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.
The NEC met at the Olympus Hotel, Cardiff on 21st January 1984 (1). Nine NEC members were present including Jim King Chair, Runai Judy Peddle, along with Pat Delaney, Caitlin Wright, Mike Forde, Maire O’ Shea and Joe Mullarkey.
Joe Mullarkey wanted more action taken on the Daily Express Crossword anti-Irish racism, while Judy Peddle raised an offensive anti-Irish poem published in the Observer.
The Chair reported that new branches would be opening soon in Glasgow, Newcastle, Coventry, Blackburn, Gloucester and Doncaster.
Jim King reported that Manchester IBRG had been given a weekly radio programme on Manchester BBC and that he had been selected by Labour to stand in Salford in the local elections.
The Chair stated that at a meeting in Birmingham there had been some confusion over the IBRG position re- violence, but IBRG recognised that the British government’s actions in Ireland were the root cause of the violence there. The IBRG believes that the voice of the Irish in Britain should be heard on the problems of Northern Ireland. We will work in a peaceful law abiding and democratic way for a political solution to the problem. It was reaffirmed that we as an organisation would act accordingly.
Judy Peddle reported that she had sent the Northern Ireland policy statement to the leaders of the three main British parties and to their spokesperson on Northern Ireland. She had also sent our material on the Birmingham Six to sympathetic MPs.
An Runai read letters from Haringey and Islington IBRG which expressed their dismay at the London Regional Council meeting which the NEC Chair had attended, where they were not allowed to speak and were asked to leave. They claimed that the LRC was not representative or accountable to anyone as it only represents Brent and no one from South London, East London or North London. The PRO reported that at the recent LRC meeting two members himself and Juliette O Shea had been selected as workers for the new project in Brent. Members present felt that this was a breach of Equal opportunities as the jobs should have been advertised, shortlisted and interviews arranged.
The Internal co-ordinator Caitlin Wright and the Prisoners Sub-committee had written to Neil Kinnock and Peter Archer about the Birmingham Six. Caitlin had produced an Internal newsletter for IBRG.
On 11 February 1984 (2) the 1st IBRG National Education Conference was held at Soar Valley, Leicester organised by IBRG Education officer Nessan Danaher. Ninety five people had registered for the conference which was a major success in raising issues affecting the Irish community in Education.
Speakers at the Conference included Nessan Danaher, IBRG Education officer, Barry Dufour of Leicester University and Tim Ottevanager of Leicester Council. Barry Dufour stressed the need to look at the social and economic background and structure of the Irish community in Britain and the problem of racism which the community had been encountering. Ivan Gibbons from London criticised the ILEA (Inner London Education Authority) for not giving the Polytechnic of North London £6k to set up an Irish Studies course. He also criticised the Irish middle classes for failing to identify positively and publicly in an Irish ethnic sense thus depriving the second generation of support and example.
Among the attendance were Steve Brennan GLC Irish Policy officer, Justin Harmon from the Irish Embassy, Jim King Chair IBRG, Maurice Moore Coventry IBRG, Father Joe Taaffe Birmingham, Maire O’ Shea Birmingham, the Gaelic League, Luton libraries, Manchester Education Irish Video Project along with various education authorities school heads and teachers.
The IBRG NEC met on Saturday 25 February 1984 at the Camden Irish Centre in London (3) Nine members of the NEC attended included Jim King chair, Judy Peddle Runai, Pat Delaney PRO, Jim Curran, Nessan Danaher Education officer, Caithlin Wright and Joe Mullarkey from Bolton.
The Chair reported back from opening an IBRG branch in Glasgow and that Joe Mullarkey would be opening a new branch in Blackburn on 27 February 1984. New branches were planned for Salford, and Manchester Polytechnic plus one in Newcastle. The Education Officer was congratulated for the success and his pioneering work in hosting the 1st Irish national conference on Education in Britain.
Pat Delaney and Jim Curran reported back on the Greater London Council Conference held at Camden Irish Centre on 12 February 1984. The Federation and Irish Counties Association tried to carve up and control the three different GLC commissions which had been set up. They were content to leave the Political Commission to the IBRG since there was no money in it, but wanted the Welfare Commission to be controlled by the Federation with Gearoid O Meachair in control, and the Irish Cultural Commission with Brendan Mulkere in control.
The problem was that IBRG were strong in both of these areas and were as much involved in the welfare of the Irish community, as were the Federation likewise with Irish Culture as IBRG were active in the GAA, in Green Ink, and in Comhaltas.
In the end the Political Commission never functioned at all, the Welfare Commission died a death, while the Cultural Commission did function for several years and got funding from the GLC for two workers. Education came under Culture and the IBRG were most active on Education and were putting on Irish language and history classes plus members such as Nessan Danaher, Mary Hickman, Cass Breen, Brid Keenan, and many others.
Branches had been opened in Stafford, Manchester Polytechnic, with one opening in Newcastle in March. Donall MacAmhlaigh, the Irish language writer, had written from Northampton to give details of the work of the branch there. Joe Mullarkey reported on the opening of a new IBRG branch in Blackburn.
Judy Peddle had also written to the CRE over an anti-Irish article in the Observer, and had written to a student magazine in Scotland after Glasgow IBRG had complained of anti-Irish material.
Lambeth, Haringey and Islington branches had written to the NEC complaining about the London Regional Council and the November 1983 AGM. Both Jim Curran, Chair of the LRC, and Pat Delaney left the meeting after some angry exchanges over the issues which were left unresolved.
There was concern expressed that Pat Delaney, PRO, had endorsed an article in the Daily Telegraph which referred to the Irish economy in a very disparaging way and had used anti-Irish stereotypes. Pat Delaney quotes had appeared in the Irish Press and appeared to endorse the Daily Telegraph article. Members felt the Telegraph article was extremely offensive and had factual material wrong. The PRO stated that the Irish Press had edited his comments.
The meeting agreed that the PRO should write to the Irish Press to indicate he was expressing his own views rather than IBRG, as the organisation had never discussed the Irish economy. Jim Curran and Pat Delaney claimed that the three branches, Haringey Islington and Lambeth, were trouble makers, and both falsely claimed that Lambeth branch were only the local Troops Out branch.
