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.
On Sunday 16 January 1983 (1) the IBRG National Executive Council met at the Yorker Public House in Nottingham with Jim King in the Chair and Judy Peddle as Secretary. Nine members of the NEC attended including John Martin and Nessan Danaher.
The meeting heard that Jim Curran had been elected Chair of the London Regional Council after NEC London member Bridgit Galvin had resigned. There was a structural problem within IBRG in that London despite having a number of branches it had only one member on the NEC because of the way IBRG was set up outside of London. It was agreed that London could elect three members to the NEC. It was decided to hold the 1983 Ard Fheis (AGM) at Nottingham Town Hall.
In Islington Jeremy Corbyn Prospective candidate for the Labour Party in North Islington had attended the IBRG branch meeting in January 1983 along with Alan Clinton (later Leader of Islington Council) and Cllr Alex Farrell.
IBRG were now represented on Islington Council Race Relations Committee and could put forward items relating to the Irish community. On 26 January 1983 Islington IBRG led a picket of the Sun Newspaper because of their anti-Irish racism and got a good crowd with banners and placards showing the anger in the Irish community over racist abuse in the British media.
On 2 February 1983 Islington IBRG organised their second picket in a week on the Sun newspaper and doubled the number attending. This time the Sun management came out to speak to the IBRG.
On 17 February 1983 the Labour Party decided to oppose the Prevention of Terrorism Act in its existing form. This was a major breakthrough for the IBRG and the Irish community to shift the position of the Labour Party on the Act.
On 24 February 1983 (2) Dennis Lynch, an IBRG member, was elected for Labour in Brent in a by election giving Brent Council back to Labour. The IBRG strongly supported Dennis Lynch and went canvassing for him and got the Irish Post to call on the Irish in Harlesden to vote for him. The IBRG became a key factor in pushing the Tories from power in Brent.
It was the second showing of political muscle by the IBRG, the first one was getting the Greater London Council to stop advertising in the racist Evening Standard. It made the point that the Irish could vote politically when needed at local level, and showed a marked difference with the Irish Civil Rights group who advised the Irish community in 1981 not to vote at all. Dennis Lynch was strongly in support of setting up an Irish Cultural centre in Salsbury Road with both GLC and Brent Council funding.
On 24 February 1983 Islington IBRG organised a public meeting at Caxton House Archway to set up a community project in Islington which later became the Irish in Islington Project. Twenty people attended. On 26 February 1983 Islington IBRG held a social at Caxton House to raise funds.
On Sunday 27 February (3) 1983 the IBRG NEC met at the Yorker Public House in Nottingham with Jim King in the Chair and Judy Peddle as Secretary, also in attendance were John Martin: President and Nessan Danaher: Education Officer along with Pat Delaney and Steve Brennan from London.
Nine members of the NEC attended. Steve Brennan listed the London branches as Fleet St, Camden, Brent, Islington, Braintree (Essex), Waltham Forest, Southwark, Harrow, Ealing, Shepherds Bush, Hammersmith, Paddington, Marylebone and Westminster, a total of fourteen branches. The meeting decided on the structure of the Ard Fheis (AGM) for March in Nottingham.
On 11 March 1983 the Irish government set up an Ireland Forum as proposed by the SDLP. This was due to Sinn Fein becoming the largest nationalist Party in Northern Ireland. Sinn Fein was excluded.
On Saturday 26 March 1983 (4) the second IBRG Ard Fheis (AGM) was held at Nottingham County Hall. Twenty branches attended : Birmingham (Two), Brent, Oxford, Islington, Keighley, Waltham Forest, Southwark, Harrow, Manchester, Leicester, Cardiff, Merseyside, Burton on Trent, Nottingham, Lambeth, Westminster, Bradford, Northampton, and Bolton. On the day forty delegates signed the attendance book, but not all signed in on the day.
The Ard Fheis was opened by Nottingham MEP Michael Gallagher who welcomed the growth of the IBRG which opened up possibilities for the Irish in Britain to unite on a wide range of issues, and spoke of how the European parliament had been able to raise a range of issues relating to Northern Ireland. John Martin gave the President’s speech and outlined the growth of IBRG and the room for further growth.
