto the panel until she told them she would be in the room anyway so they changed their minds.

Jodie made sure that Pat Reynolds (IBRG) was appointed so as to ensure that the needs of the local Irish were treated seriously. He was in the job from 1992-1996 and then continued as Manager in Community Development. .

Pat reflects on his time at Southwark . “I was able to set up an Irish Staff Group in the borough which had over 80 members across the Council and Irish Teachers Groups along with Nina Hutchinson. During this time we managed to open up a new Travellers site in Southwark, had a Travellers Working party, had an Irish Forum, Irish Festival, an Irish Pensioners group, started Irish Language classes in Southwark schools, agreed mutual housing transfer to Ireland, got a quota for Irish staff of 10%, got the Irish recognised as suffering from racial harassment in housing. We also had the McSwiney Mass each year in Southwark, held a 1916 commemoration on the 75th anniversary, had Curragh racing on the Thames, held a regional Irish health conference. Jodie was the driving light behind most of this”

Jodie went on to support the family of the traveller Richard O’Brien who was killed by two police officers on the streets of Walworth one night. His campaign led to the first unlawful killing verdict at an inquest.

She highlighted the suicides of young Irish men in Brixton, took part in pickets and vigils for campaigns for the Birmingham 6, Guildford 4 and  Danny McNamee, campaigned  against the Prevention of Terrorism Act and went on the Troops Out Movement delegation to the North of Ireland.

Looking back Jodie says her own experience of racism influenced her grassroots activity. “It was the right thing to do. Proud to be Irish, see myself as Cork woman, and you know what they say, ‘they don’t give up’. I knew I could get change – little by little – but I would go the whole hog.

You can read more about Jodie and IBRG’s history here

 

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My review of “Memoir: My Early Life” by Joe Mullarkey (2021)

In his  memoir Joe Mullarkey, one of the key members of the Irish in Britain Representation Group , reflects on what it means to be Irish and his experiences of being an activist in key events that affected the Irish in Britain over twenty years.

He was born in Bolton in 1942,  but his mother died when he was five years old,  and  so Joe returned to Ireland to be brought up by his Aunt Kate and Uncle Tom in Ballybeg, Tullaughane, County Mayo.

His father stayed in Bolton working until Joe  was 15 when he  returned home.”I only knew him for a very brief time. I would have seen him every year for two weeks and he wrote every fortnight and sent me sixpence.”

Brutal treatment by the Franciscan Brothers led to Joe walking out of school when he was 13. “I told the brother that if he was to try and repeat the beating I would retaliate and so I walked out three months before I was due to finish school.”

Joe moved back to Bolton when he was 17. “The lack of job opportunities was the reason I had to leave. I was an economic migrant although that wasn’t the term used then.”

In the 1960s he played for Gaelic football team Shannon Rangers which provided a social life for many Irish emigrants. “It was a great saviour for many  Irish people. Some of the clubs would meet people coming off the boat train and they did tremendous work finding them accommodation and jobs.”

Life changed for Joe  forever when he had a serious accident on a railway line and lost both legs which were amputated above the knee. Through operations and his determination to walk again Joe mastered the use of prosthetic limbs. Joe was supported by his family and even a coach load of Manchester GAA supporters who turned up in his hospital ward. “Those visits had a magic effect in encouraging me to walk again.”

In 1972 he married Margaret Schofield. They had two children,  Bernadette and Nuala,  and also adopted Margaret’s two children from a previous relationship. Together they went on to encourage the Bolton Irish community to be proud of being Irish, and  not to be ashamed of challenging discrimination and disadvantage.

Joe and Margaret

Events in the North of Ireland following the Northern Ireland Civil Rights campaign in 1969 reflected  back onto the Irish community in Britain. As Joe comments,  “The Irish community in Britain had no community structures that could cope with the aftermath of the 1974 Birmingham and Guildford pub bombings and the introduction of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (1974) that led to the conviction of the Birmingham 6, the Guildford 4 and the Maguire Family and other innocent people.”

Irish activists did respond in 1981 after the death of 10 young Irish men who were  on hunger strike  for the right to political status in the North of Ireland. Joe was one of the founder members of the IBRG. He says “to campaign and to represent the interests of the community in Culture, Education, Welfare, Repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act, Anti-Irish racism, and political issues.”

Joe and Jim King, Chair of IBRG in the 1980s.

Bolton IBRG had a membership of over 100 people with about 20 active on issues. They organised Irish language classes, as well as taking part in local multi-cultural festivals, starting an Irish radio programme, and  taking  their place on the Bolton Race Equality Council (BREC) and the Minorities Joint Consultative Council.

Joe  was  Chair of Bolton IBRG as well as national Vice President of IBRG and a member of the Ard Choiste ie the six weekly meetings of the organisation which took place at venues across the country.  He was also a shop steward in his workplace for thirty years.

Most IBRG branches had problems finding venues that would allow them to meet and Bolton was no different. After the 1974 Birmingham and Guildford pub bombings Irish pubs and clubs would not allow groups to meet that had any political agenda,  even though the actual event was a fundraiser for a football club.  Bolton IBRG challenged this and organised many  events including the first Bolton Irish Festival.

Bolton IBRG branch had difficulties finding an Irish club or pub that would allow them to meet monthly. In the end  the Socialist Club provided that venue and over the years supported IBRG as well as putting on their own events which highlighted human rights abuses in the North of Ireland.

Being Irish at this time was making a political statement. Joe and IBRG did not avoid the fact that Irish were in Britain because of the occupation of our country by the British over many centuries. IBRG policies were passed on Northern Ireland and the issue was taken up consistently over the years.

This memoir is important because it highlights how activists in IBRG were surveilled   and harassed for speaking out about Ireland and taking part in legitimate political activities.

It did not stop Joe, or other members of IBRG, in taking up issues including anti-Irish racism, the use and abuse of the P.T.A., and the human rights abuses that followed from the occupation of the North of Ireland by the British Government.

In 2002 Joe returned to Ireland for the second and last time. “Following the ceasefire and the various political changes, things improved for the Irish community, but I never felt that I belonged over there. I worked with English people, lived with them, was involved with them on a trade union and  community level but I never felt part of them.”

Joe’s story is part of the radical history of working class people in this country. It is a chapter in the history of the Irish in Britain who take their place in campaigning for a better society over here as well as challenging the role of the UK in the occupation of part of Ireland. It is an important story and one that can only inspire others to follow in his footsteps.

Joe (right0 at a northwest IBRG Ard Choiste meeting.

 

Bolton IBRG’s Minute Book and documents are now  part of the IBRG archive at the Working Class Movement Library  in Salford.

Contact Joe direct for a copy of his book at Joe@osb.ie. The cost is  £14.50 including postageto the UK

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My review of “Feminism and the Servant Problem Class and Domestic Labour in the Women’s Suffrage Movement” Laura Schwartz

 

 

Both my mother and aunt’s first job in England  after arriving from Ireland  in the 1940s was as servants. Both of them hated it. My aunt ran away from her employer and my Dad had to return to pick up her clothes and the paltry wages she was owed. The title of this book is ironic: it was not the servants who were “the problem”  but the nature of the relationship between them and their mistresses.

In this new and fascinating  history Laura Schwartz unravels the complexity thrown up by the rise of suffrage movement and the response of working class women to the rapidly changing roles between them and the women they served. When I was transcribing the Minute Books of the Manchester and Salford Women’s Trades Council the irony of the roles played by the women was not lost on me. The organisation was funded by upper class women and men who raised money by having “at home” socials. At these fundraising events for the benefit of working class women they were being served by another group of working class women; the maids.

What I really enjoyed about this book was that it gives a voice to the servants – some of them like suffragist Hannah Mitchell – who,  in her autobiography  The Hard Way Up  spoke bitterly about her experience of being a servant and who “absolutely refused to don the muslin badge of servitude”.

Hannah Mitchell

Jessie  Stephen is a prominent  voice in the book who was  founder of Scottish Federation of Domestic Workers. Jessie won a scholarship to train as a pupil teacher,  but due to the poverty of her family was forced into domestic service. Even whilst working long hours in service (16 hours per day), she  took her anger out  onto the streets,  organising her sister servants. Laura uses Jessie’s unpublished biography “Submission is for Slaves” to chart her activity and the rise of the SFDW.

Jessie Stephen

Feminism was, and  still is,  today about the ability of women to make choices about their life but there was an uneasiness in expanding this ideological view to the women who enabled many suffragettes to have an active life within the movement. Domestic workers were excluded from  the WSPU’s newspaper the Suffragette and there were no images of domestic servants in their propaganda.

It was in  other suffrage newspapers that the voices of domestic servants started being heard. Angry letters challenged  an article in the Common Cause in August 1911 which said domestic servants were well paid. Servants responded (anonymously in order not to get sacked ) calling for better wages and shorter hours. I like the response of “A Domestic Servant” “I wonder if she would feel she had been well paid when she had paid for two uniforms out of her wages.”

The anger and bitterness of working class women did find a home in the foundation of the Domestic Workers Union of Great Britain and Ireland in  1909, part of the National Federation of Women Workers. Unfortunately, neither the NFWW or the DWU’s official papers survived. So Laura has used the correspondence pages  of the Woman Worker, the Glasgow Herald  and local and radical press to piece together the history of this organisation.

The significance of the DWU was, according Laura, that “It sought to reconfigure the mistress-maid relationship as a formal employment contract, and did not shy away from the potential for class antagonism between these two groups of women.”