The meeting agreed to write to all London members asking them for their views of the situation, but Pat Delaney and Jim Curran refused to accept this and stated they would declare UDI in London and left the meeting. Concern had also been raised about the Fleet St branch which London branches felt was a bogus branch. The matter was then left to the Ard Fheis in March.
There were a number of separate issues here. The PRO being out of control and doing his own thing, and also being out of his depth in dealing with the media, and also having no experience of how to counteract anti-Irish racism in the media, and not challenging the editor or using the Press Council. Islington IBRG had far greater experience of dealing with the media and anti-Irish racism and of taking direct action such as twice picketing the Sun newspaper plus using local papers to good effect.
In March 1984 Waltham Forest IBRG had accused the Daily Telegraph of racism over an article which stated that the Irish in Britain were quietly despised, and that many people in the British government considered the Irish to be too volatile, too scatterbrain, too disorganised and a lot of “paddywhack clowns’. The article envisaged an United Ireland as a centralised single party dictatorship rather like Nicaragua. Waltham Forest IBRG had referred the matter to the GLC Working group on racism for action.
Waltham Forest IBRG were granted funding by the GLC to set up an Irish Advice and Resource Centre in Waltham Forest. They also got funding to create a mobile exhibition on history of anti-Irish racism which could go around Britain later, part of the GLC anti-racist year.
The third IBRG Ard Fheis took place on 24/25 March 1984 (4) at the Carousel Club, Manchester. Twenty branches sent delegates from Bolton, Blackburn, Birmingham, Cardiff, Manchester, Manchester South, Ealing, Kensington, Southwark, Paddington, Lambeth, Glasgow, West Hampstead, Leeds, Islington, Harrow, Haringey, Leicester, Merseyside and Burton- on- Trent.
The outgoing officers Jim King, John Martin, Judy Peddle, Pat Browne, Pat Delaney, Nessan Danaher, Mike Forde, Kathleen Wright, Joe Mullarkey, Maire O Shea, Mary Duckett and Gerry Gallagher were present.
Jim King, Chair, in his opening address to the Ard Fheis spoke of a year of great progress, of many new branches, and the active promotion of Irish culture in many areas. The highlight of the year had been the very successful IBRG National Education Conference organised by Nessan Danaher in Leicester in February which was a real flag ship for IBRG. The Chair expressed concern over the continuous flow of anti-Irish racism in the British press, and the injustice of British rule in Northern Ireland continued.
Nessan Danaher, Education Officer, got a great reception from the Ard Fheis for his hard work in putting on the first IBRG National education Conference that ninety five people attended with every major Irish community organisation in Britain represented.
It had raised the banner high of Irish issues in education and had put the issue on the map, while making using contacts across the board. He was concerned that some teachers were racist or held patronising attitudes towards the Irish and that the Northern Ireland conflict was impacting on Irish children, because of the racism in the media and the lack of recognition of Irish history or culture in the curriculum. He called for the question of Irish ethnicity to be sorted out and for the Irish to be recognised as an ethnic minority in Britain. He recommended Irish Studies in Britain as an excellent magazine highlighting Irish issues in the curriculum.
The verification of branches then took place as members wanted to clarify the situation in London. After it was found that the few members of Fleet St branch were members of existing branches Pat Reynolds moved that for the purpose of the Ard Fheis that Fleet St be ruled out as a branch which the meeting voted on and agreed. Pat and Freda Delaney were then asked to join the meeting as observers since Brent already had two observers.
Pat Delaney, PRO, then gave his report and talked of the success of Islington IBRG in getting Woolworths nationally to withdraw their anti-Irish materials from all its stores after picketing of their Holloway stores
Judy Peddle, Runai, then presented her report the Ard Fheis and concluded by raising concerns about the situation in London she had received in writing from London branches. During the discussion which followed Pat Delaney outgoing PRO, Freda Delaney, Maureen Ferns, Kay Coughlin and Juliette O Shea walked out of the meeting.
Gearoid MacGearailt from Lambeth stated that the lack of a good constitution had been the main cause of the problems which had beset London, and he had brought a new constitution to the meeting so that IBRG could have a solid constitution. Manchester proposed the abolition of Regional Councils such as the LRC which was voted on and agreed. The new constitution was voted on and agreed by the meeting.
The elections of Officers then took place with the new Constitution using Gaelic terms for the various positions.
Cathhaoireach/Chair Jim King (Manchester)
Leas Cathaoireach/Vice Chair Seamus Carey (Islington)
Uachtaran/President John Martin (Burton)
Leas Uachtaran Joe Mullarkey (Bolton)
Runai Secretary Judy Peddle (Cardiff)
Leas Runai Gearoid MacGearailt (Lambeth)
Internal Co-ordinator Kathleen Wright (Bolton)
PRO Pat Reynolds (Islington)
Education Officer Nessan Danaher (Leicester)
Youth officer Mike Forde announced he was standing down so left open
Cisteoir/treasurer Alan Wallace (Leeds)
An Runai Ballraoichta/Membership Finbarr Cullen (Haringey)
Although the Officers represented an even spread of branches across Britain only 2 women were elected out of 11 Officers. This was concerning given that there were many able women within IBRG.
The following motions were passed by the Ard Fheis.
The abolition of the no jury system in Northern Ireland, an end to the use of uncollaborated testimony by witnesses bribed to perjure themselves with offer of immunity and money, a searching investigation into the cases of all those convicted under this blatantly unjust system (Haringey),
The transfer of all Irish political prisoners to prisoners nearer their homes and relatives (Birmingham)
The ending of strip searching in Armagh Jail and the organisation of a campaign in Britain against strip-searching (Manchester)
Condemn the removal of the Irish language and Irish studies from Irish political prisoners in Northern Ireland.
That IBRG support the Stop the Show trials committee and the Relatives for Justice (Paddington)
That IBRG campaign in support of Irish neutrality (Cardiff)
That IBRG campaign against nuclear waste being dumped by Britain in the Irish Sea.
