Patrick Reynolds was one of the founders of IBRG and played a key role in its history. He is now writing up that history and putting it into the context of radical history in Britain and Ireland in the C20th.
1982 saw the early beginnings of building up the branch structure of IBRG, expanding the organisation and setting out the constitution and structure of the organisation.
On 16 January 1982 the IBRG held its first meeting in Liverpool where Bill Walsh was elected local Chair and Siobhan Sandy as Secretary.
New mailCopOn 16 January 1982 the IBRG held its first meeting in Liverpool where Bill Walsh was elected local Chair and Siobhan Sandy as Secretary.
The Irish Post (1) reported on 23rd January 1982 that IBRG had two functioning branches in Manchester and was planning a meeting for Birmingham and one in London for 24 January 1982. The delay of the IBRG to set up in London led to a flurry of other groups trying to fill the vacuum.
On 30 January 1982 a broad-based meeting was held at the Irish Club in London which over eighty people attended from various groups with a view to form a representative Irish National Body.
Michael Sheehan, who attended the meeting, stated that ‘the primary aim of the IBRG is the social cultural and economic welfare of the Irish community, with concerns about Human Rights in Northern Ireland. The meeting called for the abolition of partition, the repeal of the PTA, the promotion of realistic images of Irish identity tradition and culture in this country, concern over republican prisoners and called for their repatriation. “ It was agreed that Richard Balfe MEP would set up an inter party group of MPs and MEPs to look at Ireland and the Irish community in Britain. The IBRG agreed to liaise with this new group.
The Irish Post further reported on a national meeting of the Federation of Irish Societies (F.I.S.) where they decided to hold a conference on Northern Ireland. George Meehan, later Labour Leader of Haringey Council in North London, stated ‘never again must we sit idly by, never again must we run away’ while Tommy Walsh from Liverpool stated ‘I fear we missed the boat, we are already a laughing stock’ referring to the failure of the Federation to make any statement on the Hunger Strike of 1981 where 10 young Irishman died demanding to be treated as political prisoners.
On 6 February 1982 the Irish Post carried a photo of three IBRG members Jim King, Michael Sheehan and Gerry Gallagher from Manchester who had attended the meeting at the Irish Club with a big story heading ‘Finding Common Ground’. (2)
Jim King spoke about passing on our heritage to our children and that previously the focus had always been on the Irish border and not on a community in Britain. Michael Sheehan stated that the IBRG were ‘opposed to all kinds of violence’. The Irish Information Partnership, Connolly Association, Cumman na Poblachta and Labour Committee on Ireland and IBRG were present. Clearly the Irish Post were wondering out loud how these two new groups could work together in the interests of the Irish community in Britain. The meeting exposed the lack of any IBRG presence in London at that stage.
On 18 February 1982 a minority Fianna Fail government came into power in the Republic of Ireland, and in general Fianna Fail were seen as better than Fine Gael in terms of Northern Ireland and the Irish in Britain, although all Irish governments had ignored the welfare of the Irish community in Britain, leaving it to the Catholic Church to attend to the community.
On 28 February 1982 the IBRG held their fourth rolling conference in Birmingham Civic Hall following their earlier meetings in Derby, Manchester and Liverpool. (3)
On 13 March 1982 the IBRG, Connolly Association and Troops Out Movement lobbied Labour MPs regarding their position on the Prevention of Terrorism Act. (4)
On 20 March 1982 the Irish Post stated that another IBRG branch was to open in Burton on Trent where John Martin lived and that they were going to put on Irish classes. (5)
For three weeks in April 1982 the Irish Post ran full page stories on the Federation of Irish Societies (FIS) and their Conference on Northern Ireland which fifty six people attended. At the conference Tommy Walsh Liverpool welcomed the lobbying of the IBRG on the PTA. The Irish Post spoke of a ‘Federation Reappraisal’ but there was nothing of any substance to come out of it apart from stating they should speak out on issues affecting the Irish community in Britain. (6)
The Spring/Summer edition of Irish Studies in Britain had a two page article on the IBRG setting out the main areas of IBRG work: the preservation of the Irish way of life, a fair share of resources for the Irish, access to the media, local authority courses, school curricula, anti-Irish racism, travel links with Ireland, the PTA and Northern Ireland.