Jim King, Chair, listed the achievements of IBRG so far. This ncluded: forcing Woolworths to withdraw anti-Irish materials from all their shops: the successful lobbying of the GLC in banning advertising with the London Evening Standard because of the racist JAK cartoons: the election of Dennis Lynch for Labour in Brent taking Brent from the Tories: and securing a grant for a large Irish centre in Brent. He spoke out against anti-Irish racism, and against the PTA having been renewed, and stated that we should never be afraid to speak out on Northern Ireland on areas of human rights.
Nessan Danaher, Education Officer, talked of his work about getting Irish history and culture into the curriculum and stated that IBRG needed to work with Local Education Authorities, the Catholic schools and adult education to get recognition for Irish language culture and history. He also spoke of getting Irish books into libraries schools and colleges.
The following officers were elected;
Chair: Jim King – Manchester
Vice Chair: Steve Brennan – Waltham Forest
President: John Martin – Burton on Trent
Vice Presidents: Donall MacAmhlaigh – Northampton, Michael Gallagher – MEP Nottingham and Jim Curran- London.
Runai (Secretary): Judy Peddle – Cardiff
Cisteoir (Treasurer): Pat Brown -Manchester
Internal co-ordinator: Peter Fallon- Nottingham
Membership: Pat Browne
Public Relations Officer: Pat Delaney – London
Legal officers: Dennis Lynch – London and Lloyd Tucker
Education Officer: Nessan Danaher- Leicester
Of the 14 officers elected only one was female.
Nine additional members were elected to the NEC four of whom were female.
Gerry Gallagher – Manchester
Des MacCurdy -Leicester
Bill Walsh- Liverpool
Mary Cahill- Waltham Forest
Joe Mullarkey -Bolton
Rita Lewis -Waltham Forest
Mike Evans- Keighley
Maire O’Shea -Birmingham.
Mary Duckett – London.
It was agreed that the policy document on Northern Ireland, produced by Manchester IBRG, would be debated at and agreed at a special conference later in the year and motions on Northern Ireland were remitted to this conference.
The Ard Fheis agreed motions as follows:
That IBRG launch a national campaign against the PTA.
That the IBRG formulate and publish clearly stated policy on the humanitarian aspects of Irish prisoners
That the IBRG organise a national debate on plastic bullets and conduct an education campaign with a view to the total banning of these weapons
That IBRG sponsor and join the Bobby Sands march with banners in London on 7 May 1983.
That IBRG condemn the raising of the price of Irish passports to £27 and raise this matter on its delegation to Ireland.
That the Irish Embassy did not do enough to help the Irish community in Britain
That IBRG petition Channel 4 to show the hurling and football All Irelands.
That IBRG congratulate Ken Livingstone on all the help he had given the Irish community in London.
That IBRG put pressure on local authorities to provide the teaching of Gaelic Games.
That IBRG call on the Irish Government to provide cheap charter flights between Britain and Ireland and cheaper and improved ferry services.
That IBRG encourage and foster a sense of identity and an understanding of Irish cultural inheritance among people of Irish origin and their dependents and also to combat all forms of racism within the fields of education noting that 1984 was anti-racism year.
That the European Parliament take on its full responsibilities with regard to Northern Ireland and Human Rights
Motions on giving Irish citizens abroad the vote, standing IBRG candidates in local elections, and forming a separate Irish trade union section were not passed. Surprisingly the motion on the vote for the Irish abroad was not carried since John Martin had raised it in 1981 as his one single issue to give the Irish abroad more power.
The IBRG NEC met on 9 April 1983 (5) at Brent Town Hall next to Wembley Stadium where the Gaelic Athletics Association used to use for their Easter matches every year. Eleven NEC members attended with Jim King in the Chair, Judy Peddle as Secretary/Runai, also in attendance were Steve Brennan – GLC Irish Liaison Officer, Jim Curran – Chair London Region, Nessan Danaher -Education Officer, Mary Cahill and Rita Lewis from Waltham Forest and Joe Mullarkey from Bolton.
The NEC decided to hold their special delegate Northern Ireland Conference at Brent Town Hall on 2 July 1983; to set up a subcommittee to campaign against the PTA which could co-op people from outside IBRG; to set up a Prisoners subcommittee to highlight the plight of Irish prisoners in British jails both political and non-political, with emphasis on the innocence of some of those serving long sentences and the injustice concerning repatriation to raise the issue with Irish Embassy; to set up a subcommittee on plastic bullets for campaigning on the issue; and finally agreed to sponsor the Bobby Sands March on May 7.