That IBRG urge the Irish government to take its statutory obligation to the Irish language seriously (Cardiff)
That the IBRG recognise the undermining effect of a racist campaign organised against the Irish in Britain by such media instruments as the Sun newspaper and therefore resolves to monitor such media at both local and national level. We further resolve to bring the anti-Irish policies of those media groups to the attention of the Irish community and the public at large and to mount a concerted campaign to end that (Lambeth)
That IBRG recognises that the intimidation of the nationalist communities in Northern Ireland extends far beyond military repression and includes social injustice and educational control. The IBRG notes with concern the withholding of grant aid to Bunscoil Ghaelach Belfast and recognises that this has ceased grave financial difficulties for the survival of the school. (Lambeth)
In keeping with its policy on Northern Ireland the IBRG recognises that any lasting solution to the war must include payments of adequate reparations to the Irish people of the damage and hardships caused by British policies in Ireland (Lambeth)
That IBRG initiate an open committee of enquiry (encompassing impartial groups of MPs councillors NCCL etc). to examine the trial documents and all other material in relation to the cases of the Birmingham Six, Guildford and Woolwich public house bombings and the Maguire family and Friends (Lambeth)
That IBRG recognise the support for our language must be practical as well as theoretical and in keeping with this resolve to adopt Irish titles where possible e.g. Ard Fheis, Runia, Cisteoir and that this policy should be reflected in internal communications as well as with other Irish organisations and to use their Gaelic names whenever possible (Lambeth).
The walk out of five people from the Ard Fheis had no impact on the IBRG as Pat Delaney faded completely from the Irish community scene, and the IBRG emerged stronger and more determined to get on with its work in the Irish community.
The Irish Post had a front-page story on 31 March 1984 entitled Shake Out by IBRG Annual conference’s London Purge. The story told of the disbandment of the London Regional Council and the fact that the IBRG had strengthened by electing some of the more successful branch officers.
Gone from the NEC are Jim Curran and Pat Delaney who were the dominant figures in the now disbanded London Regional Council and onto it come Seamus Carey and Pat Reynolds of Islington, Gearoid MacGearailt of Lambeth and Alan Wallace from Leeds. The anticipated confrontation between the NEC and the London Regional council was surprisingly mild with the NEC receiving the overwhelming support of conference.
At the end of March 1984 ITV ran a Minder episode with offensive racist stereotypes of Irish people in a pub scene where the Irish were portrayed as being into mindless violence. The IBRG protested at this blatant display of anti-Irish racism in a popular culture programme.
Islington IBRG complained that members giving out leaflets on the no jury trials in Northern Ireland were subjected to abuse by a small minority of people on the annual St Patricks day Parade, which had assembled at the British Army HQ, which in itself was an insult to the people of Northern Ireland who were occupied by the British military.
In Islington the IBRG had addressed the Police Committee of Islington Council as Islington Council earlier had come out against the PTA.
Islington IBRG also addressed the local Gillespie Ward near the Arsenal on issues affecting the local Irish community and on issues relating to Northern Ireland.
Pat Reynolds spoke at Goldsmiths College in South London on issues affecting the Irish community in Britain.
Green Ink Writers and Pat Reynolds, their chair, was given an Irish Post Community Award for their work with young Irish writers in London and the production of an anthology of Irish writing which was highly praised by Neil Jordan in the Sunday Tribute.
After accepting the award from Noel Dorr, Irish Ambassador, Pat told the audience that Green Ink had been awarded a grant from the GLC to set up an Irish community Bookshop in London with two workers. He explained that the aim of the bookshop would be two fold; to challenge anti-Irish racism by promoting Irish literature and culture into school colleges and universities, and to give Irish children born in Britain access to Irish culture language music and video, as they would target libraries and specialise in books in both languages for children.
The Bookshop would aim to be the cultural wing of IBRG and link in with the work of the Education officer in Leicester by providing much needed Irish resources for students at all levels for teachers and school universities and communities. They would be taking books across Britain to community events in Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle and to community festivals, taking books back to the people and their children.
Green Ink also planned to hold an annual Irish bookfair which would highlight Irish literature and culture in Britain, including the Gaelic language and would put on the best writers in public readings, which would also include political writing and issues affecting Northern Ireland, plus also equal rights for women and the gay community. In years to come they would sell over one million books and bring Irish books and music to a whole generation of Irish people.
On 22nd March 1984 a new Prevention of Terrorism Act became law following on from the Lord Jellicoe report. Arrested persons could now be held for 48 hours or up to seven days with the permission of theSecretary of State.
The Ard Choiste (NEC) met at St Patrick’s Club, Leicester on Saturday 28 April 1984 (5) with seventeen people attending, including Jim King Cathaoirleach, Judy Peddle Runia, Seamus Carey, John Martin, Joe Mullarkey, Gearoid MacGearailt, Alan Wallace, Fionbarra O Cuillin, Caitlin Wright and Nessan Danaher.
Branches could now send a delegate to each Ard Choiste meeting and six branches did. In addition the officers were also there from different branches and could be the branch delegate, but being an officer did not in itself give you a vote.
The meeting was informed that Clare Short MP had joined the Lambeth branch. The meeting was pleased to hear that Derry City council had dropped the London-imposed colonial part of their name, and would write to congratulate the new council for their actions. The Chair stated that IBRG needed to make a contribution to 1984 being an Anti-Racism Year. It was felt that IBRG should hold an IBRG anti-racist day which would highlight all forms of racism, including anti-Irish racism. Branches were encouraged to take part in any local authority events on the matter.
The meeting decided to set up a Media Subcommittee. It was agreed to write to the Labour Party NEC and the other parties plus the General Secretary of the TUC informing them of the work of the IBRG and to seek a meeting. Concern was express that the Carousel in Manchester had charged the IBRG £337 for the two-day conference which was outrageous given we could have got a venue free or much cheaper elsewhere.
Pat Reynolds, PRO, reported that Pat Delaney had given a false report to the Kilburn Times on the Ard Fheis to which he had replied in writing refuting Delaney’s falsehoods. The meeting congratulated him on the quality of his reply, which had been published and which was important given the largest Irish community in Britain lived in that area. Pat Delaney had since led a 14-person delegation to the GLC trying to retain the grants offered to the Brent IBRG project. Mike Forde and Gerry Gallagher had travelled from Manchester to the GLC meeting. The matter was extremely serious that Delaney was trying to claim money for an organisation where he had no authority to do so, and was giving false information to an outside body.