Kathlyn Oliver, a twenty four year old cook, took up the formation of the union in London,  and branches in Manchester and Oxford followed. Organising domestic workers was not easy. Leaflets were printed about the union and circulated to the workers at their back doors. By January 1913 it had a membership of 400 servants. It was open to women and men. The only time most domestic servants had any time off was Sunday afternoons,so  the union opened its offices to members on that day  so  that  they could share ideas and experiences which would shape the direction of the union.

Kathlyn Oliver

The DWU had to deal with all the contradictions of trying to establish domestic service alongside other forms of manual labour. Domestic service was unlike other work as it dominated women’s total life:  not just the long hours,  but its psychological hold over the women’s minds. Kathlyn Oliver summed it up that mistresses failed to see their servants “as an intelligent being with a mind and soul to cultivate and not merely a machine.”

The demands of the DWU forced the suffrage movement to examine the politics in their own home and their relationships with their female servants. The First World War, which saw many servants escape into the munitions industry, led to the demise of the DWU. The 1918 Representation of the Peoples Act excluded servants alongside many working class women, as only women householders over 30 got the vote

Laura calls for more  research  and a feminist approach to this history “which takes account of more than just the male working class, not only highlights the long-standing economic significance of the service industry, but also reveals how, although it was difficult to organise domestic workers, the impulse for collective struggle never was and never can be limited to the factory.”

Jessie Stephen’s autobiography is at the Working Class Movement Library as are the Minute Books of the MSWTUC.

More about Jessie here

You can buy Laura’s book here

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My review of Seeing Ourselves Women’s Self-Portraits Frances Borzello

 

 

First published in 1998 Frances Borzello’s “Seeing Ourselves Women’s Self Portraits” has never been out of print. And reading it I know why. It is not only very well written, it is a unique story of the history of women’s self portraiture which is demonstrated with 200 pictures as well as extensive notes and a bibliography.

Frances not only takes us through the history of self portraiture from the C16th and shows that  it is a genre in its own right,  but also that  through looking at the portraits we can understand the lives of the individual women and what it meant to be a woman artist in a man’s world.

Self portraits are popular  with all artists but Frances believes, and shows in this fascinating book, that women’s self portraits are quite different from that of their male equivalents. She asks the question; why have you chosen to look the way you do in your self portrait?

Often they were reflecting the struggles they had to go through to become an artist. It was not until the second half of the C19  that art schools allowed women to enrol.

The story begins in the C16C when women artists appear in art  histories. One of my favourite images in the book is this  chalk sketch by Sofonisba Anguissola from 1545 when she was 13 years old. She grins out at us and points to her elderly companion who is looking at a book she is holding.

 

She was one of the lucky women of that era as she was able, with her sister, to go and work with artist Bernardino Campi to learn the principles of painting. She had a long and successful career.

By the C19th not only are women pushing through the doors of art schools but they are asserting themselves as artists in their own right in their self portraits But they still had to  promote an image of respectability alongside their artistic ability. Frances gives the example of successful French artist Rosa Bonheur (see below) who ensured that she was never interviewed in the male clothes which she wore to paint in.

 

In the C20th  women artists no longer had to hide behind conventional views about their sex. As Frances comments; “As they set up their easels next to the men in the art classes, they began to feel – or at least some of them did – that they could put their concerns, their way of seeing things into their paintings without the disguise and defences of previous centuries.”

It was still not easy for many women as they challenged the views of the men they were close to and the men who were in positions of power in the art world.

Frances charts the highs and lows of some fascinating  women artists, many of them unknown to me, coupled with  fabulous examples of their work. In this book I came across the American artist and former communist  Alice Neel.  Her  life spanned the C20 and in her use of portraiture she reflected  her own activity in politics including the 1970s and the women’s movement.

In 1980, at the age of 80 she was confident enough to paint herself nude as an artist. I wanted to know more about her and found this documentary online https://www.aliceneelfilm.com/watch

Alice Neel

Reading this book is inspiring and is a reminder of how women artists in the past are role models for women today. As Frances reminds us:

“Expected to fit in with whatever contemporary notions of femininity held sway, they nonetheless managed to come up with striking images that boasted their talent, spoke of their beliefs and displayed their grasp of the standards of the day.”

 

Buy the book from women’s cooperative News from Nowhere here

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My review of Twyford Rising Land and Resistance Helen Beynon with Chris Gillham

Twyford Down was  the birthplace of ecological direct action in the UK and environmental campaigns of today have been shaped by the events that took place there. In this new,  and inspiring history of the Twyford Rising,   it is the activists who tell their story through words, photographs and leaflets. It is the best kind of history.

As co-author and activist Helen Beynon says “”What happened at Twyford Down was one of many beginnings for an enviromental movement that now takes confidently to the streets on issues of climate change and the extinction of species. The  people who stopped the bulldozers there, who camped on the route of the road, who developed tactics for blockading and locking themselves to machinery, see the legacy of their actions now in a growing  chorus of voices demanding to be heard.”

Twyford Down is in southern England, near Winchester, which  was designated as part of the  area of South Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AOOB). Much of it  was in the South Downs Natural Park,  recognising its unique landscape and wildlife.

Over the years successive governments refused to acknowledge this significant environmental landscape and put forward plans to extend the M3 through the Down to cut seven  minutes (!) off the journey from Southampton to London.

The government  rubbished campaigner’s alternative proposals including a tunnel under the hill or for improvements to the existing road. Instead they proposed a  drive a deep cutting through Twyford Down itself.

A Twyford Down Association was established In the 1980s to oppose these plans made up of local residents, local councillors and even members of the Conservative Party. It went down the legal road,  undertaking an expensve judicial review. But after four  public inquiries, endless lobbying and judicial reviews permission was given to build the road and  on  Monday 23 January 1992  work began on the M3 extension through Twyford Down and the Itchen water meadows.

Faced with the reality of the destruction of Twyford Down a former Conservative local councillor and TDA activist David Croker arranged a meeting with a new radical environmental group,  Earth First!

Earth First! is  the opposite of traditional political organising.  Originally started in the USA in the late 1980s it works through  small groups and is a network that takes direct action to oppose environmental destruction. It was a challenge to the more established environmental groups who were using political lobbying to change the policies of governments and international organisations.

One of the first actions by the TDA and Earth First!  was to try to stop the destruction of two railway bridges which  showed not only  what they were up against from the government  but  the different approaches by the two groups.

Both groups occupied the bridges but,  as  Jason, one of the Earth Firsters,  was attached to a crane by a D-lock, the crane carried on working. Chris, a local TDA activist, was horrified. “I remember begging several police to do something about protecting Jason from the movement and the diesel fumes, but met with a refusal that bordered on the callously amused. This was my first experience of the policing of Twyford Down.”

Political differences between the two groups continued as Friends of the Earth set up a camp but were not happy about the involvement of the Earth Firsters. Chris challenged FoE as he was concerned about what would happen once the major work by bulldozers started. He said “Robin told me not to worry, that when the bulldozers came in Jonathon Porrit (director of FoE) himself would be there, standing in front of them…but nobody was there from national FoE when the bulldozers trashed the Dongas of Twyford Down.”

From the beginning the proposed destruction of Twyford Down brought together people who had been involved with other campaigns,  including women from Greenham Common,  with  new activists, But as Chris comments in his protest “where Greenham centred on the protest itself, the Dongas camp centred on the land itself.”

Winchester College, the public school that owned the land, which was known as the “Dongas” named by a schoolmaster who recognised the erosion of the land as similar to that seen in Africa and known in Matabele as “dongas”.

The story of the protest at Twyford Down is told by the activists. Helen explains “I began Twyford Rising with dates and events gleaned from yellowing press cuttings and leaflets, from minutes of meetings, fragments in diaries and a chronology passed to me by Chris Gillham.”

It is a great example of how to preserve the history of a campaign. Helen got people to send her  their memories through emails and pieces of paper as well as  speaking to people on the phone or Skype. Included in the book are copies of leaflets used to promote the actions as well as some fantastic photographs and poems.

Central to the protest is how much people loved the land and the price they paid for that  in terms of serving jail sentences, and suffering  physical attacks and intimidation. Many of the activists went on to take part in other environmental campaigns, as well as working on the land, and  involvement in cooperatives.

Helen sums up the Twyford Rising:  “Twyford Down became a byword for environmental protest, for the strength of the connection that can be forged between people and place.I have been to meetings and gatherings since where I hear people tell others of what happened at Twyford Down, even though they have only read of it, or heard tell. It seems presumptuous in those moments to step in and say “I was there” and stake a claim on a legend.”

 

Buy it here https://www.octoberbooks.org/blog/twyford-rising-book

 

 

 

 

 

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The Spirit of the Irish in Britain Representation Group continues …..

IBRG as a functioning organisation did not exist after 2005.  Pat Reynolds did continue to be active in campaigns such as Christy McGrath and  put out statements from time to time in the name of IBRG. He continued both personally and politically to assert the rights of the Irish community in Britain to justice and equality and for the community to have a right to a say in the future of the island of Ireland.

IBRG members including Pat Reynolds, Maude Casey,  Jodie Clark, Harriet Grimsditch, Kevin Heyes,  Bernadette Hyland, Ann Rossiter and Laura Sullivan,   in England and Diarmuid Breatnach, Michael Kneafsey,   Joe  and Margaret Mullarkey, Maurice Moore and  Judy Peddle in Ireland  took their political activity into other organisations. This included political parties,  trade unions, history groups, community groups, anti-fascist work and refugee support amongst others. IBRG activists have never stopped!