The meeting agreed to send an IBRG delegation to Dublin on 15 April to meet Charlie Haughey, leader of Fianna Fail, and Independent T.Ds, including Neil Blaney in the Dail. It was intended to raise the issue of the cost of Irish Passports, to ask B&I and other state companies to stop advertising in the London Evening Standard, to take action on the PTA, and the plight of Irish prisoners especially innocent ones in British jails, complain that the Irish Embassy was not doing enough to help the Irish in Britain, and to explore youth interchange between Britain and Ireland along with cultural and welfare grants and funding.
The meeting agreed to write to Ken Livingstone, Leader of the Greater London Council, to thank him for his principled stance on issues affecting the Irish community both here and abroad and that IBRG looked forward to his continued support. The NEC passed a motion from Cardiff IBRG that efforts to drag Ireland into NATO should be monitored.
The meeting agreed that Don Magee (London), Cass Breen (London), Mary Hickman (London), Rick Hennelly (Manchester), Declan O’Neil (Manchester), Eileen Murphy (Manchester) and Peter Ledworth (Manchester) be co-opted onto the NEC without voting rights.
An IBRG delegation went to Dublin in April and met with Charlie Haughey, Leader of Fianna Fail, and Brian Lennihan and discussed the issues raised at the NEC meeting. Pat Delaney was part of the delegation.
On 30 April 1983 a large delegation from IBRG representing several London branches attended an Inner London Education Authority Conference on multi ethnic education to demand an Irish dimension to multi ethnic education within ILEA.
On 4 May 1983 Jim Curran and Pat Delaney attended a packed meeting in Haringey to set up an IBRG branch there. The Federation of Irish Societies, who were present, were opposed to the IBRG setting up in Haringey as they had their strongest base in Britain there with Gearoid O Meachair (George Meehan) who later became Leader of Haringey Council, and Bill Aulsbury.
On 5 May 1983 a Bobby Sands Rally was held at the Camden Irish Centre at which Tom Devine Mayor of Camden, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin , Ken Livingstone, and Jim Curran frpm IBRG spoke. 1,000 people attended the meeting. Livingstone got a standing ovation from the crowd.
On 7 May 1983 IBRG branches marched with their banners on the Bobby Sands March from Hyde Park to County Hall where Ken Livingstone, Caoimhghin O’Caollain from Sinn Fein and Jim Curran of IBRG spoke. 3,000 people attended the march.
On 20 May 1983 the IBRG picketed the Labour Party Press conference at Transport House over its Northern Ireland policy : Seamus Carey, Mary Hickman and Pat Reynolds were among those protesting.
On 22 May 1983 eight London IBRG branches attended the GLC Irish Consultative Conference (6) held at County Hall London with twelve delegates, including Pat Delaney, Sean Sexton, Brid Keenan, Seamus Carey, and Sue O’Halloran. Ken Livingstone opened the Conference attended by ninety delegates. He pointed out the distortion of events and racial stereotyping of the Irish which had become particularly virulent during the conflict in the North of Ireland, and the use of the Prevention of Terrorism act (PTA) to intimidate the Irish and to deny them their right to political expression and stated that the general ignorance about Ireland was worrying.
The Conference approved three papers; Cultural and Education, Political, and Welfare, with a list of recommendations with each paper. The Conference marked the arrival of the IBRG as a political force in London in terms of putting forwards the demands of the Irish community.
On 1 June 1983 the IBRG had a meeting in London with Ken Livingstone Leader of the GLC and Pat Delaney as part of the delegation.
On 4 June 1983 (7) the IBRG NEC met at Our Lady’s Centre Manchester. Fourteen members of the NEC attended along with three observers. Jim King chaired, Judy Peddle Secretary/Runai, while among those present were John Martin, Pat Delaney, Nessan Danaher, Joe Mullarkey, Moira O’Shea, Mike Forde and Rita Lewis.