The meeting decided to expel Pat Delaney from IBRG for his behaviour and ask Mike Forde and Gerry Gallagher for an explanation as to why they had supported Delaney in this matter. Pat Delaney had already received £4k of the grant by mistake but Steve Brennan GLC Irish Officer was fully aware of the situation and the money identified for Brent had got back into the grant kitty. It was later found out that Pat Delaney went across to Washington DC in April 1984 to attend Irish American Unity Conference purporting to represent the IBRG. The IBRG meeting decided to support the 18 August demonstration on British Withdrawal from Ireland.
The Education Officer proposed that we should not just agree things but action them, and should have a standing list of outstanding issues to be actioned.
IBRG members Seamus Carey and Pat Reynolds from Islington had a major two-page article in Labour and Ireland which features the IBRG position on Northern Ireland and the Irish community in Britain. It raised the question of the PTA and anti-Irish racism.
IBRG members in London attended the GLC Irish Anti-Racist evening at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the South Bank where Christy Moore was the lead artist.
On 2 May 1984 the New Ireland Forum Report was published. It restated the traditional nationalist position ‘that Ireland is one nation that Britain is ultimately responsible for partition by refusing to accept the democratically expressed wishes of the Irish people, and by establishing an artificial political majority in the North’. It goes on. “The desire of the nationalist is for a united Ireland in the form of a sovereign independent Irish state’
In May 1984 Gearoid MacGearailt went on Channel Four’s Right to Reply programme over its Passages to Britain programme to correct some of the false impression made on the program by Dr Anthony Clare claiming there was no anti-Irish racism or discrimination in Britain.
Pat Reynolds, PRO, also used the Channel Four’s Voice Box to record his views on the programme. Gearoid was given extensive time to debate the issue with the programme makers and won the debate well.
On 29 May 1984 Councillor George Seawright at a Belfast Education and Library Board meeting stated ‘taxpayers’ money would be better spent on an incinerator and burning the whole lot of them. The priests should be thrown in and burned as well’.
On 1 June 1984 President Reagan visited Ireland for four days.
On 5 June 1984 Lord Justice Gibson acquitted three RUC officers of murdering an unarmed IRA man stating that the RUC men should be commended ‘for their courage and determination in bringing the three deceased men to justice, in this case to the final courts of Justice. ‘
The Ard Choiste meeting was held on 10 June 1984 at the Leeds Trade Club Leeds where nineteen members attended, including Jim King, Seamus Carey, Joe Mullarkey, Judy Peddle, Gearoid Mac Gearailt, Caitlin Wright, Nessan Danaher Maire O Shea and Pat Reynolds
Twenty four branches had registered so far, including Manchester (who now had one branch), Marylebone, Cardiff, Bolton, Middleborough, Ealing, Leeds, Bradford, Kensington, Shepherds Bush, Glasgow, Haringey, Lambeth, Harrow, Newcastle, Leicester, Hammersmith, Birmingham, Islington, Southwark, Merseyside, Waltham Forest, N.E. Lancs, and Paddington. Jim King stated he was going to Bristol and Coventry to open new branches soon. Gearoid MacGearlailt was congratulated for his recent Right of Reply programme performance.
The meeting was told that the London Irish Festival had refused IBRG a stall at Roundwood Park.
Judy Peddle had recently spoke at a Labour on Ireland public meeting recently.
The meeting heard that the Irish government had recently appointed two Federation members to their new Dion Irish government committee but had ignored the IBRG. There was also a clear conflict of interest as the Committee were making decisions on funding their own groups.
Nessan Danaher reported that he had recently spoken at a Leicester Education in-service training course which recognised the Irish as an ethnic group and Irish Studies in Britain had covered the IBRG Education conference with an article. Birmingham and Haringey were holding in-service training which included an Irish dimension plus having an Irish speaker on the courses. Bolton IBRG were involved in anti-racist work while Manchester had produced a document
Pat Reynolds reported on the Conference held in London on “British Imperialism and the Media” which included an Irish dimension.
Pat Delaney, Gerry Gallagher and Mike Forde were expelled from IBRG for attending a lobby of the GLC over the LRC grant pretending to be IBRG.
The agenda for the meeting with the Irish Ambassador Noel Dorr was drawn up. It included : the Six Counties including extradition, use of paid perjurers, the lack of Irish government funding for Comhaltas, welfare of the Irish in Britain including the question of consulates in Scotland, Wales and Manchester, travel to Ireland, language and culture, the PTA , racism in the media, pensioner’s rights and government encouragement of Irish emigration.
The meeting discussed the New Ireland Forum and opted for the first option ie a unitary state but criticised the exclusion of Sinn Fein.
The Prisoner’s Sub Committee proposed that the IBRG support the demands of the Irish political prisoners, repatriation, release of framed prisoners, end to solitary confinement, and special control units, the release of Patrick Hackett on medical grounds, and the abolition of the PTA. This was agreed by the Ard Choiste.
On 28 June 1984 the IBRG had their first meeting with Commission for Racial Equality. Islington members and both NEC officers Seamus Carey and Pat Reynolds met them at CRE HQ at Victoria, London. Michael Maguire of Islington IBRG also attended. The IBRG learned that Michael Kennedy, the former Irish Foreign Minister, had been detained under the PTA at Birmingham Airport. His claim to know Maggie Thatcher and half the British cabinet did him no good, but it should be noted Kennedy and Fianna Fail supported the use of the racist PTA against the Irish community.
Lambeth IBRG had got in touch with their library services to discuss the provision of Irish newspapers and books in local libraries. Southwark IBRG want to do a history of the Irish in Southwark. Islington IBRG want to set up a cross community constituency committees to lobby prospective MPs on Irish issues. Haringey IBRG wants to campaign for an Irish radio programme in London and have taken up the poor reception of RTE radio in Britain.
An IBRG delegation met with Noel Dorr the Irish Ambassador on 5 July 1984 (6) at the Irish Embassy in London. Seamus Carey (Islington), Gearoid MacGearailt (Lambeth), Caitlin Wright (Bolton), Dr Maire O Shea (Birmingham), Peter Lynch (Birmingham), Pat Reynolds PRO, John Martin (Derby) and Judy Peddle (Cardiff) attended.