Spirit of IBRG. Photo T.Shelly.

What follows here is a log of some of the activities that IBRG members particpated in.

 

2006

On 7th January the anti-Irish racist newspaper The Sun had a story ‘IRA song blast for 2 Celtic players”. According to the Sun propaganda sheet, two Celtic players had been slammed after being caught up in an IRA singsong.

The song they were singing according to the Sun was the Fields of Athenry, which  the Sun clained is an IRA song. In reality  the song has nothing to do with IRA but is about the Great Starvation of the Irish people, and which is sung at Irish international matches.

According to The Sun, campaigners and MSPs were calling on Celtic to launch a probe. An ignorant  Lib Dem MSP stated ‘the club should make it very clear to the players this behaviour is not acceptable, and should take internal disciplinary action.

A Celtic spokesperson stated ‘these suggestions are laughable and without foundation.’  IBRG members  condemned this repeated racism by the Sun and the Lib Dems and their ignorance of Irish culture.

Christy McGrath Campaign

On 17th January IBRG members attended a Christy McGrath planning meeting at Camden Irish centre. And on 28th January attended a successful Race Meeting at Finnegan’s Wake public house in London for the campaign.

On 11th March IBRG members attended an Irish Bookfair at the Hammersmith Irish centre and on 12th March staffed a Christy McGrath stall in Leicester Square for Christy McGrath, getting signatures, getting donations and giving out leaflets.

On 17th March Pat Reynolds spoke at a benefit/meeting at the Red Rose Club in Islington with John McDonnell MP on the Christy McGrath campaign.

In March Pat Reynolds was lobbying MPs by letter for Christy McGrath where 22 MPs had signed the Early Day Motion for Christy. In the end Pat wrote  to all 650 MPs in Britain on Christy’s case and to every TD and Senator in Dail Eireann.

 

Death of campaigner for justice for Gypsy and Traveller communities

In March IBRG members  expressed their sorrow at the death of Patrick Delaney aged 49, who died early. He had been a fearless campaigner for justice for the Gypsy and Traveller communities in Britain after the brutal racist murder of his 15-year-old son in Liverpool.

The racial killing of this Irish teenage Irish Traveller had similar features to the death of Stephen Lawrence in South London. He was murdered by two 16 years boys who stated after the murder ‘he deserved it, he’s only a fucking Gippo’ after they had kicked and stamped him to death. Despite the killers clearly shouting racist abuse, the Judge in the case at Chester decided that the attack was not racist. What would this ex public schoolboy know about racism to Irish Travellers?

Again, the IBRG saw British justice at work where the two killers were only given four years for manslaughter rather than murder and would be out in two years. The value of an Irish Travellers life in Britain was very low. There were over 50,000 Gypsy and Traveller children in Britain, who every day face racist abuse and discrimination in services and provision, and vile racism in the British media mainly in the Tabloids. Young Johnny Delaney was murdered because he was an Irish Traveller child with an Irish accent.

The Cheshire Police had recorded the murder as a racially motivated incident, under the definition given by the Lawrence inquiry because of the comments made at the time of the murder. The Liverpool Irish Community Care centre had supported the family. The deceased father was co-chair of the Pride not Prejudice, an annual conference involving Travellers the Criminal Justice agencies.

On 4th April an alleged British spy who worked for Sinn Fein was shot dead in Donegal.

On 13th April IBRG members  attended a Christy McGrath meeting at the Camden Irish Centre.

On 6th May IBRG members  attended the James Connolly/ Bobby Sands rally at the Camden Irish centre on the 90th anniversary of 1916 an the 25th anniversary of the Hunger strikes.

Irish make vote count in London local elections

On 8th May the IBRG put out a statement, Irish make vote count in local elections in London on 4th May. In Southwark the IBRG supported an Irishman who had won his case with the Local Government Ombudsman against Southwark Council, in challenging the then Liberal controlling party in Southwark. The IBRG supported the printing of a leaflet to be given out in marginal wards where the Liberals were standing. The liberals lost the election and the Liberal Leader lost his seat.

In Islington the Irish turned out in great numbers to hammer the Liberals for taking away their community centre. The Liberals  lost power in Islington and the Irish had their revenge. In Haringey the Irish again refused to vote Liberal, because of what the Liberals did in Islington and the Irish felt their community centre in Haringey would be lost if the Liberals won. The Irish vote ensured Labour held on by one seat in Haringey. Thus, the Liberal Party, had they shown some respect for the Irish community, could have won three more local authorities in London. The price of racism was costly for the Liberals.

 

On 4th June the IBRG challenged the History Channel on its showing of the Burning of Bridget Cleary in 1859 in Ireland, in which the History Channel described the incident as the murder trial, in which the superstitions of old Ireland, were pitted against the modern rationalism of the British authorities, and was a pivotal moment in Irish history.

The IBRG in response stated ‘while the trial of Bridget  Cleary was used by the then British regime in Ireland as an argument against self-rule for the Irish at the time, it is hard to believe that they now bring out the same old propaganda.

It was stated by the IBRG ’the modern rationalism of the British regime in Ireland that created wholesale Genocide against the Irish people during the Great Starvation, when the potato crop was less than 25% of the total agricultural produce of Ireland, and they using the military stole all the grain and cattle of the Irish people. For Irish people the Great Starvation was the pivotal moment of Irish history and not one isolated murder. The ordinary people of Ireland had far more rationality and dignity than the whole rotten combined imperial arrogance put together. This is not history but the same old reworking of the ’white man’s burden’ and it is time it was buried along with the rest of the rotten to the core British imperialism.

On 2nd July the IBRG had a bookstall at the Southwark Irish festival.

 

2007.

On 7th February Pat Reynolds had a long interview with RTE TV on the Christy McGrath case which was later shown on RTE TV on Prime Time on 1st March.

On 17th March IBRG members marched with their banner on the St Patrick’s day Parade in London. The Parade organisers tried to ban IBRG from marching, and asked the Chief Police officer there, if he had heard of IBRG, he replied that he knew everything about the IBRG. It appeared the Parade organisers were vetting who could march on the Parade or not.

On 30th April the IBRG publicly condemned the arrest of an Irishman in a rape case because of a DNA mix up Again, like the case of Kevin Reynolds, the case raised concerns in the community as the Irishman did not fit the description or age of the suspect and had a medical condition. The IBRG further condemned the searching of his house.

On 2nd May Senator Mary White wrote a letter to the Irish Times stating that the Irish abroad should be allowed either vote in Irish elections, and drew attention to the ease in which French citizens abroad were allowed to vote. She stated that the argument that Irish citizens living abroad ‘should have no say in the country’s future seems churlish at best’.

A new campaigning group Progressing Prisoners Maintaining Innocence (PPMI) had been set up in London made up of prison chaplains, support groups, prison lawyers, journalist  and academics to assist prisoners, who maintain their innocence to progress through the prison system.

Their leaflet showed two cases the IBRG had helped Frank Johnson and Susan May. There had been a new European court ruling in 2002 that every prisoner was entitled to an oral hearing at tariff expiry, when the Parole Board considers release and its risk. Up to ten prisoners claiming innocence where not presented to the Parole board and just rotted in Prison. Frank Johnson was one such case  where he spent seven long years in prison over his tariff, all because he claimed rightfully his innocence. The chair of the group was Bruce Kent.

On 1st July the IBRG had a bookstall at the Southwark Irish Festival and on 27th August had a bookstall again at the Crawley Irish Festival.

On 12th September the papers reported on a village magazine editor in Cornwall who had to resign after using the magazine for anti-Irish jokes portraying Irish people as stupid in a very racist fashion.

On 15th September the Irish Post reported that the Camden Irish Centre had to pay out £50,000 to the first female Director of the centre, after she had suffered a sustained campaign of sex discrimination and bullying. All previous directors had been male priests. Margaret Murnane had successfully sued the centre for sex discrimination and unfair dismissal. Senior people at the centre could not accept that there was now a woman in charge of the centre which was heavily funded by the Irish government.

2008

Kevin Reynolds seeks and wins justice

On 22nd February Mark Dixie was convicted of the murder of Sally Ann Bowman which allowed Kevin Reynolds to progress his case. On 5th March Kevin Reynold’s story was in Private Eye and what happened to him over his unlawful arrest in 2005, and how  serious questions were now being asked as to why he was ever arrested given the police already had his DNA.

Kevin had an interview with BBC London on 26th March and Lynne Featherstone local Liberal MP was due to be interviewed as well, but pulled out at the last moment.

On 8th April the BBC had a programme on the Sally Ann Bowman case. Kevin could now put in his complaint over his arrest to the Independent Police Complaints Commission where there was only a 2% chance of any success, but it allowed the family to challenge the Met Police for their unlawful arrest and search.

Kevin Reynolds forced the Metropolitan Police  to delete his DNA and finger prints from their records for the second time, the only man in Britain to have his DNA taken off the system twice.

On 6th July the IBRG had a bookstall at Southwark Irish Festival.

 

Death of Frank Johnson

On 24th October Frank Johnson who spent 27 years in prison   for a crime he did not do, died an early death. Frank should have been released after 18 year of  his tariff. The Judge at his Appeal asked why he was not released after he had served his sentence.  The judge was told the truth, the reason why he was not released was because he was an innocent man, and the system will not look at any prisoner who claims innocence.