The meeting heard a report back from the four-person delegation to Ireland and the meeting with Haughey and Lennihan where they raised the issue of passports, and the plight of Irish prisoners. It was agreed to set up a meeting with the Irish Ambassador, Dr Kennedy. Charlie Haughey had asked IBRG to send a submission to the New Ireland Forum. The meeting agreed two documents put forward by Brent and Haringey with support from Bolton and Cardiff on the Birmingham Six who were innocent prisoners in British jails. The Irish Embassy had panicked when they heard that IBRG were going to Dublin to meet Haughey and quickly arranged for the Federation of Irish Societies to go to Dublin to meet the Taoiseach Gareth Fitzgerald. It was the first time ever the Federation had been to Dublin.
On 4 June 1983 Islington IBRG organised a motor car rally through the streets of Islington in support of Jermyn Corbyn and the next day leafletted the main churches in North Islington. Michael O’Halloran, originally from Clare, was the standing MP but had been deselected and was now standing as an Independent.
The British General Election took place on 9 June 1983 and the Tories, on the back of the Malvinas war, won by a landslide of 144 seats. Gerry Adams was elected MP for West Belfast and the ban on him entering Britain was lifted, and Jeremy Corbyn was elected MP for North Islington. Gerry Fitt was sent to the Lords after his political defeat in Belfast.
On 15 June 1983 the IBRG met the Irish Ambassador, Kennedy, in what was a tense meeting when he asked the IBRG who they represented and where IBRG stood on republican resistance. The IBRG informed him that the primary violence in Ireland was British and had been so for over 800 years.
The delegation included Steve Brennan, Jim Curran, Pat Delaney, Michael Forde Seamus Carey, Don Magee and Pat Reynolds. Later in the week Pat Reynolds wrote to the Ambassador condemning his attack on the delegation and his one-sided view of violence and his refusal to recognise a bone fide Irish community organisation.
Brendan McLua, Editor of the Irish Post, backed the letter and went further in an editorial of 2 July 1983 (8) stating the confrontation had arisen from the Embassy’s inability or unwillingness to comprehend that ours is now largely a second generation community and that, as a result, is diverse , much of it highly educated, and it can no longer be fitted into the tidy and comfortable structures of county associations and the Federation of Irish Societies which, in their own admirable ways, have over the years represented the organised Irish born community. These structures were unchallenging for the Embassy, easy to understand, and easy to patronise.
Remarks made to the delegation were offensive and uncalled for. The IBRG’s membership included a number MP’s, a Euro MP, who is a vice president of the organisation and many councillors up and down the country. More to the point the IBRG’s approximately forty branches comprise a wide cross section of our community of all backgrounds and persuasion. Diplomats are transient here today gone tomorrow, they have little compatibility with the permanent community and they should not seek to dictate the course of its development. The Irish Embassy has no entitlement, no authority to insult such a representative section of our community and the IBRG are entitled to a formal apology.
The Ambassador’s days were numbered but the Embassy would never forgive the IBRG or the Irish Post for shifting an incompetent Ambassador. At the meeting the IBRG raised the question of the Birmingham Six, Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven who were innocent prisoners. The Ambassador had not been briefed on them and had no knowledge of what we were talking about despite Cardinal O’Fiaich stating that they were innocent people. Both Alf Lomas and Richard Balfe MEPs had joined the IBRG.
On 16 June 1983 a new IBRG branch was set up in Bristol, on 17 June a new IBRG branch at Coventry at St Finbarr’s Club, and one in Stafford on 30 June. The new N.E. Lancashire branch, set up in February, announced that it was taking up welfare work with Irish elders.
The IBRG Northern Ireland Conference took place on 2 July 1983 (9) in the Council Chamber at Brent Town Hall in Wembley. Sixteen branches were present including Brent, Fleet St, Westminster, Haringey, Islington, Paddington, Waltham Forest, Lambeth, Harrow, Manchester, Bolton, Cardiff, Leicester, Merseyside, Birmingham (two branches) with apologies from Nottingham and Bradford.
Jim King, Chair, in addressing the meeting, stated that the ending of British involvement in Northern Ireland is an absolute prerequisite to peace and a lasting solution in Ireland. John Martin, President, stated that ‘I cannot imagine the IBRG ever failing to speak out when required and as required on the national question’
The Policy called for an immediate withdrawal of British troops from Northern Ireland, the ending of all repressive measures, plastic bullets to be banned, Irish prisoners wrongly convicted including the Birmingham Six, Guildford Four and Maguire Seven to be released, Irish political prisoners to be transferred back to Ireland nearer their families, an ending of censorship and distortion, an ending of the Loyalist veto, Irish neutrality to be maintained and the support of political parties and trade unions to be sought for the policy.