Dr Maire OShea and Peter Lynch gave the Ambassador details of IBRG concerns over the recent extradition of Dominic McGlinchey to the Six Counties and the collaboration of the Dublin government with the British colonial system in Northern Ireland. The Ambassador was made aware of the paid perjurer’s system there, and the recent remarks of Judge Gibson who practically congratulated the RUC for shooting three IRA volunteers. Concern was expressed over conditions for Irish prisoners in Britain and the impact upon their children and parents, and complained that the Irish government had yet to sign the International Treaty on the Transfer of Prisoners.
The Irish Ambassador replied that Peter Barry had raised concerns over Judge Gibson’s remarks. There were 1143 Irish prisoners in British jails – the highest figure for any community – and that prisoners from the Six Counties were the responsibility of the UK. It was noted that the Embassy did not have anyone directly working with prisoners at the Embassy despite the high number and their needs, nor apart from Cumman Cabrach for republican prisoners, nothing in the Irish community either.
Gearoid MacGearailt raised the lack of funding for Comhaltas in Britain when they were showcasing Irish culture in Britain and transferring Irish culture down the generations. The IBRG stated that the Irish government had a clear duty to support Irish culture in Britain.
On the issue of support for Irish Welfare in Britain, the funding via Dion had been doubled to £68K, which was still a tiny sum. The IBRG made clear that the Dion committee, with two Federation members, were not representative of the Irish community in Britain. The Embassy claimed it was because these organisations had social workers in them, but the IBRG had far more social workers and the IBRG delegation had two social workers on it along with a psychiatrist.
IBRG called on the Embassy to include one IBRG member on the committee, recognise the needs of the Irish community in the Midlands, north of England and Scotland/Wales, and that the decisions of the Dion committee be made public.
IBRG raised the matter of Irish citizens abroad to have the right to access their language and culture in another EEC country, the matter of having consulates in other parts of Britain were raised again. Dublin would be asked to look into this matter. Concern over the high cost of travel was brought up and the Ambassador agreed to confer with Dublin as to whether Irish citizens, particularly elders, were entitled to free or cheap travel with CIE.
The delegation expressed their concern that Irish state organisations were still advertising with newspapers which were clearly anti-Irish like the Evening Standard, the Sun, the Express and the Mail and called for such advertising by semi -state bodies to be stopped.
On the PTA, IBRG called on the Embassy/Irish government to issue a statement stating that the PTA was racist with 99.8% of those arrested being Irish and less than 1% of these arrested had ever been convicted. It was just a racist trawling expedition against our community. The Ambassador would check with Dublin to whether he could issue any statement on the matter. The Embassy should have a solicitor present who could support Irish persons arrested under the Act. Again, he would defer to Dublin. That a detailed investigation be carried out by the Embassy into how the PTA was used against the Irish community and its impact upon the community, and that Irish people arrested under the Act could ring the Embassy, and for this special number to be made public.
The Irish Post covered the story with headline Embassy Solicitor for PTA Victims. It reported the demand the demands made by the delegation including calling on the Irish government to condemn the PTA as a racist weapon which was used indiscriminately against the Irish community in Britain.
On 7 July 1984 London IBRG members attended a Conference on Education Racism and the Irish held in Camden. In Haringey IBRG attended public meetings at Haringey Civil centre to defend the right of travellers to have proper sites in Haringey, despite a strong local right-wing campaign against Irish travellers led by the Tories.
The IBRG Ard Choiste met on Saturday 21 July 1984 (7) at the County Hall in London on the South Bank. Joe Mullarkey chaired the meeting with Judy Peddle as Runai. Also present were Gearoid MacGearailt, Fionbarra O Cuillin, Marie Wynee, Rita Lewis, Arthur Delvin, Marie O’Shea, Peter Lynch, Pat Reynolds PRO, Caitlin Wright, Maire Duckett, Len Lewis, Seamus O Coieain and Martin Joyce.
The meeting decided to affiliate to the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom. The meeting decided to set up a Media Subcommittee which would monitor all instances of anti-Irish racism and maintain records of this, to respond to instances of anti-Irish racism and issues relating to Ireland, to contact broadcasting authorities, to initiate activity which will generate programs relating to the Irish community, and produce material leaflets etc for IBRG use. Pat Reynolds PRO would be the main link for this group.
The meeting heard that Sean Sexton from Waltham Forest had contacted every MP regarding the lack of Irish material on Channel Four. The local MEP Alf Lomas had agreed to raise the issue at the European Parliament. Marie Wynee from Haringey stated that they had contacted the local media, and had contacted all London radio stations on the same issue.
Marie Wynee raised the issue of supporting Irish travellers in Haringey where the IBRG were supporting the setting up of proper sites, despite a very racist Tory party campaign against travellers. It was agreed to set up a working party to work out an IBRG strategy on Welfare with Caitlin Wright being the main link.
The meeting decided to write to the Irish Ambassador to remind him of the time limits regarding the IBRG demands on the PTA which were put to him on 5 July 1984 at the Irish Embassy. If no suitable response came, IBRG should produce a petition and an information sheet to go to the Irish Government calling on them to meet our reasonable demands. That the petition be circulated to all organisations in Ireland such as Trade Unions, student bodies, and welfare groups and for IBRG to use their relatives in Ireland to promote the petition. A second petition would be prepared aimed at the British government calling for the repeal of the racist PTA and the withdrawal of the Prevention of Terrorism Bill and for it to be circulated to the Trade Unions.
The meeting to write to the NCCL, offering support for their research into the working of the PTA. A further motion called on branches to raise the issue of the PTA with their local Police Committee and also their local Race Relations Committee. The meeting also agreed to contact the Haldane Society, CAB offices and Law Centres to find out which have emergency numbers which could be used to help people arrested under the PTA
The meeting agreed to set up a working party on problems relating to travel between Britain and Ireland, to include harassment under the PTA at ports and airports, the high cost of airlines and ferries and the lack of facilities at ports, where the Irish were herded like cattle into pens before travel. Marie Wynee to act as link for this group.