Most of the Irish papers covered his death, The Irish Post, the Irish World, Irish Times and The Nationalist. Pat Reynolds was interviewed by Tipp FM radio about his death, and called for a change in the system where innocent prisoners should not be further penalised, if they are in prison at the end of their tariff.

A number of IBRG members including Pat Reynolds, Chair of his campaign, attended Frank’s funeral in Leyton on 7th November where Gareth Pierce and Billy Power attended with many others from the Irish community.

 

On 11th November three men were found guilty of the murder of Baby P(Peter) an Irish child in Haringey who had been murdered by his mother’s partner. On 1st December George Meehan, the Donegal Leader of Haringey Council, had to resign over the death of Baby P while the Irish Director of Children Services Sharon Shoesmith was sacked.

The end of the year’s release of public documents showed that Queen Elizabeth’s dislike of the Irish caused anxiety among British foreign office officials, examining the possibility of a state visit by the Irish President Dr Patrick Hillary. A British civil servant wrote ‘I wonder whether in the light of the queens’ alleged dislike of the Irish’ but the details of the Queen’s dislike of the Irish were missing. The proposed visit was put off until Mary Robinson came to London.

2009.

Death of Brendan MacLua;  founder and editor of Irish Post

On 13th January Brendan MacLua founder and former editor of the Irish Post died. He had set up the Irish Post in 1970 and in the late 1980’s sold it on to Smurfit, when it moved sharply to the right of centre, and away from the grass roots of the Irish community, thus losing much of its readership.

There was an EDM Early Day Motion in the House of Commons on 28th January signed by 29 MPs. He was supportive of IBRG in the early years but the claim in the American Irish Central newspaper  that he had helped found IBRG was wrong, as he was equally supportive of the other two groups which formed around the same time, the Irish National Council and the Irish Interest Group, and was always supportive of the Federation of Irish Societies.

Speaking of it later he stated I preferred a two-horse race and the Federation was a one Embassy sponsored Irish horse. He had hoped that the appearance of the IBRG would put the Federation on to do things. Sadly, despite massive Embassy support they failed to ever raise their game. This was largely due to their struggle making up the hierarchy of mainly Irish social clubs in Britain, who were limited in their capacity apart from running social clubs.

The Irish Post occupied a unique spot at the heart of the Irish community until the Irish World was set up in the mid 1980’s which provided a good two horse race in itself.  The claim in many areas that the Irish Post had campaigned for the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four was wrong, as part from reporting doubts at the time of the convictions, the Irish Post did little to raise the case until the IBRG came along. Very few people in the Irish community were even aware of the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four in 1981.

On 14th April the British press revealed that fourteen staff were suspended In Lancashire for circulating an anti-Semitic joke on email.  The Council leader stated Investigations of this nature may result disciplinary action, or in some cases termination of employment. I am sure you will understand the need for us to adopt a stringent approach to this issue’.

On the same day another headline in the Daily Mail read Senior council worker disciplined for sending racist Irish joke email.  This was in Sheffield where their staff member sent it to a councillor who was second generation Irish who challenged it. The email had been sent far and wide in Sheffield.  According to the Mail the council officer was being ‘disciplined for having a sense of humour.

 The contrast between Lancashire and Sheffield is striking and also how the Mail treated both stories. In Lancashire the story was treated with great seriousness, and taken seriously with the leader of the council involved, and 14 people suspended, and the comments in the papers were all supportive. In Sheffield it was left up to the individual Irish councillor to complain, and only one member of staff was disciplined, and the Mail treated it as non-racist when it clearly was racist. All the comments from the public were also anti Irish.

In Britain this showed that there was an acceptance of anti-Irish racist jokes and behaviour which was condemned with other communities. There was however much anti-Semitism in the British press and much anti-Black racism and anti-Muslim hatred which was often sponsored by the tabloids.

On 5th July the IBRG had a bookstall at Southwark Irish festival.

Beresford Ellis takes on distorted Irish history book

On 13th August Peter Beresford Ellis debunked the book The Irish in Post War Britain by Enda Delaney. He tokk  Mr Delaney to task over his denial  of the existence of the “No Irish No Blacks No Dogs” signs. Of interest here is that a Professor in the USA claimed the same things over the “No Irish Need Apply” in the USA, and went unchallenged for several years, until a young  student found compelling information  in a variety of newspapers at the time.

Delaney represents a revisionist brand of Irish historians. In the book there is no mention of the Connolly Association and its work in the Irish community in Britain for several decades nor of the IBRG, Ellis states that there is ‘no mention of the Irish in Britain Representation group founded in 1981, which was certainly one of the strongest and the most active groups among the Irish emigrant population. It was founded to promote a more positive Irish identity, fight anti Irish racism and seeks more representation for the Irish community’.  Neither are the Irish Post and the Irish World mentioned. Ellis endsed his review by stating the history of the Irish in Britain still  needs to be written corrctly .  There were of course the two related histories  by  T.A. Jackson and  John Denvir but nothing on the modern history post war.

On 15th October IBRG members attended the First Brendan MacLua Memorial lecture given by Dr Martin Manseragh TD whospoke  on the Peace Process from 1987-2009.

On 21st October it was revealed in the Irish Times that the Irish Embassy in London had spent over £250,000 on taxi and limousines in the past two years which was absolutely shocking, with Leo Varadkar describing it as clear evidence of squander. It was he said ‘further evidence that the Government were squandering millions during the boom, and were spending more for less’. The IBRG condemned this waste of the Irish taxpayer’s money when the community in Britain and at home were struggling to make ends meet.

In Scotland it was reported that a former Loyalist hitman stabbed a man after being called an Irish p….. and later admitted the stabbing in court. Meanwhile Rangers had offered 1.200 British soldiers a free entry to a Rangers match where they were photographed showing scarves, with Orange feet on the Garvaghy road. Along with an assortment of UDR banners. This bigotry in the   army of anti-Catholic and anti-Irish sentiment was shocking.

2010.

On 20th February Martin Doyle interviewed Seamus Taylor   in a two-page spread in the Irish Post. Seamus who had started his career as social worker at the Camden Irish Centre for three years from 1984-1987, and set up Action Group for Irish youth.

Seamus later headed up the Haringey Irish Liaison Unit from 1987 – 2001, where he pioneered a number of reports on the Irish community, including one on Irish elders and discrimination from 2001-2004.  He worked as Head of Public policy for the CRE and then from 2004-2009 worked Director of Diversity at the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and from 2009 went to lecture at Maynooth University.

Seamus led the main campaign to get the CRE to recognise the Irish, where  the IBRG joined the Irish Equalities Group. Seamus was a bridgehead between the more radical end of the Irish community and projects across to the more conservative and insular federation and Church based welfare centres.

 

Sinn Fein – Lack of Unity Conference

On 27th February the Irish Post had an article Irish community in Britain must increase its influence which was a report on a Sinn Fein held conference on Irish Unity held in London which drew over 100 people. Lord Alf Dubs and Jeremy Corbyn MP spoke at the meeting and Pat Doherty for Sinn Fein.

The Conference had ignored key speakers from the Irish community like Angela Birthill, Bernadette Hyland, Mary Mason, Pat Reynolds and others who had campaigned in Britain for over 40 years and ended up with the Federation, Irish Counties Association and an unknown trade union speaker.

The meeting noted that at the 2001 census there were 642,000 people living in Britain who identified as being Irish, yet it was felt the Irish had no political power in Britain in terms of political representation.

It was pointed out that the Unionists made up only 2% of the population of the UK whereas in Ireland they would represent 20% of the people in a United Ireland. The heyday of Irish political influence in Britain in recent times was in the period 1982-1997 when the IBRG along with Livingstone and other radical groups, TOM, LCI and the Irish workers groups, PTA groups, prisoners’ campaigns, and Irish Women’s groups were fighting back against the PTA, fighting to free all the framed prisoners, fighting for equality and equal rights, for ethnic recognition, for language rights and much more.

Sadly, what was left now was Dublin politically funded right of centre groups who lacked the ability to give any leadership or direction to the community. The earlier call years ago by the Irish in Britain Parliamentary group for an annual Irish conference of the Irish in Britain was abandoned because it did not suit the powers that be. The Federation have yet to organise a community country wide conference of any kind, to address any of the issues affecting the Irish community. Much that had been pioneered by Ken Livingstone with his consultative conference who set markers for the Irish community, followed up by several education and welfare conference by the IBRG highlighted at each stage, where the community was at.

Now we have a conference organised by those who know nothing about the Irish community in Britain, and who have yet to make clear its policy of giving the vote to the Irish abroad in all Dail elections.

 

On 6th May there was a General Election in the UK after which the Tories and the Liberals formed a Coalition government which was to bring in 10 years of austerity. There was an immediate pay freeze for two years on benefits and in the public sector wages.

On 15th June the Saville report into Bloody Sunday came out with a fresh verdict on the events of that massacre in Derry.

On 1st July Kevin Reynolds a second-generation Irishman from North London won a case against Tory Kent Council over maladministration where they were forced to apologise to him and offer him compensation.

2011.

On 15th January the Irish Post reported that the Hanratty family had called for the case to be reviewed by CCRC a position the IBRG supported. The Appeal hearing some years ago ruled that the Hanratty was guilty beyond doubt, which was total nonsense as over 20 witnesses placed him in North Wales over 200 miles away at the time of the murder.