The document entitled Northern Ireland Policy was adopted by the meeting. The policy stated that ‘our life in Britain and Ireland is underscored and structures by Britain’s relationship with Ireland. This relationship has historically been one of intervention on the part of Britain and it this intervention which has resulted in the situation in Ireland itself and our position as members of the Irish community in Britain. The IBRG recognises that the war in Northern Ireland is a direct result of a British colonisation policy and we therefore maintain that any just and lasting solution must include a recognition of the island of Ireland as a single, independent sovereign political unit. We therefore see the ending of the war in Ireland and a political solution in the Six Counties as a priority for all Irish people in Britain.
On 17 July 1983 Merlyn Rees former Northern Ireland Secretary said that around 1975 a cabinet subcommittee had considered withdrawal from Northern Ireland but no Minister would support it.
On 18 July 1983 Islington IBRG held a public meeting on Northern Ireland at Islington Central Library with speakers including newly elected MP Jeremy Corbyn, Greater London Council Member Steve Bundred, Labour Councillor Alan Clinton and Pat Reynolds IBRG. The meeting was chaired by Seamus Carey, brother of Donal Carey Fine Gael TD in Clare.
In July 1983 (10) IBRG NEC members Pat Delaney and Michael Forde attended the Irish American Unity Conference in Chicago as observers. They were warmly received by over five hundred delegates from American Irish organisations and made useful connections.
On 26 July 1983 (11) an IBRG delegation met Peter Barry Tánaiste and Irish Foreign Minister at the Irish Embassy in London. The IBRG delegation was led by Jim Curran – Chair London region, Nessan Danaher- Education officer, Steve Brennan _ GLC Irish Policy Officer, Vice Chair – Pat Delaney and non-NEC members Pat Reynolds and Brid Sexton from London.
Out of interest, Barry in an earlier speech in Limerick stated ‘I am an Irish Nationalist. I resent the political division of this island and I regard the long term British presence as an obstacle to the reconciliation of the two traditions and to the achievement of peace and stability on this island As long as the two traditions are in conflict, the Irish people north and south, Unionist and Nationalist, will not achieve their full potential-economically, politically, socially or culturally. As long as the British government supports one side in that conflict, we cannot hope for a normal relationship between the people of these islands.’ The IBRG were happy to endorse Peter Barry’s statement at that time.
Jim Curran started the discussion with Peter Barry by calling on the Irish government to set up funding for the welfare and cultural needs of the Irish community in Britain, pointing out that the Irish abroad had sent home millions of pounds over the years to help their families at home and the Irish economy, they bought Irish products abroad from butter to beef, spent their holidays in Ireland and promoted Irish culture abroad. Jim Curran indicated that instead of spending millions on the Irish border and the partition of Irish some of this money could be spend on supporting the Irish in Britain.
Nessan Danaher raised the issues of Irish culture history and literature in the British curriculum and asked that the Irish government support cultural exchanges for second generation Irish and provide resources for school. Nessan spoke on the impact of anti-Irish racism on Irish children in the school system and the impact of the troubles in Northern Ireland.
Barry wanted the IBRG and the Irish community in Britain to condemn IRA violence but was challenged on this narrow interpretation of violence. He was asked by Pat Delaney to condemn British violence in Ireland such as Bloody Sunday and other atrocities including the killing of children by plastic bullets, the PTA, and the framed Irish prisoners in Britain. Barry refused to condemn British violence in Ireland. Pat Delaney left the meeting in protest of Barry’s British one-sided view of political violence and called him a hypocrite.
Years later the Irish government would adopt Jim Curran and the IBRG proposal of funding the Irish community in Britain and abroad for their welfare and cultural needs. The IBRG also raised the cost of Irish passports, the PTA, and Irish prisoners in Britain including both political ones and framed ones.
Peter Barry in his meeting with the Irish National Council described Gerry Adams as fascist and Sinn Fein members as Fascists. This raised questions about his understanding of history and his understanding of Northern Ireland in that Sinn Fein won 42% of the Nationalist vote in Northern Ireland and would have to be part of any solution. Barry told the INC that the Irish in Britain had no role to play in Anglo Irish affairs apart from letting their English neighbours know they were different from the IRA gunmen.