The meeting agreed to ask Mary Hickman, Cass Breen and Brid Ni Ceanain to join with other interested individuals in IBRG to produce a strategy document on the issue of anti-Irish racism, and which would include involvement within general anti-racist initiatives. The meeting further agreed that Haringey be asked to join with other interested individuals to produce a portable exhibition on anti-Irish racism which could be taken around the country. The meeting also asked the Education Officer to produce a strategy document on Irish input into education in Britain for consideration by the Ard Choiste.
The meeting heard that new branches were being set up in Camden and Hackney in September 1984.
On 12th August 1984 Sean Downes was killed by a plastic bullet at the anti-internment rally in Belfast when the RUC tried to arrest Martin Galvin.
On 11/12 August 1984 Bolton IBRG put on a Bolton Irish Festival with other Irish groups, a two-day event which had Irish music dancing and Gaelic games. Joe Mullarkey had also written up an article on the history of the Irish in Bolton for the Bolton Friendship Festival.
On 15 August 1984 London IBRG members picked 10 Downing St over the killing of Sean Downes by a RUC man using a point-blank plastic bullet.
On 17 August 1984 Clive Soley, Labour Party spokesperson on Ireland, called for the harmonisation of Northern Ireland with the Republic as a prelude to reunification. In October 1984 Clive Soley would hold talks with Sinn Fein but Labour Party policy remained “unity by consent” with Labour leader, Neil Kinnock, stating that Irish unity would take many many decades.
On 18 August 1984 IBRG marched with their banners on the anti-internment march from Hyde Park corner to Jubilee Gardens at the GLC.
The IBRG issued a statement before the march calling ‘on all Irish organisations and individuals to give full support to the Rally. We (IBRG) call on Irish people to stand up for their rights in Britain and join us on the march to show clearly that the PTA will not intimidate us or silence our voice. We ask them to remember the previous generations of the Irish in Britain who stood up and marched for Irish unity and freedom, and we ask them to march in that proud tradition. Let us all march together to show that we stand with the Irish people against British oppression and colonial rule in Ireland’.
The IBRG also condemned the British government’s ban on Irish marches and rallies from Trafalgar Square which was censorship. A letter of protest on this matter would be handed in to Margaret Thatcher at 10 Downing St by the march leaders which included Jim King Chair IBRG, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Christine Crawley MEP, Richard Balfe MEP, Janice Turner – Chair Young Liberals, and Malcolm Pitt – Kent NUM Leader. A wreath in memory of Sean Downes was also handed in at 10 Downing Street.
On 25 August 1984 the Irish Post stated that 4,000 Irish people had marched that day one of the biggest in several years. Speakers included Jeremy Corbyn MP, Christine Crawley MEP, and Richard Balfe MEP. The march stopped at Trafalgar Square in protest before being moved on by police.
In September 1984 the GLC launched its Policy Report on the Irish Community. The Irish Post gave it the front page with ‘A Charter of Rights. GLC calls for New deal for Irish in Britain. It stated ‘The most wide ranging and important official document ever produced on the Irish in Britain has just been issues by the Greater London council. It amounts to a Bill of Rights for the Irish community and calls for the vigorous preservation in Britain of Irish culture and identity. It calls on the Inner London Education authority and other education bodies to include courses and degrees in in-service training for teachers, to establish links between academic institutions in Ireland and their counterparts in London, to introduce Gaelic games and the Irish language to school which have a significant number of second and third generation Irish children’. The report itself stated that ‘In times of hostility between the two countries the Irish community is looked upon with distrust and resentment. The Irish community has found itself under attack whenever Ireland’s interests were seen to be in conflict with the host country as seen during the Malvinas dispute’.
The Ard Choiste met on 9 September 1984(8) at Solihull Road, Birmingham. Present were Jim King Chair, Judy Peddle Runia, Maire O Shea, Arthur Devlin, Seamus Carey, Caitlin Wright, Gearod MacGearailt, John Martin, Joe Mullarkey, Michael O Cnaimhsi, Alan Wallace and Seamus O Coileain
The meeting heard that a new branch had been set up in Wigan. Coventry branch would be reactivated at a public meeting. The PRO had issued a statement on the killing of Sean Downes by a point blank plastic bullet in Belfast.
The Ard Choiste voted to picket Aer Lingus unless they withdrew advertising from the Standard. The Comhchomhairle was set for 27 October in Birmingham at Digbeth Civic Centre. The Ard Choiste agreed the following London branches to be disbanded as they had not met, and there had been no response from any of them; Brent, Westminster, Shepherds Bush, Kensington, Marylebone and Ealing.
The meeting agreed to support the case of Muhammad Idrish who was facing deportation, and which Nalgo were supporting. The IBRG agreed to write to the Home Office expressing concern over the treatment of Jonathan Block, a South African, who had written a book on the Secret Services in Britain. The IBRG agreed to attend the Terence MacSwiney mass at Southwark cathedral at the end of October.
In September IBRG Prisoners Subcommittee announced that a public inquiry would be held into the Birmingham, Guildford and Woolwich public house bombings for which innocent Irish people were serving long sentences. The inquiry would examine the transcript of the trials and take new evidence from various sources. Lord Gifford had offered to help with the inquiry who would also look at the forensic evidence used and the prosecution witnesses.
Birmingham IBRG were campaigning against the closure of a local psychiatric centre where Dr Maire O’Shea used to work before her retirement. The centre had been founded by Dr O’Shea. Local MEP Christine Crawley was supporting the campaign.
On 20 September 1984 Ken Livingstone and John McDonnell got re-elected to the GLC. Jim King, National chair of IBRG, had written a letter to the Irish Post calling for full support for Ken Livingstone. IBRG PRO had earlier put out an IBRG statement calling ‘for maximum support for the four Labour candidates. It is in our interest and the interests of our children to vote, for the first local government in Britain which has responded to the needs of our community, and given the Irish a voice in public affairs’.
The background to the by-elections was the Tory threat to abolish the GLC so to challenge the Tories directly four Labour members stood down in constituencies with similar boundaries as general elections to challenge the Tories.
The Irish Post Dolan column on 15 September 1984 entitled Our Duty included both the PRO statement on the elections and referred to Jim King’s letter which was on the Letters Page.