The Appeal Court relied too much on contaminated DNA evidence as all the exhibits in the case were lost for several years and not secured. The IBRG was always disappointed that Cardinal Hume who visited Hanratty for half an hour before he was hanged maintained his silence in the case, and could not be bothered over the hanging on an innocent Irish man, but Hume was a loyal servant of the English Crown as he showed during the Hunger strikers.

On 25th February there was a General Election in Ireland with Enda Kenny of Fine Gael as the new Taoiseach.

On 13th March IBRG  members attended the St Patricks Day Parade in London

On 26th March IBRG members joined the TUC sponsored one a half million marchers in the TUC march for jobs and against austerity.

On 6th May the SNP won the election Scotland and the same day on which the British public voted against an alternative vote system which the Liberals had put forward. Only one constituency in Britain voted for it, Hornsey Wood Green where Pat Reynolds lived.

On 17th May the English Queen visited Ireland the scene of many atrocities organised by her predecessors including the Starvation of Ireland.

On 22nd July a fascist murdered 91 young people in Norway one of the worst individual attacks in history but because it was done by the right rather than any nationalist group the media played down its impact and the growth of the far right.  There were no anti-terror laws brought in against the right, these were reserved for the Irish and ex colonial minorities.

Murder of Mark Duggan

Early in August a young Black Irishman, Mark Duggan was killed by the police in a hard street stop in Tottenham. The man who ordered the hard stop was Stuart Cundy who in 2005 had ordered the unlawful arrest of Kevin Reynolds and the ransacking of his father’s house for two days.  Serious rioting took place in Tottenham following the police killing which led to rioting all over the country.

On 9th September Pat Reynolds attended the funeral of Mark Duggan in Wood Green and expressed the sorrow of the Irish community to his Irish mother at the funeral.  He was later buried locally in Wood Green.

On 19th October the Irish Post was back on sale after finding a new buyer after the Cork Examiner group had closed it down. There had been a campaign in the Irish community to get the Irish Post back for the community. On 22nd October the Irish Post published the list of MPs who supported the campaign to bring back the Irish Post. Some 75 MPs signed the EDM. Again, Kate Hoey whom Maclua supported so much, stuck to her Unionist credentials and did not sign it.

On 20th October Ghaddafi the Leader of Libya was murdered in a West inspired war that destroyed the country.

On 27th October Michael D Higgins Labour was selected the new President of Ireland and he went on to serve two terms. He was a good friend of the Irish community in Britain and had been over to Haringey to speak about his Channel Four programme on the Irish in Monserrat.

 

Manchester Irish Community Care gives dignity back to Irish

On 26th November the Irish Post reported Forgotten Irish saved from paupers’ graves which showed that Manchester Irish Community care had helped to give some seventy Irish people who died without any know relatives a dignified burial. A further 14 were repatriated on death back for burial in Ireland.  The story and issue should have been in every national paper in Britain and Ireland if this had been any other community in Britain, yet again the Irish government, the church and others keep this quiet how many in our community die lonely isolated deaths without anybody.

In December   a book written by Tommy Walsh of Liverpool on Being Irish in Liverpool was brought out after he had died. It had a chapter on the Federation of Irish Societies of which he was a member.

Biography by Tommy Walsh.

In his politics Tommy was far closer to IBRG than the non-political Federation and he was supportive of the miscarriages of justice and of prisoners and fought against the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Tommy spoke at several IBRG conferences in Manchester and was interviewed for an pobal eirithe (IBRG magazine) in issue number 4. He was close to Brendan MacLua of the Irish Post.

 

2012.

On 3rd January two men were found guilty at long last of the murder of Black youth Stephen Lawrence. The failure of the police in the early investigation led to allegations of corruption and racism and the murders were allowed to run free, despite evidence coming in from the community.

On 21st January the Irish Post   had a story Sally Mulready appointment is recognition of the Irish Diaspora when Michel D Higgins appointed her to the Council of State the first-time person from abroad had been appointed.

The only problem with it, while it is  an honour for the individual concerned, it made no difference whatsoever to the lives of Irish people in Britain, as there was no feedback mechanism, and the person chosen was hostile to the Irish in Britain having a vote in Dail Eireann elections.

It was a token appointment with no feedback whatsoever to the Irish abroad, and no way for the Irish abroad to have any input whatsoever to the role of the Irish President.

On 24th January Gerry Lawless died. He was a former Sunday World journalist and a former Labour councillor in Hackney and a former member of International Marxist Group, but was not active in the Irish community.

In November the IBRG challenged the anti papist torchlight parade through Lewes with burning crosses like something from a Klu Klux Clan gathering the town had a big banner No Popery across its street. To the local Irish communities in South East England, it was a vile sectarian racist parade which was clearly anti Catholic and was an incitement to hatred of Catholics and the Irish who were perceived as all catholic.

In 2012 the Irish Government were to politically fund the Federation of Irish Societies to the tune of £475,000, for which the Irish community saw nothing, not even one Irish conference held in Britain, not even one open day.

Likewise, the Irish Chaplaincy was funded to the tune of £225,800 again with the Irish community have no access to any consultation or representation.

The London Irish Centre also got £448,500 and again they offered the Irish community very little by way of any conference or consultation. The Irish community saw nothing for the money spent and there was no accountability to the community.

 

2013

Irish on Blacklist

On 2nd March the Irish Post highlighted story Blacklist probe into alleged police collusion where thousands of building workers had been blacklisted over the previous 30 years including many Irish workers. The Consulting Association had a list of over 3,200 people that they had blacklisted and shared this information with building contractors. It was believed that the Special demonstrations Squad shared information with this company, the man leading the company stated that there was a two-way exchange of information between the company and the police for many years.

Bernadette Hyland interviewed Blacklist campaigner Steve Acheson for the Morning Star newspaper read it here

Earlier in February over 100 construction workers picketed the Crossrail project alleged that the Company were blacklisters and getting rid of workers, who were raising health and safety issues. John McDonnell MP had called for an independent inquiry into organised victimisation of workers by British companies the most common names on the blacklist were, some 20 named Kelly, 16 named Gallagher, 15 called Murphy, and 59 with names beginning with an O, which showed the number of Irish workers had been victimised. The list was discovered in 2009 after a raid on the company by the Data Commissioner.

 

Plaque to Jack Kennedy

On 16th March IBRG members attended the opening of a plaque to Tipperary man Jack Kennedy opposite the Arsenal stadium at which Jeremy Corbyn MP and Pat Reynolds spoke. Jack had been part of the Birmingham Six Campaign  and Frank Johnson campaigns plus the Construction Safety campaign

In April the former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher died and was buried and did not rise again.  She was remembered for the brutal war in the Malvinas and the war crime sinking of the Belgrano which it was returning home, her refusal to defuse the Irish 1981 hunger strikes, and her brutal unemployment policies of the 1980’s which left millions unemployed.

Over 30,000 people including many Irish people attended a Trafalgar Square celebration wake for Thatcher and on the day of her funeral protested outside the Royal Courts of Justice, turning their backs on the military funeral given her persecution of Republican funerals in Ireland. Her funeral cost over £10 million.

On 22nd May a British soldier was killed in Woolwich   South London in a street terror attack which shocked the British public.

In June Ruari O Bradiagh of Republican Sinn Fein died after a lifetime of voluntary activities and former Sinn Fein President before he split with Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein over going into Dail Eireann.

 

Success of Pat Reynolds against Haringey Council

In June Haringey Council settled an Employment tribunal claim in full brought by Pat Reynolds which included a claim of £10,000   for racial discrimination and back pay of £13,000.

Haringey Council had wrongly claimed that Pat Reynolds had historical links with the INLA, and reported him to the then professional body the old Social Work Council. This allegation was false and showed what Irish workers had to put up with in Britain with hidden records held against them. Pat only discovered the claim when he requested his data file off the Social Work Council.

It would appear that Haringey lifted the material from a Google search of the internet, and linked the murder of Garda Patrick Reynolds a distant cousin of the family by the INLA in Dublin back in 1982 in Tallaght Dublin.

Pat Reynolds had served as an Irish community representative on Haringey Ethnic Minorities Committee for over 15 years, and even had been awarded anti-racist award for his cross communities work in Haringey where back in 1989, he led a Black Irish march for Civil Rights and Justice, and led the campaign to support Bernie Grant to become MP in 1987. The Bernie Grant Centre in Haringey recorded Pat Reynolds tribute to Bernie Grant’s life work along with other tributes including one form Tony Blair on its website.

Pat was also a long-term member of Haringey Fostering and Adoption Panel. He  had worked as a Manager in Haringey Children and Families team, with a case responsibility for over 120 young people in care, including working with gangs in the borough to make Haringey a safer place to live.

His case highlights what often happened to Irish workers in Britain where secret records often false were held against them, in secret files and passed on to professionals and in this case the registration body.

Despite the war being over in Ireland 15 years ago the British state and its agents were still discriminating  against Irish people in Britain who stood up for their rights and the rights of their community.

Federation of Irish Societies attempts to become Irish in Britain

In June the Irish Post reported that the Federation of Irish Societies were rebranding themselves as the Irish in Britain. One might think that they should have consulted with the real Irish in Britain Representation Group on the issue. It was as if they were trying to steal all the excellent work done by the IBRG over the past 30 years and claim it as their own. Perhaps they were learning after 30 years finding out how the Irish community viewed themselves “In Britain” but not British.