On 1 May 1982 the Irish Post reported that IBRG had set up a branch in Oxford and had plans for London and Cardiff branches. The IBRG now had eight branches. The IBRG decided they would attend the Bobby Sands March in London on 8 May 1982 and march under their own banner, their first attendance at any political march in relation to Ireland. (7)
The Irish Post talked of the new body the Irish National Council (INC) having six branches in London and the emerging IBRG and there being no question of amalgamation between them at this stage but co-operation. At this stage the IBRG had no London branches and had left it late to set up something in London, and there was clear evidence that other political groups were organising to take centre stage before the IBRG had a chance to set up. In retrospect it was a big mistake to leave London to be the last place to set up in.
The Irish Post commented on the views of the Chair of the Federation ‘the Chairman has on numerous occasions during the past year expressed resentment on the emergence of the IBRG and the London based Irish National Council’.
A Federation motion on Northern Ireland which opposed the PTA, condemned the use of violence, and supported a United Ireland by peaceful means supported British withdrawal and an end to the Unionist veto was ratified at the AGM without any debate.
On 3 May 1982 the British sank the Belgrano whilst it was retreating. The Irish Minster Paddy Power stated that ‘Britain themselves are every much the aggressors now’
On 15 May 1982 the Irish Post reported that the IBRG intended to hold its first London meeting at Central Hall Westminster on 22 May 1982. The IBRG also stated they were to set up a branch in Nottingham. The IBRG had decided to set up sub committees to look at isues such as anti-Irish racism, education, travel between Britain and Ireland, media monitoring and civil liberties. (8)
On 22 May 1982 the Irish Post had an editorial entitled: IBRG Comes to Town, stating that Manchester had led the early development of IBRG. The London meeting at Central Hall was packed with members of the Irish public in London. Irish Civil Rights, British Association of Irish Studies, Irish Republican Socialist Party, Cumman na Pobhlachta, Irish Archives, Gaelic Athletics Association, Conradh na Gaeilge, Green Ink, and the Irish in Britain History Group attended along with many others.(9)
On 29 May 1982 the IBRG held their first London Inauguration meeting which sixty people attended and planned four branches in London. A London steering group was set up to advance the IBRG in London. This later led to internal IBRG problems as the London Steering Group were a loose grouping without clear links to the National Organisation. The preservation of the Irish way of life in Britain, a fair share of resources for the Irish community in Britain, an anti PTA position,challenge anti Irish racism and use the Race Relations Act for any test cases, work for reconciliation and peace in Northern Ireland and condemn the use of plastic bullets were seen as early priorities. (10)
On 3 June 1982 the Irish Post reported on new IBRG branches in Nottingham, Leicester and Cardiff.
On 18 June 1982 Lord Gowrie Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office stated ‘Northern Ireland is extremely expensive for the British taxpayer… if the people of Northern Ireland wished to join with the south of Ireland, no British Government would resist it for twenty minutes.
On 19 June 1982 the Irish Post the IBRG took up the issue of shops in London selling racist Irish mugs and other materials to denigrate Irish people. Camden Council for Community Relations were supportive and IBRG called on the Attorney General to prosecute the shops involved. The local press covered the story. (11)
On Saturday 26 June 1982 the IBRG held their first Ard Fheis (AGM) at the Civic Centre in Digbeth in Birmingham and seven branches attended from Birmingham, Manchester, London, Liverpool, Nottingham and Burton on Trent with apologies from Derby and Oxford. Jim King from Manchester chaired the meeting. (12)
Papers were accepted at the meeting on;
Preservation of the Irish way of life in Britain,
A fair share of resources for the Irish in Britain,
Access to the media,
Local authority Courses in Irish studies,
The inclusion of Irish studies in multi-racial school curricula,
Anti-Irish racism in all forms,
Travel and links to Ireland,
The Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and Northern Ireland.