In its report of the IBRG meeting with Barry it was recorded ‘Since the IBRG was founded 18 months ago the Irish Embassy has looked on disdainfully and apprehensively. The Irish Embassy has seen the IBRG as too green and capable of disturbing the orderly and deferring Irish community structures with which the Embassy officials have been closely associated. The Federation for example has long had a tradition where an Embassy official attends every meeting and is called upon by the chair to sum up at the conclusion of businesses. The IBRG had criticised the Embassy for not doing anything for the Irish community in Britain at its AGM and the Irish Ambassador Kennedy had at the Irish Post Awards publicly attacked the IBRG.”
On 27 July 1983 Gerry Adams MP, Ken Livingstone GLC Leader, Jeremy Corbyn MP and Chris Smith MP spoke at Finsbury Town Hall in Islington North London. Over one thousand people attended the meeting.
Chris Smith made a one-sided attack on republican violence while ignoring British violence in Ireland such as Bloody Sunday and the Ballymurphy massacres. Pat Reynolds challenged him over his one-sided view on violence based on a colonial perspective in the local Islington Gazette. In the letter of 19 August 1983 Pat Reynolds wrote ‘Why is there so much repression of any debate on Ireland? Surely the British people have a right to know what their government is doing in Ireland, just as the Americans had to find out what was happening in Vietnam. Let’s have less distortion and start a rational and intelligent debate in Ireland and end the conspiracy of silence’.
The IBRG NEC (12) met at Mount Street Community Centre in Birmingham on Saturday 6 August 1983 where ten NEC members attended including Jim King – Chair, Judy Peddle – Secretary/ Runai, Joe Mullarkey, Moira O’Shea, Pat Delaney and Nessan Danaher- Education Officer .
The NEC heard a motion from Lambeth IBRG, supported by Haringey IBRG, calling on the NEC to initiate an open committee of enquiry (encompassing impartial groups of MPs councillors, National Council for Civil Liberties etc) to examine the trial documents and all other relevant material in relation to the case of the Birmingham, Guildford and Woolwich public house bombings and the Maguire family and friends. The NEC agreed to raise the matter with Amnesty International (both British and Irish sections) the NCCL and to the main political parties in Britain.
The NEC agreed to write to the Irish Ambassador raising protest at his objectionable references to hypothetical links between IBRG and the IRA and his unsatisfactory response and conduct during the recent meeting with IBRG. It was agreed that the delegation should also try and meet Sinn Fein and Independent T.D. Neil Blaney.
The NEC put forward an agenda with travel and related issues including cost of passports, on politics they would raise the racist PTA, harassment of Nationalist community in Northern Ireland and Human Rights issues like plastic bullets and the plight of both political and framed British in British jails. Nessan Danaher, the Education Officer, talked of raising the need for a National resources centre for Irish education material in Britain which could be supported from Dublin and from Europe. The NEC would also raise financial support for Irish cultural and welfare projects in Britain and it noted that Ken Livingstone was supporting Irish Welfare and cultural projects in London.
The delegation was planned for October with ten delegates including Officers and NEC members. An Runai (secretary) had sent a copy of our Northern Ireland policy document to the New Ireland Forum and IBRG would raise the exclusion of Sinn Fein from the Forum whilst in Dublin.
The NEC agreed to send an IBRG delegation to Dublin in the autumn as they had letters from both Fianna Fail and Labour who were willing to meet a delegation.
In 17/18 August 1983 (13) the Guardian did a two-day feature on the Irish in Britain, which included Pat Delaney from the IBRG, the Federation of Irish Societies, Irish National Council , Catholic clergy and Kevin McNamara M.P. It was almost totally a male article with only a little piece of the PTA arrest of Margaret O’Neill.
Ivor Stanbrook in the Daily Mail stated that ‘Without a sea of expatriate Irishmen in which to swim the IRA would never escape detection in Britain’ and called for the vote to be taken from the Irish. The article is interesting in so far that the Guardian has always ignored the Irish community in Britain and has only covered their position three-time in 30 years, although they will cover English games like soccer and rugby for Ireland along with literature and arts but never the Irish community in Britain.