The claim of the Federation now that they were the sole representative’s body of the Irish community in Britain was clear nonsense as the organisation was not open to the Irish community, nor was it accessible. They have failed for over 40 years to hold even one consultative conference with the Irish community or allow that community to have any voice. They are mainly made up of the hierarchy of the Irish social clubs in Britain mainly bars, and cannot say they represent any community.

 

 

Death of Seamus Heaney

In August the Nobel winner Seamus Heaney the Irish poet died. People will remember him for his poem ‘no glass of mine was ever raised to toast an English Queen’ when the British tried to claim him as British after he won the Nobel prize.

In September an Irish Innocence Project was set up in Ireland and the IBRG wrote to them offering them support and asking whether they would take on Irish cases in Britain.

On 10th September IBRG members attended the House of Commons for a public meeting on the Ballymurphy Massacre and to hear relatives speak of the brutal murders caried out by Crown faces in Belfast in the early 1970’s.

IBRG challenge Citizens Assembly and voting rights for Irish

On 11th September IBRG members attended a public meeting in London where Tom Arnold Chair of the Citizens Assembly in Ireland on the Vote for emigrants was speaking. Pat Reynolds challenged the Chair over the brief given to him and the Assembly to restrict any discussion of the vote for emigrants to just a token vote for the Irish president.

The exercise was a mechanism for blocking the Irish abroad from getting the vote in Dail Eireann and should be referred back to the Irish government for a broader reference to include votes for Dail Eireann election, so the People assembly could make a proper decision on the issue

On 19th September the IBRG put in a detailed submission to the People’s Assembly in Ireland calling for the Irish to be given the vote in Dail Eireann.

Martin Foran still trying to clear his name

On 19th October the Irish Post carried the story of Limerick man Martin Foran a case the IBRG had supported years ago. Martin while out of prison was still trying to clear his good name after he was wrongly convicted in 1985. Marin was one of many ordinary Irishmen in Britain who were routinely wrongly convicted because of racism discrimination and because of their class.

On 2nd November the Irish Post ran a story Author’s living history CD highlights shameful lack of emigration museum.  Historian Ultan Cowley and author of The Men who built Britain: A History of the Irish Navvy (2001) lamented the lack of an emigration museum in Britain detailing the lives of Irish people in Britain.

On 5th December the great man Mandela leader of the South African freedom movement and the ANC and first Black South African leader died. IBRG members were part of the anti-apartheid movement in Britain throughout the 1980’s and marched in London for an end to apartheid. Parties in London by South African exiles always had a number of Irish people attended, and their parties were similar to Irish parties with house singing and the playing of musical instruments, and where Irish songs of resistance were welcomed. A popular poster at the time was of Ireland/ South Africa One struggle.

Haringey IBRG had put on an exhibition linking the Irish struggle with South Africa which incurred the hatred of the Tories and the racist tabloids. Pat Reynolds recalled how in the million strong anti apartheid march in London, where the IBRG banner was bringing up the rear and was leaving Finsbury Park when the first of the march was reached Hyde Park.

2014.

On 11th January IBRG members attended the Vigil outside of Tottenham police station on the Mark Duggan killing by the police.

On 14th March Tony Benn died. Tony was a wonderful supporter of Irish freedom and independence over many years, and often spoke at the Bloody Sunday rallies.  He had intervened in the Kate Magee case and the McNulty’s by ringing up the governors of Durham and Belmarsh Prison to ensure that they got their rights.

On 16th March IBRG members attended the St Patrick’s day Parade in London.

On 24th March IBRG members attended Bob Crow, leader of the RMT’s funeral in East London,where the streets were lined with people there to remember his life.

On 27th March IBRG members attended Tony Benn’s funeral service at Westminster which Martin McGuiness and Gerry Adams attended.

In March IBRG members attended the Stand up to Racism and Fascism rally in London which drew 7,000 people. Austin Harney was also there with others protesting at current politics in Britain which were anti-immigrant. Later Diana Abbott MP addressed the rally.

On 7th April President Higgins was in London to meet the English Queen.

MacLua’s collection donated to Liverpool University
On 17th May the Irish Post ran a story MacLua library starts a fresh chapter in Irish Studies, which stated that a new Library of over 6,000 books had been opened at Liverpool University, to which the Maclua family had donated a full archive of the Irish Post which had belonged to Brendan Maclua, and which had every Irish Post from its beginning in 1970 to Brendan’s death. There is a second archive at the Metropolitan

Victor Nealson case
On 31st May the Irish Post covered the story of a Dublin man Victor Nealson who spent over 17 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. The former postman had his case turned down twice by the CCRC before he had his conviction quashed. It was based on the same issue as happened with Frank Johnson, where the police again withheld information, that would have led to his release. The CCRC also made big mistakes in his case for which they apologised. Again, like Frank Johnson he was denied release because he continued to assert his innocence, and was further punished.

Death of Gerry Conlon

Gerry Conlon and sisters.

On 21st June Gerry Conlon of the Guildford Died at a young age. On 12th July Alex McDonnell had a letter in the Irish Post detailing the campaign to free the Guildford Four, and praised the work of Theresa Smalley, Paul Hills aunt and her partner Errol Smalley, along with St Sarah Clarke and the IBRG, and to Ken Livingstone and John McDonnell. The campaign to free the Guildford Four was based at the IBRG founded Irish in Islington centre and led by IBRG member Tom Barron. Jeremy Corbyn also gave his full support and attended Paul Hill’s wedding in prison.

On 3rd July Pat Reynolds and other IBRG members picketed the Irish Embassy in London over the Tuam babies’ scandal to give support to their campaign.

On 21st August Albert Reynolds the former Irish Taoiseach died in Ireland and was given a State Funeral. He was a second cousin to the father of Pat Reynolds.

On 12th September Ian Paisley died in N. Ireland.

On 18th October IBRG members joined the TUC march for decent wages in London.

On 10th December IBRG members joined the picket of the Irish Embassy over the Water Charges in Ireland and late the same day attended a picket of 10 Downing St over the Historical cases. There was a street exhibition of many of the shoes worn by the victims of British murders in Ireland, which attracted much attention from Londoners and tourists from little children shoes to those of Irish elders who had lost their lives. That evening

IBRG members attended a meeting at the House of Commons on the Historical cases calling for justice for all.

2015

Picket of Channel 4 over “comedy” on Great Starvation in Ireland
On 17th January IBRG members took part in a picket of Channel 4 over their proposed comedy on the great Starvation of Ireland. Pat Reynolds spoke at the picket. Graham Linehan of Fr Ted had a go at the protesters in an ignorant way.

John Ryan a stand-up comedian in a more balanced view stated ‘if they are making a programme based on the Potato Blight and the policy of Famine, and thereby using comedy to raise awareness of an appalling act of genocide, and dark period of Irish history then good luck to them’, adding, ‘However I fear a romp along the lines of Fr Ted and Mrs Brown and fiddley dee dee let’s mock the Irish. Will the Irish habit of ridiculing ourselves along the stereotypical lines that are always churned out ever end? I do not recall any Jewish comedy set in the gas chambers nor Black comedy on the slave ships. But maybe they don’t have our humour, or maybe they have more respect for their history’.

On 20th January Pat Reynolds attended the funeral of Mike Marqusee who was part of the leadership of the anti-war coalition. Pat had known Mike for several years from various political events. Jeremy Corbyn MP was speaking at his funeral. The contributions made at his funereal went towards Medical Aid for Palestinians.

On 19th February there was a debate at the Comedy Club on the Channel Four and the Great Starvation where Pat Reynolds spoke from the floor on anti-Irish racism in Britain.

On 15th March IBRG took part in the St Patricks day parade in London.

On 22nd April IBRG members attended a lecture given by Geoff Bell on 1916 and the Irish d to deliver on his promise of a vote on Europe. Miliband the Labour Leader resigned.

In Manchester Bernadette Hyland published “Northern ReSisters Conversations with Radical Women”. The book reflected on Bernadette’s own history including her involvement in IBRG as well as a trade unionist. It contained interviews with Bernadette McAliskey and other northern women activists.

Northern ReSisters

 

“Struggles for a past: Irish and Afro-Caribbean histories in England, 1951-2000” by Kevin Myers was published.  Kevin interviewed Bernadette Hyland for the book and used the Irish Collection at the Working Class Movement Library in Salford.

Another book The Irish in the Troubles in London included material on the IBRG but was revisionist in outlook in trying to play down the role of the Prevention of Terrorism Act without any evidence for this.

Ruan O’Donnell’s  book on IRA prisoners in Britain included some material on the IBRG.In 1998 he had taken part in Manchester IBRG’s conference on celebrating 1798.

On 20th June the Irish Post had an article entitled “Dromey I will ensure that the voice of the Irish is always heard’. The only problem is that the Irish community could not recall Jack Dromey doing anything for Irish people at any stage of his political career. He claimed in his article ‘I will be the champion of the cause of Ireland’ which again no one in the community could recall him ever doing anything for Ireland or its cause.

When the election came up years ago for the Secretary of the T&GWU  the IBRG advised Irish people to vote for Bill Morris , rather than Jack Dromey.

Bill Morris helped several Irish workers who were injured whilst  working in Britain. Bill Morris was generous in his approach to helping injured Irish workers, who were forced onto the lump system in Britain, and in one case which Pat Reynolds supported, Bill accepted the Irish worker’s previous membership of union in Ireland, as evidence that the Irish workers would have joined a union in Britain if given the chance, and were entitled to support from their trade union brothers and sisters.