Manchester IBRG presented a paper to the meeting on a framework for IBRG policy on Northern Ireland which was agreed and adopted as a consultative document to be circulated to all branches. It was decided to call a special conference meeting three months later to agree the IBRG policy on Northern Ireland.
The meeting elected the NEC;
President John Martin -Burton on Trent,
Chair Jim King: Manchester
Runai (Secretary) and Public Relations Officer -Mike Sheehan of Manchester
Vice Chair: Bridgit Galvin – London
Cisteoir (Treasurer) : Patrick Browne – Manchester
Internal Co-ordinator: Peter Fallon -Nottingham
External Liaison Officer: Ted Rowan – Nottingham
Education Office: Nessan Danaher – Leicester.
Six other members were elected to the National Executive Committee: Ms Gregory: London, Judy Peddle: Cardiff, Bill Walsh: Liverpool, Kevin Doherty: Birmingham, Gerry Gallagher: Manchester and Desmond MacCurdy: Leicester.
The IBRG now for the first time had a national structure within Britain and had set out its areas of concern for future work. It also had an early policy document on Northern Ireland.
On 3 July 1982 the Irish Post reported that that the Attorney General Michael Havers had refused to prosecute these shops selling anti Irish materials. Michael Havers represented the Crown in two of the worst cases of Irish injustice in British history in the prosecution of the Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven. (13)
On 10 July 1982 the Irish Post reported on a new IBRG branch being set up in Camden on 18 July 1982.
On 17 July 1982 Pat Reynolds complained to the editor of the Weekend Daily Mirror because of their anti-Irish jokes published on 17 July 1982
On 24 July 1982 the Irish Post reported that IBRG had put in a five-page submission to Channel Four calling on the TV station to give air time to Irish affairs. (14)
On 7 August 1982 the Irish Post had a front page story entitled ‘A Victory’ as the Camden shop had agreed not to sell racist Irish mugs as more which showed that the IBRG could achieve things for the Irish community and were not afraid to take action on behalf of the community and give a lead. (15)
On 14 August 1982 the Irish Post reported that the Federation for Irish Societies had called for the British living in the Irish Republic to be given the vote in Ireland. This was an extraordinary call given they never supported the Irish abroad having the vote at home. In the same issue the Irish Post reported that forty Tory Party constituencies had put forward motions on taking the vote off the Irish community in Britain. When the Irish Civil Rights Group reported this to the Commission for Racial Equality they were dismissed. (16)
On 28 July 1982 the Irish Post carried a big advert calling on the Irish to join the IBRG and gave the addresses for nine different branches. This advert was repeated in October 1982.
On 25 September 1982 the IBRG received a reply from James Prior Northern Irish Secretary stating that plastic bullets would not be withdrawn. Here we get the Irish community beginning to have their views known on abuses of human rights in Northern Ireland with particular concern for the deaths of children by the use of plastic bullets.
On 1 October 1982 the British Labour Party Conference called for a ban on plastic bullets throughout the UK.
On 20 October 1982 Sinn Fein took part in the new Northern Ireland Assembly elections and got 10% of the vote with Adams and McGuinness elected. The performance of Sinn Fein causes consternation in the British establishment fearing that Sinn Fein might eventually replace the Social and Democratic Labour Party.