Jim King’s letter Our Chance to Respond on 15 September 1984 stated ’the relationship between Ken Livingstone and the Irish community is unique in the history of the Irish in Britain. Never before have the Irish had such a principled friend in political office- a friend who has the courage of his convictions and who backs up his words with positive action. Ken Livingstone stand on Ireland is well known. He has for over a decade been an eloquent public advocate of the only possible solution to the Anglo-Irish problem, namely British withdrawal and the reunification of Ireland.’ It was a very clear statement of what Livingstone had done for the Irish community, much more than the Irish government had over the previous 60 years.
Nessan Danaher in Leicester was putting on an Irish Studies course at Soar Valley with speakers Michael Maguire IBRG, Mary Lennon, Donal MacAmhlaigh, Tom Paulin with a showing of Hang Out Your Brightest Colours on the life of Michael Collins.
On 6 October 1984 the Irish Post carried the headline IBRG sets up Travel Monitor which detailed the working party the IBRG were setting up to monitor fares conditions and PTA harassment at British ports and airports.
On 12 October 1984 (9) Islington IBRG with Pat Reynolds, Dr Michael Maguire, and Catherine Kelly met with four members of the Commission for Racial Equality at their HQ at Victoria.
The delegation demanded that the CRE recognise the Irish an ethnic group, produce a briefing paper on the needs of the Irish in Britain and include anti-Irish racism, that they include the Irish in any relevant research, and appoint an officer for Irish affairs.
Sadly, it was to be another 11 years in 1995, before the CRE would act on this matter and recognise the Irish and include them in their ethnic categories. This matter should have been made an Ard Choiste matter to be pursued at that level of the organisation. The Irish Post covered the meeting ‘We(IBRG) discussed with Commission officials the position of the Irish community with regard to Education, Employment, Health, Media and Culture and we stressed the need for the Commission to recognise the Irish in Britain as an ethnic group whose members are subject to racial discrimination’.
On 10 October 1984 the Irish Post headline ran Islington Irish win formal recognition. It was the first Council outside the GLC to do so and set a new precedent for other local authorities in Britain with Irish communities.
Islington Council’s Race Relations Committee adopted a resolution formally to recognise the Irish as an ethnic minority and to resolve that in all areas of its concern and activities, that it shall recognise the fact and therefore make clear on all occasions, when the council uses the term ethnic minorities or similar that this includes the Irish, adopt the following definition of Irish for such purposes, persons who come from or whose forebearers originated in Ireland, and who consider themselves Irish, instruct the controller of personnel to report on the introduction of Irish as an ethnic category, give full recognition to Irish arts and cultural activities in Islington as being the product of a distinct culture to be dealt with as a priority by the Recreation Committee, request that Housing and Social Services Committee recognise the Irish as an ethnic group and that officers of both committees ensure that the requirements of the Irish community are adequately researched, monitored and met.
Margaret O’Keefe, Co-opted IBRG member of the Race Relations Committee, moved the motion and a delegation led by Seamus Carey of Islington IBRG addressed the meeting on the needs of the Irish community.
In its submission to Islington IBRG, aided by Dr Michael Maguire, who worked at the Irish in Islington project, the IBRG listed a range of social issues affecting the Irish community in Islington including; poor housing, low house ownership, high rented sector, poor health including mental health, with 20% pensioners. They lived in the poorer northern wards of the borough away from where Tony Blair and his kind who lived in Canonbury.
The Irish had built the roads, railways, hospitals and houses in the borough while the Whittington and Royal Northern hospitals had large numbers of Irish nurses. The Irish ran many of the public houses in the borough, while many Irish players had won honours with Arsenal from Pat Jennings to David O Leary. Bronterre O’Brien Irish Chartist leader had lived in the borough, and Patrick Kavanagh had written those immortal words ‘In Islington Green the happiest I have ever been’ . Others including Anne Scher, famous drama teacher, and singer Johnny Rotten had all lived in the borough.
The Irish were the largest minority ethnic community in Islington. The Green Ink Bookshop had also set itself up at Archway in Islington. The Holloway Road had two large Irish ballrooms of Romance the Gresham and the Round Tower where most Irish couples met.
On 12 October 1984 the IRA bombed the Tory Party Conference in Brighton with five dead. The IRA stated ‘Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once-you have to be lucky always’.
On 13 October 1984 the Irish Times had a major article entitled Emigrants urge Political Solution which quoted PRO Pat Reynolds at length.
The PRO stated that ‘The British media and Government often used incidents like the Brighton bombing as an excuse to pour out anti Irish racism. The British people were given no political analysis in the reporting of such incidents. The reasons behind such attacks were not be explained They were portrayed as irrational the media did not go into the frustrations which lay behind such attacks. They were presented as being done by the mad violent Irish. It is very difficult for us to protect ourselves against the media. The Irish in Britain were vulnerable particularly because of the prevention of Terrorism act. They were asked if they supported the IRA which was the wrong question. They think that we have to take responsibility that somehow it is our fault. They come to us to condemn the IRA. The conflict in the N. Ireland was not seen as the British problem it was. The Irish in Britain were in a sense hostage, they were considered to blame rather than British political interference in Ireland. I do not think the Irish community should have to answer for such violent action. The problem lay at the door of the British government.’
Fr Bobby Gilmore gave a good response ‘A vacuum existed and violence would continue within it unless the source of violence was addressed and recognised. Security is no solution to the socio political and economic problems that exits. A new political initiative and courage are needed’. Fr Claude Malone at the Camden Irish centre came out with his usual abhorrence at the total disregard for life and Jim McGrath of the Federation said the bombing was the route to nowhere.
On 13 October 1984 the Irish Post covered a letter from Pat Reynolds entitled Help needed in monitoring anti Irishness in media. Based in Islington, IBRG, is seeking the help of the Irish community in combatting the daily abuse of Irish people in the British media.
The letter stated ‘When Islington Council at our request passed a resolution calling for troops out and self-determination for the Irish people, and condemning the media for their constant misrepresentation of Irish affairs. The Sun newspaper distorted the story. We promptly organised a picket on the newspaper’s headquarters which resulted in the Sun agreeing to publish a letter of reply.’. The letter stated boldly ‘It is our experience that picketing usually gets results’. The letter called for a sustained campaign against this ongoing abuse and for constant monitoring plus increasing demands for both TV and radio shows for the Irish.