On 12th September Jeremy Corbyn, former member of IBRG, got elected a leader of the British Labour Party. The IBRG had supported Corbyn’s election as MP back in 1983. He had supported the local Irish community, and was also strong on support for a United Ireland, and was involved in supporting many of the miscarriages of justice like the Guildford Four and others.

The IBRG put out a statement welcoming the election of Corbyn, and noted that the Blairite Labour Party has now lost two elections in 2010 and 2015 despite the worst austerity programme in Europe imposed by the right-wing Tory government. The IBRG noted that Scotland had gone SNP and would never come back to Labour. The IBRG also pointed out that Labour would never regain power in Britain with loss of Scotland without a system of PR. The IBRG noted that many members of the Irish community had paid the £3 fee to join Labour to vote for Corbyn.

IBRG application to join Undercover Inquiry

On 17th September the IBRG applied for status in the Undercover Inquiry set up in Britain to look into how police infiltrated community organisations in the 1970-2000. The Inquiry Judge turned down the IBRG application leaving no Irish representation within the inquiry.
There was clear evidence that Sinn Fein in London and Troops Out movement had been infiltrated. That  MI5 agent Pat Daly had infiltrated IBRG and set up the 1985 cases involving Maire O’Shea and Peter Jordan, and later set up McGonigle and Heffernan who received heavy sentences. Daly was set up for life with tax payers’ money and paid off for his criminal activities within the Irish community.

On 27th November the English Times had an article on John McDonnell which covered a public meeting In Lewisham back in the 1980’s, which had a photo of the platform speakers which included Diarmuid Breatnach.

The two-page article entitled McDonnell gave his backing to IRA’s bombing campaign included photo of John McDonnell with Gerry Adams and Corbyn. The meeting referred to was on 23rd October 1986 at the Amersham Arms pub in New Cross, and the platform names with a photo were Francie Molloy Sinn Fein, John McDonnell, John O Brien of the Irish in Britain Representation Group, and Diarmuid Breatnach secretary of the Lewisham Irish in Britain Representation group.

The Times quoted McDonnell as saying at the meeting that the ‘ballot, the bullet and the bomb’ could all be used to unite Ireland, in a newly discovered speech in welcoming Sinn Fein to London. The Times stated that there were over 100 people at the meeting. The Times quoted Diarmuid Breatnach as follows’ Diarmuid Breatnach, Secretary of the Lewisham branch of the Irish in Britain Representation group, which organised the meeting, sat on the panel with Mr McDonnell at the pub meeting. He said last night’ I do recall him making some throwaway but unfortunate remark about knee capping, in the context of the rate capping that the Conservative government was introducing at the time’. The Lewisham IBRG banner was shown in the photo as backdrop to the panel speakers.

On 23rd October Pat Reynolds had a letter in the Guardian over their feature article which claimed that the No Irish No Blacks No Dogs signs did not exist as they claimed, there was no photographic evidence of this. Pat Reynolds challenged this by pointing the oral history within the Black and Irish communities of this.

This was a similar campaign like this one in America by an unknown Professor who claimed the same thing there, until a young female student several years later demolished his fake fabrication, by showing reams of evidence for a number of papers in the USA which cleared stated No Irish need apply. Indeed, The Clancy Brothers had a folk song on the matter. Pat Reynolds had a letter in his collection from an employer in the Midlands after the 2nd World war which clearly stated in writing This company does not employ Irish people.

2016.
In January the Photographers gallery in London had a 1916 exhibition which included many of Sean Sexton’s photos.
On 26th February there was a General Election in Ireland with no overall result.
The 100th anniversary of 1916 was on 27th March.
On 26th April the verdict of the Hillsborough inquiry was unlawful killing.
On 6th May Enda Kenny of Fine Gael became the new Taoiseach of a minority government in Ireland.
On 4th June Mohamed Ali the great boxer died.

On 4 June Bernadette Hyland and Michael Herbert of the Mary Quaile Club launched a history of Manchester Irish trade unionist Mary Quaile called and in Mary’s own words “Dare to Be Free”. Alongside a history of Mary the book included short histories of present day women trade unionists. More details here

Mary Quaile

On 23rd June the Brexit vote was held in the UK with the slim majority voting to leave the EU. Both Scotland and Nt Ireland voted to stay in Europe.

On 27th June Pat Reynolds attended a London conference on the Hunger Strikes at Notre Dame University Campus at which Fr.McVeigh and Lawrence McKeown were speaking. The conference was very academic with many students there with few from the Irish community. The event was entitled Rethinking the 1980/81 Hunger Strikes Symposium and included Cathal McLoughlin who was involved in Activision in London in the 1980’s.

On 27th June IBRG supported a demo at the House of Commons to support Corbyn who had come under attack from within the Labour Party who were mounting challenge to his leadership.
On 6th July the Chilcot report came on the Blair war on Iraq and the man with no shame tried to defend himself.
On 13th July Cameron resigned as Tory Leader after the Brexit vote with Theresa May later elected leader of the Tories. He later went on 12th September.
In August many IBRG members went to see the film Booby Sands 66 days which was on in London.
On 24th September Corbyn won the Labour leadership election for the second time by a huge majority.

On 9th October IBRG members attended the Battle of Cable Street  80th anniversary rally and demo in east London in commemoration of the Irish dockers who took part in the amss mobilsation to stop  Mosley and his fascists from attacking the Jewish community in the East End.

The Irish community had fond memories of the Jewish community feeding their hungry children during a number of docks strikes years earlier in the East End, and would now stand with the Jewish community in fighting the fascists and stopping their march. In the 1960’s the docks were closed with the opening of Tilbury and containerisation. Much of the old history of the Irish in the East End was lost, and also happened on the other side of the river in Bermondsey.

In October Michael Holden, former secretary of Hemel Hempstead IBRG died, while at home on holidays in Ireland. He had been involved in the Tepublican movement all his life and in later years in the Political Status campaign.

On 23rd November Pat Cullinane of Harrow IBRG died after a difficult and hard life after he was wrongly evicted by the Inland Revenue over an alleged tax bill. It was shocking that a man could be driven from his home over an alleged small tax bill, when Pat was an ordinary working man. His eviction and loss of his homestead impacted upon his mental and physical health and led eventually to his early death. His case is shocking case which was covered by the Guardian and other papers.

 

2017.

On 25th January IBRG members attended the Camden Irish centre for a meeting on the N. Ireland Troubles in Britain.

In April Paddy Armstrong of the Guildford Four brought out a book called Life after Life.

 

Launch of MSWTUC Minute Books website

On 29th April Bernadette Hyland was a key note speaker at the Mary Quaile club event at the NWTUC’s May Day Manchester Mechanics Institute. The event was to launch the website containing the Minutes of the Manchester and Salford Women’s Trade Union Council 1895-1919 which Bernadette had transcribed from hand written originals. Present day activist, Lisa Turnbull of the Durham T.A.’s Campaign formally switched on the website.

One of the pages of the Minutes Book

 

In the run up to the General Election the Sunday Times ran a scurrilous article on Jeremy  Corbyn claiming that he arranged a job for an IRA bomber at the Irish in Islington project. The story was a pack of lies as Corbyn had nothing to do with anybody getting any job. This was total propaganda by the Sunday Times. Corbyn did not even know the name of the worker appointed.

The story on 28th May was headed Jeremy Corbyn secured a salary for convicted IRA terrorist by Andrew Gilligan. The article was nonsense and a poor reflection on the journalist involved. He also claimed the project was raided by the police under the PTA which was a total lie. It never happened. The claim that Corbyn knew McLoughlin before he was employed was made up, as Corbyn only met McLoughlin after he was appointed as Sinn Fein representative in London which had nothing to do with the project. McLoughlin was never charged let alone convicted of being in the IRA.

The letter of support for the Irish Welfare Project was a standard MP letter of support before the project was funded. Margaret Hodge Leader of Islington Council wrote a similar letter so why did Gilligan not mention this.

Gilligan of course knew full well that Corbyn had nothing whatsoever to do with the appointment of the workers at the project, as this was done by the Management committee of the project who did the short listing and interviewing under equal opportunities.

Gilligan knew all this because he had access to extensive files from the state and from archives, so why did he make up this propaganda story for the Sunday Times. His story was abusive of the project and of the management committee and he made no attempt to talk to anybody from the Irish community about his story.

On 8th June there was a General Election in the UK with Theresa May going for a bigger majority did worse and had to do deal with the DUP to survive. Labour and Corbyn did extremely well.
On 19th June IBRG members attended a meeting at the Camden Irish Centre on the vote for emigrants.

On 11th August Bill Aulsbury a leading figure in Haringey’s Irish community died.

On 28th September IBRG members attended the Brendan McLua lecture at Hammersmith Irish Centre on the links between Nationalism in Ireland and Germany in the 1800’s. The title of the lecture and book launch was Ireland and Europe History and Nationalism by Shane Nagle

On 26th October IBRG members attended the launch of a book by Ivan Gibbons about the Labour Party and Irish Nationalists around 1900. The title of his book was The British Labour Party and the establishment of the Irish free State 1918-1924. Ivan was sone of the pioneers of Irish studies in London and used to publish the booklet Irish Studies in London back in the 1980’s.

On 29th October IBRG members attended the Terence McSwiney Commemoration at Southwark cathedral. Sadly, only small numbers now attend.
On 28th November IBRG members attended a House of Commons meeting to hear Sinn Fein speaking on Brexit.