On 23 October 1982 Jim King, Chair of IBRG, had a letter in the Irish Post questioning the role of the Federation of Irish Societies and what had they achieved and welcoming the call for a meeting of all groups representing the Irish in Britain. (17)
On 30 October 1982 the Irish Post reported IBRG as stating that ’a solution of the Northen Ireland conflict is hindered by irrational anti-Irish prejudice and misrepresentation of events in Ireland’. The paper also reported on the setting up of a new branch in Islington by Seamus Carey and Pat Reynolds. In the same issue Pat Reynolds had a letter attacking the far right in Britain who were trying to divide the Irish and Black community and pointed out that anti Irish and anti-Black racism had their roots in the colonial system of plantation and slavery.
On 6 November 1982 in the Irish Post Jim McGrath, of the F.I.S., responded to Jim King’s earlier letter and attacked the IBRG for its name and purpose. It was as if the Federation had lost the argument and had had nothing to add to the debate or to the way forward. Meanwhile the IBRG had started discussion with the Greater London Council (GLC) who had appointed an Irish Community Liaison Officer Steve Brennan who was a member of IBRG.
Ken Livingstone was leader of the GLC and John McDonnell his deputy, both with progressive views on Ireland and the Irish in Britain. Here the IBRG were moving away from the traditional Federation position of following the Irish Embassy, instead starting a dialogue on behalf of the Irish community with Local Authorities in Britain asking them how they were addressing the needs of the Irish community. The GLC responded by convening a meeting on London at County Hall for all Irish groups in London.
On 14 November 1982 the IBRG held their Ard Choiste meeting at the Yorker Public House in Nottingham where eight members of the NEC attended from London, Manchester, Nottingham, Liverpool and Burton on Trent. (18)
Jim King chaired the meeting which was spent mostly on drawing up a constitution and standing orders. The meeting considered whether the organisation needed to be split in two, one for the charity work and one for its political work. The Charity Commissioners had been approached for registration. The meeting decided on having an Ard Fheis in March 1983, welcomed an approach from Bradford & District Irish Association for affiliation, and agreed to take action about an article in the Daily Express.
On 19 November 1982 Islington IBRG took its first direct action by picketing three local shops in Islington including Woolworths for selling anti Irish materials such as joke books and racist tea towels. Jeremy Corbyn, Prospective Labour candidate for Islington North, attended the pickets. It marked a new beginning of taking action onto the street in defence of the rights of the community to live free from anti- Irish racism. (19)
In 20 November 1982 Sean Sexton, an IBRG member, wrote to the Irish Post asking why the Federation (F.I.S) never campaigned on anti-Irish racism, why they were silent on the Hunger strikes, have no presentation of Irish culture in Britain, and no promotion of Irish talent in Britain, no lobby of Parliament on issues affecting the community, and no response to Tory party attack on the Irish vote. Bridgit Galvin replied in the same issue to an earlier Federation attack by Jim McGrath. (20)
On 24 November 1982 Islington IBRG attended the Race Relations Committee at Islington Town Hall. Again this was a new departure for the Irish community. The Irish were clearly a racial group under the terms of the Race Relations Act and the House of Lords judgement on the matter and were therefore entitled to protection from discrimination in employment and racial abuse.
On 24 November 1982 a General Election in Ireland saw with return of a Fine Gael/ Labour coalition government.
On 27 November 1982 Woolworths agreed to withdraw their anti-Irish joke books after the IBRG met them at Woolworths HQ in London. (21 )They also agreed to withdraw racist tea towels which portrayed the Irish in racist terms. The IBRG had threatened national boycott of Woolworths stores in the UK. It was an instant quick victory for the IBRG and showed the Irish community what could be done to protect our children from this daily abuse in schools modelled on these adult examples of anti-Irish hatred.
It was a major victory in the fight against anti- Irish racism in Britain and sent out a clear warning that such anti- Irish materials would not be tolerated. The IBRG also called on Radio Telfis Eireann not to broadcast any BBC programme which included anti- Irish materials such as anti-Irish jokes.