On 28 August 1983 Ken Livingstone stated that Britain’s treatment of the Irish over eight hundred years had been worse than Hitler’s treatment of the Jews.
On 7 September 1983 a referendum on abortion in Ireland showed a two thirds majority for a pro-life amendment being added to the constitution.
On 15 September 1983 Islington IBRG met with Margaret Hodge, Leader of Islington Council, to discuss issues affecting the Irish community in Britain. By the end of September the IBRG had set up the Irish in Islington project as an independent project for the Irish community with two full time workers which was funded by the Greater London Council.
The agenda for their September meeting at Caxton House shows the variety of issues the local IBRG were involved in; Islington Race Committee Report, Police And Criminal Evidence report, Corbyn’s Irish Group in Commons, IBRG Conference on Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Policy, IBRG London Region report, Education Irish language and History classes, meeting with Islington Housing, Social Services, Recreation including Irish books in Libraries, delegation to BBC,ITV, Home Office, Parliamentary Labour Party, Women’s Committee and Irish Women’s Group and Racism in Shops.
On 25 September 1983 thirty eight prisoners of war escaped from the UK detention Maze camp (in Northern Ireland) in a lorry. Nineteen were retaken later but the other nineteen got clean away. The retaken prisoners were assaulted by the warders and later won compensation for the assaults.
Neil Kinnock was elected Leader of the Labour Party in October 1983.
The IBRG NEC met at Brent Town Hall on 15 October 1983 (14) chaired by Jim King with Secretary/Runai Judy Peddle. Fifteen NEC members attended alongside observers from London branches. John Martin: President, Jim Curran: Vice President, Pat Delaney: PRO, Nessan Danaher: Education Officer, Joe Mullarkey (Bolton) Mary Cahill, Cllr Dennis Lynch from Brent, Steve Brennan, Mary Duckett and Rita Lewis.
The unresolved London problem had raised its head when observers from the London branches wanted a hearing and a discussion on the matter. IBRG had started after the first meeting at Westminster Central Hall by setting up a London Area Organising Committee (LAOC whose first chair was Bridgit Galvin). Since then Jim Curran, Pat Delaney, and Steve Brennan had set up branches in Islington, Haringey and other areas of London. Jim Curran had replaced Bridgit Galvin as Chair but this was disputed because Bridgit Galvin was the NEC representative on the body. While Jim Curran was now an officer of the NEC, there were issues over democracy and the constitution of some London branches.
It was a constitutional mess as the LAOC had no standing in the constitution and was becoming an organisation within an organisation. It was a dangerous situation in that LAOC had applied to the GLC for £50k funding and looked like getting it. It now called itself the London Regional Council of the IBRG. The disputed branches were Fleet St, Ealing and West Hampstead which were not registered. The meeting voted against hearing the dispute and decided to allow the GLC funding bid to go ahead. The NEC accepted the new officers of the LRC, despite all of them being from West London with no representation from South, East or North London.
The problem would rumble on until the 1984 Ard Fheis( AGM). The following London branches were registered with NEC; Harrow, Islington, Lambeth, Haringey, Westminster, Waltham Forest and Brent. Steve Brennan GLC Irish Liaison Officer spoke to the meeting on the GLC grant position. The NEC decided that the LRC grant be allowed to go ahead. The LRC had even created their own constitution. It was agreed to hold a special LRC meeting on 30 October 1983 at which the National Chair and Secretary would attend to try and resolve the situation.
Nessan Danaher, Education officer, informed the meeting that he was holding an IBRG National Education Conference at Soar Valley in Leicester on 11 February 1984, the first of its kind in Britain.
The meeting noted that a new Ambassador had been appointed in London.
A Birmingham Six paper which had been prepared by the Prisoners subcommittee was read to the meeting and adopted. It was agreed to co-op Sandra Hunter, (the wife of one of the Birmingham 6 Gerry Hunter) onto the Prisoner subcommittee. Plaid Cymru had written expressing sympathy and interest in the Birmingham Six case.
John Martin drew attention to a Daily Express crossword of 15 September 1983 which had a clue: Irish activist- answer: terrorist. It was agreed that the matter should be referred to the Press Council and the Council for Racial Equality. The question of setting up an Irish in Britain Unity Conference in 1984 was raised.