2018.
On 19th February the Irish History Collection at the London Metropolitan University contacted the IBRG to seek permission to digitise the IBRG material in their files which would bring IBRG to far more people on line.

On 24th March IBRG members attended the Irish Unity Conference called by Sinn Fein at the TUC HQ Congress House where Gerry Adams and Mary Lou were speaking. Over 500 people attended. Adams spoke about trying to set up a campaign for Irish Unity in Britain but appeared clueless as to how this could happen. What is happening now is big Sinn Fein meetings with big name speakers but nothing at all on the ground to affect any change in Britain. The title of the meeting was After Brexit the prospects for a United Ireland which had a range of speakers including Geoff Bell, Professor Mary Hickman and Matt Carty MEP

On 27th March IBRG members attended the House of Commons for a meeting on the film No Stone Unturned on the Loughinisland massacre during the World Cup.

On 17th April IBRG members again attended a meeting at Portcullis House on the Good Friday Agreement where Francie Molloy, Paul Bew and Michelle Gildernew were speaking. The title of the meeting was 20 years on Defending the Good Friday Agreement.

On 2nd May IBRG members stated the Hammersmith Irish centre to hear the revisionist historian Bernard Canavan speak about 1918 and Conscription. He made some offensive remarks about the Great Starvation of Ireland being an act of nature, which Pat Reynolds openly challenged him on.

170 Commemoration of Great Starvation
On 13th May a 170th commemoration meeting was held outside the TUC Congress House to remember the Great Starvation at which Pat Reynolds spoke .

He said that  what happened during the Great Starvation was the English Government had conducted a war of starvation against the Irish people by using garrisons all over Ireland to forcibly remove cattle and grain from Ireland when the potato crop was only 25% of the agricultural produce of Ireland. Despite the Blight affecting much of Western Europe only in Ireland were the people deprived of alternate food and died from hunger and disease caused directly by English action and inaction. The TUC is in the St Giles area of London where many the emigrants Irish lived in slums.

On 17th May IBRG members attended a meeting at Congress House on Irish politics where ex IBRG member Maire Doolin was speaking as a trade union representative along with Orla Orfhlaigh Begley the new Sinn Fein MP from N. Ireland.

On 21st May Pat Reynolds attended a meeting at the Camden Irish centre to discuss organising a meeting around Irish unity at the Labour Party conference. This was a follow on from the Unity conference.

On 26th May IBRG members attended a meeting in Ladbroke Grove on the history of the Irish in North Kensington and the area. The lecture was entitled the Lost World of Irish London by Patrick Joyce from Manchester University who produced a written an eight-page summary of his talk complete with old pictures.

On 16th June IBRG members attended Conway Hall to hear Gary Younge of the Guardian speak to a packed house on Civil Rights in Britain and the USA.

On 11th October IBRG members attended the Hammersmith Irish centre on the anniversary of the Civil Rights movement to hear Marianne Elliot speak on the issue and her experience of it at the time. The title of her lecture was Why 1968 still Matters Northern Ireland at the Cross roads.

On 15th October Pat Reynolds attended a London meeting of People Assembly which the panel were recommending it as the answer to everything. But, Pat from the floor, pointed out that this mechanism had totally failed the Irish abroad on the question of the vote, because the system behind it was deeply flawed. The Government could dictate the limitation on any question as the Irish government did over the votes for the Irish abroad, and the Irish abroad got a tokenistic vote in a seven year presidential election, which is meaningless and without any power or purpose. The meeting held in the Constitution Unit of University College London was entitled Citizens Assemblies How can the UK learn from Ireland

A second lecture on the same evening raised the same question again. This was held at the Commercial Law centre at the Queen Mary College and was entitled Winning the Right to Vote which was based on the Irish abroad getting the vote in Ireland.

On 19th October IBRG members attended the Hammersmith Irish centre for the showing of the new film Black ’47 with questions afterwards to the Director. Pat Reynolds was able to raise a question of the Great Starvation from the floor.

On 25th October IBRG members attended the Hammersmith Irish centre for the Launching of small book on the Border by Ivan Gibbons, which he had rushed out to coincide with the Brexit debate on borders. The title of his small book was Drawing the Line the Irish Border in British politics.

On 26th October President Higgins got his second term in office for another seven years.
On 28th October IBRG members attended the MacSwiney commemoration at Southwark cathedral.
On 12th November IBRG members attended St Marks Church near Euston to hear John McDonnell speak on his economic vision for socialist future in his talk Transforming the State.
On 13th December IBRG members attended Somerset House in London to hear a BAIS lecture on the Irish in the American Civil war.

2019

On 22nd January Pat Reynolds had an online Guardian reply on the People’s Assemblies which the Guardian was promoting, again raising the issue that even this was flawed because Governments could dictate what was debated.
On 12th March IBRG members attended a debate at the London School of Economics on Brexit.
On 1st May IBRG members attended the Hammersmith Irish centre to hear Roy Foster speak mainly on the Irish revolution and he spoke about the role of women. He had been criticised in the past for leaving women out of his Irish history. Pat Reynolds asked him about the 1918 Irish election, a real Brexit of its own, and a huge majority vote by the Irish people which had been ignored and both communities in N. Ireland had paid the price for this ever since.

On 8th May the Irish writer Martina Evans was speaking to a full house at the Hammersmith Irish centre where she paid tribute to the Green Ink bookshop as resource in her early writing.

On 23rd May the Euro elections were held for the last time in the UK

On 3rd July the Minister for the Diaspora was in Camden where Pat Reynolds challenged him on the vote for emigrants. Most of the groups attending were all clients of the Irish state in that they were all receiving funding from the Irish government.

 

On 26th June Martin Ferris was at the Camden Irish centre where he was launching a new book “Ireland’s Hunger For Justice”. In discussion with Pat Reynolds, he spoke highly of Maurice Moore now back home in Co Kerry.

On 22nd August IBRG members were at the Camden Irish centre to hear Eamonn McCann speak about the Troubles and Bloody Sunday. Over 200 people attended.

On 26th September IBRG members attended the Hammersmith Irish centre for the Brendan McLua lecture which had the author of Unfinished Business speaking of Republicans who were fighting on after the Good Friday agreement.

On 20th October IBRG members attended the Terence MacSwiney commemoration at Southwark cathedral where only 15 people attended.
On 27th October IBRG members attended the Terence McSweeney commemoration outside of Brixton prison with the police turning up just as we finished. The meeting was called by Sinn Fein supporters in London.

On 5/6th December the Daily Mail ran a large-scale feature story over several pages attacking Corbyn over a made-up story over the Irish in Islington Project, and a false allegation that Corbyn had got a job for an ex-IRA bomber, and secured the job for him.
The story was totally made up and total nonsense without one shred of evidence to back it up. It was just propaganda. The Mail even claimed that Corbyn shared an office with an IRA bomber despite the Corbyn office being over two miles away at the Red Rose club. Pat Reynolds as former Chair of the Irish in Islington project put in a complaint to IPSO over the story, which is still awaiting adjudication.

 

2020
On 28th January IBRG attended the Grand Committee Room at the House of Commons to hear the new Sinn Fein MP John Finucane son of the murdered solicitor Pat Finucane.

On 31st January the UK left the EU for good.

On 8th February there was an Irish General Election in which Sinn Fein emerged as the largest party ahead of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. In the end Fianna Fail and Fine Gael did a deal to keep out Sinn Fein and create a coalition government, with Michaël Martin as Taoiseach reverts back to Fine Gael after two years.

On 9th March Pat Reynolds attended the launch of the digital version of the Irish archives at the Metropolitan University where as the Irish Ambassador was speaking the projection was showing up many images of the history of the IBRG.

COVID-19 locked down Britain in March and ended public meetings and events in Britain for the rest of the year.

 

Black Lives Matters was to dominate politics in the USA and Britain for much of the year.
In June Jim Curran made headlines in the media including the Daily Mail for his support for Black Lives Matter and he was featured on ITV and on the social media all over the world for his stand against racism in the Black Lives campaign.

On 15th July the Haringey Irish centre closed for good. The IBRG had been involved in setting it up back in the 1980’s and its first chair was Maurin Higgins of IBRG.

On 4th September Brendan Mulkere Irish music teacher died.
In October Paddy Cowan founder of the Irish World died and Pat Reynolds paid tribute to him in the Irish World the next week.

On 3rd November the USA election took place with Joe Biden of Irish descent winning over Trump of German descent.

On 17th December Pat Reynolds had the top letter in the Irish Post on votes for emigrants in response to the Irish government published policy towards the Irish aboard, where it falsely claimed to have the best relationship in the world with the Irish abroad of all nations. This was clearly nonsense as the Irish Government was one of the most backward governments in the world, when it came to the vote for its citizens aboard and there was a democratic deficit in Ireland.

During 2020 Pat Reynolds wrote up a year-by-year history of the IBRG which Bernadette Hyland blogged on line. It now means that the history of the IBRG will be there for future generations to read and learn from. Bernadette has also given over her archive of IBRG history – including the Minute Books of North West IBRG branches – to the Working Class Movement and the Irish Collection there- and students and activists will be able to access it.

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Listen to my talk about the IBRG in the northwest in the Irish Collection at the WCML here

An excellent history of 200 years of Irish political activity in Manchester – including Manchester IBRG read “The Wearing of the Green” by Michael Herbert. Buy it here

Read previous posts on IBRG history here

More IBRG history on the website (now defunct) here

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