On 27 November 1982 in the Irish Post there were a number of letters including the leading letter supporting the work of the IBRG .(22)
On Sunday 28 November 1982 the IBRG NEC met at the Yorker Public House. The meeting heard that the London regional committee had run into trouble the previous Sunday in London where there had been a dispute which would rumble on into 1983. The London Region did not fit into the National structure of IBRG and was set up originally to facilitate growth in London but now London had branches in different areas like Islington, Camden and Lambeth.
On 4 December 1982 the IBRG stand on anti-Irish racism was endorsed by the Labour Party when they stated ‘we welcome your statement and thoroughly endorse it. The racism faced by Irish people must we believe be revisited as that faced by Black people and Jews’. This was a major breakthrough to have the British Labour Party take a position on anti-Irish racism and to see it as an issue. (23)
On 4 December 1982 the IBRG had another major victory when Ken Livingstone of the GLC took up the issue the IBRG had with JAK, the cartoonist for Evening Standard, who on a regular basis published anti Irish cartons which were racist in the extreme. Livingstone stated ‘The IBRG claim they have received complaints from Irish residents of London who find the material extremely offensive. We will not put another penny into the Standard while they continue to vilify the Irish’ while John McDonell stated ‘we will stand shoulder to shoulder with the Irish community’.
The IBRG congratulated Livingstone and the GLC for their action in withdrawing £100,000 advertising from the Evening Standard and their support for the community ‘The IBRG asked Ken Livingstone to take up this matter in behalf of the Irish community and he did so splendidly.”
The GLC also supported the Irish community retaining the vote in Britain and condemned Tory Party attacks on this right to vote. This was a major victory for the Irish community in their fight against anti Irish racism in Britain.
On 8 December 1982 the British Home Secretary banned Gerry Adams and Danny Morrison from entering Britain under the PTA and the following day Ken Livingstone accepted an invitation from Adams to visit them in Belfast.
On 11 December 1982 Brent Council came out in favour of the Irish retaining the vote in Britain campaign that the IBRG was now running. The Council for Racial Equality (CRE) agreed to ask the Attorney General to speak out on Irish voting rights. This was the first time the CRE had agreed to do anything for the Irish community in Britain. (24)
On 18 December 1982 the London Regional Council held a meeting. Jim Curran was elected Chair, Steve Brennan as Vice Chair and Pat Delaney as Public Relations Officer.
On 20 December 1982 the British Government increased the number of MP seats in Northern Ireland from 12 to 17.
IBRG ended 1982 in a strong position with a functioning National Executive and a strong base in London. There were however some issues with the London Regional Council to be sorted out. The organisation had taken street action against anti Irish racism, had persuaded Woolworths to withdraw their anti-Irish materials from their shops in Britain, had persuaded the GLC to ban all advertising in the Standard because of the racist JAK cartoons, had got the Labour Party to support the IBRG position on anti-Irish racism and had begun to talk to Local Authorities about the needs of the Irish communities in Britain.
- Irish Post 30/01/1982
- Irish Post 6/02/1982
- Irish Post 27/02/1982
- Irish Post 13/03/1982
- Irish Post 20/03/1982
- Irish Post 3/04/1982
- Irish Post 1/05/1982
- Irish Post 15/05/1982
- Irish Post 22/05/1982
- Irish Post 29/05/1982
- Irish Post 19/06/1982
- Minutes of IBRG Ard Fheis 26/06/1982
- Irish Post 3/07/1982
- Irish Post 24/07/1982
- Irish Post 7/08/1982
- Irish Post 14/08/1982
- Irish Post 23/10/1982
- Minutes of IBRG NEC 14/11/1982
- Irish Post 19/11/1982
- Irish Post 20/11/1982
- Minutes of IBRG NEC 26/11/1982
- Irish Post 27/11/1982
- Irish Post 4/12/1982
- Irish Post 11/12/1982.
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 Mancheser – including Manchester IBRG read “The Wearing of the Green” by Michael Herbert. Buy it here