On 2/3 November 1983 (15) an eight person IBRG delegation went to Dublin to meet the political parties : Fine Gael and Labour from the Government, Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein. Jim King Chair led the delegation along with President, John Martin, Secretary/Runai Judy Peddle, Michael Forde, Gerry Gallagher, Pat Delaney PRO, Mary Duckett and Maire O’Shea.
IBRG met Ruari Quinn, Minister of the Environment, and discussed free travel in Ireland for Irish pensioners in Britain, met with five Fine Gael TDs including future leader Enda Kenny who were hostile to IBRG, Brian Lennihan Deputy of Fianna Fail and Joe Cahill of Sinn Fein and later Labhras O Murchu of Comhaltas.
Fine Gael adopted the same approach of the Irish Ambassador and Peter Barry towards the IBRG by questioning the role of IBRG, but the delegation called on them to provide funding for Irish welfare, culture, education and research for the Irish in Britain. The IBRG also called on the Irish Government to set up Irish consulates in Scotland, Wales, Manchester and Birmingham. Jim King felt that the delegation had been successful, constructive and had established lines of communication and that recognition of IBRG had been won.
On 13 November 1983 Gerry Adams is elected President of Sinn Fein to replace Ruari O Bradaigh a shift from the Republic to the North in the Sinn Fein power block.
A new IBRG branch was set up in Middlesborough on 19 November by Cllr Tony Campbell.
The NEC met on 26th November 1983 (16) at Bolton Town Hall where eleven members turned up including Jim King, Chair, Runai, Judy Peddle, Jim Curran, Pat Delaney PRO, Kathleen Wright, Mike Forde, Joe Mullarkey and Moira O’Shea. Steve Brennan had resigned as Vice Chair because of conflict of interests as he was Irish Liaison Officer with the GLC and was dealing with IBRG over grants.
The NEC heard that the LRC had met on 30 October 1983 and that the dispute was definitely settled and the GLC grant had been approved. The Labour on Ireland magazine was circulating at the meeting so that individuals could contribute to it. The NEC decided to approach the Young Liberals for support and to send the Northern Ireland policy to all the political parties in Britain. Kathleen Wright from Bolton had taken over as Internal Co-ordinator. Bolton now had a newsletter for the Irish community.
An Runai (Secretary) then read a letter from Pat Reynolds of Islington IBRG who asked that the NEC set up a system of monitoring the national and local media in Britain for anti-Irish racism after the Fleet St tabloids attacked the Irish in Islington Project in an extremely racist manner. Pat Reynolds also put forward the need for a weekly Irish radio programme at both national and local level. It was agreed that the Fleet St branch would undertake this role. Joe Mullarkey was trying to set up something similar in Bolton and had had a constructive meeting with the editor of Bolton Evening News.
The NEC expressed concern about the amount of nuclear waste being dumped in the Irish Sea and agreed that branches should take this up with their MPs and MEP and the IBRG would write to the Irish government on the matter. Members would be attending the Manchester Martyrs March the following day and the NEC supported the march.
On 17 December 1983 an IRA bomb outside Harrods killed six people, including three police officers. The IRA state that the Army Council had not approved the action and regretted the deaths caused.
On Boxing Day 1983 Islington IBRG met with Jeremy Corbyn, MP North Islington, to plan ahead on Irish issues in the borough and national issues which included Corbyn trying to set up a group for MPs in the Commons who were supportive of Ireland and the Irish community, plans to meet with the Home Office, Inner London Education Authority, Council for Racial Equality, Channel Four and getting an Irish centre in Islington.
- NEC Minutes 16/01/1983
- Irish Post 24/02/1983
- NEC Minutes 27/02/1983
- Ard Fheis Minutes 26/03/1983
- NEC Minutes 9/04/1983
- GLC Irish Conference Report 22/05/1983
- NEC Minutes 4/06/1983
- Irish Post Editorial 2/07 1983
- Northern Ireland Conference Policy 2/07/1983
- Irish Post 23/07/1983
- Irish Post 30/07/1983
- NEC Minutes 6/08/1983
- The Guardian Irish reports 17/18/08/1983
- NEC Minutes 15/10/1983
- Irish Post 12/11/1983
- NEC Minutes 26/11/1983
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