On 18 October 1984 the IBRG picketed the London Evening Standard, with Jeremy Corby MP for Islington North and IBRG members, over its anti-Irish racism. Previously Islington IBRG had twice picketed the Sun and had used the flying picket to hit Woolworths and other shops selling anti-Irish materials.
On this occasion the other London branches supported Islington on the picket. The Irish Post ran the story IBRG to picket the Standard. The story told how the Standard and all the British tabloids had attacked the Irish in Islington Project because it had got funding from the GLC a year earlier, but got their facts all wrong. It was the GLC who funded the project not Islington Council. The Standard dismissed the Project as a group that campaign against Irish jokes and racism in the media, whereas the project was set up to support Irish elders and the Irish community welfare needs, and to counter anti-Irish racism. This was the second attack by the Standard against the Project as they had targeted the Project back in September 1983 when they first got funding.
On 18 October 1984 Lambeth IBRG made a major intervention in a local by election which Labour needed to retain control of the council. The Irish Post ran the story under Labour face Irish anger in Lambeth.
Lambeth IBRG had accused the Labour run council of being dismissive of the problems of the Irish and of refusing to adopt the policies of the GLC towards the Irish community. The IBRG stated ‘It is sad that the enlightened policies of Ken Livingstone’s GLC in relation to the London Irish do not appear to be reflected in the position of Ted Knight’s council towards the Irish in Lambeth.
IBRG wanted the Irish to be recognised by Lambeth Council as an ethnic group and included in monitoring and services. Irish elders were of particular concern. One Lambeth official had told IBRG ‘It is true that the common experience of the Irish and Black people is colonisation. However, the options open to the former are not usually open to black, Asians and Afro Caribbean’s’ and the ‘the Council provided special support for those who are discriminated against primarily on the basic of their skin colour’. The remarks were considered offensive by the IBRG who felt the officials were saying that the Irish could just assimilate and become British, and forget about their own history religion and culture. The statistics from Britain did not justify this distinction as the figures on the Irish from mental health, housing, employment and so on, were on a par with the figures for the Afro Caribbean community.
The IBRG argument was that, if it was found from research that the Irish were suffering from discrimination and disadvantage, then the Council had a clear duty to address the needs of each community.
Gearoid MacGearailt stated ‘having suffered centuries of political and cultural persecution the Irish were now been presented by Lambeth council with the ultimate solution to discard their cultural identity and vanish without trace among the indigenous population’.
IBRG made a seven point program for adoption by the council; to recognise that racism and its associated disadvantages is practised against the Irish community in Lambeth both Irish and British born and that this racism had led to discrimination in housing and employment and has had a serious effect on the ability of Irish people to transmit their culture and language to their children, as well as diminishing the ability of Irish children to absorb and feel proud of their heritage and culture.
The programme called on the Council to include the Irish among the ethnic groups to which support is given and especially it wants the Council to recognise the needs of the elderly Irish in the borough by supporting Irish voluntary groups who are endeavouring to cater for them. IBRG wanted Lambeth to recognise that the PTA was a racist weapon used indiscriminatory against the Irish community. Lambeth Police Monitoring committee should address this issue.
Here we find the battle ground which was seen across several Councils in Britain with large Irish communities and the fight the Irish community had to get recognition.
Thus, Livingstone had set out a very clear policy in recognising the Irish and their needs, and both Islington and Haringey were following this lead in response to their local Irish communities. In Lambeth they played the colonial divide and rule even among colonial groups trying to divide them against each other’s and play them off. Thus, the Black community felt that recognition of the Irish could lead to less resources for their community instead of fighting for more resources across the board.
The Irish Post in October 1984 ran a story just headed Lambeth which ran through the arguments around colour, culture and discrimination and argued that Black people would gain more from the culture argument than just a colour argument. The dismissal of Irish culture, as a thing to be forgotten, and for the Irish to assimilate, had also consequences for Black culture in Britain which needed to be preserved for that community and their children. The article went on to praise the GLC Irish Policy Report on the Irish Community document which had set out the history and argument of the Irish case for inclusion.
This battle for ethnic recognition and for the needs of the Irish community to be met would be fought across Britain for several years in all the London boroughs Islington, Haringey, Lambeth, Southwark, Lewisham, Camden, Greenwich, Brent, Ealing, Harrow, Waltham Forest, Hackney, and others and outside London every English city, Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Leicester, Bolton, Blackburn, Coventry, Bristol, Leeds, and Sheffield,
On 27 October 1984 the Irish Post carried the story Lambeth IBRG claims victory when the support of the Irish community had clinched the Lambeth by election and the IBRG had leafletted every Irish family in the ward. The Labour candidate John O’Malley had agreed to support the IBRG demands of the council. Lambeth council was a marginal one with only one single seat giving it to Labour.
On 24 October 1984 the Guardian had a feature on the Irish community in Britain entitled Time to cut out the blarney which featured Pat Reynolds PRO, Gearoid MacGearailt, Leas Runia, and Miriam James from the GLC Irish office, who all took a stand against anti-Irish racism in Britain and the treatment of the Irish community as a colonial minority with Britain. The same evening Pat Reynolds spoke for IBRG at a public meeting on Ireland at Conway Hall in Central London.
In October 1984 the Irish Post had a story entitled BBC apologises for Irish joke which detailed how the BBC had for the first time apologised for racial jokes. In a letter to the IBRG PRO, John Howard Davies Head of BBC Light Entertainment, stated ‘You might be interested to know that we have attempted to eradicate racial jokes on television. I admit it is a slow process, but we are aware that they can be offensive and destructive’.
On 27th October 1984 (10) the IBRG Comhcomhaire met at the Digbeth Civic Centre in Birmingham. Delegates attended from Cardiff, NE Lancs, Bristol, Haringey, Bolton, Islington, Harrow, Leicester, Birmingham, Wigan, Manchester, Waltham Forest, and Merseyside – some 13 branches. Officers attending including Jim King Chair, Judy Peddle Runai, Pat Reynolds PRO, John Martin, Joe Mullarkey, Gearoid MacGearailt, Caitlin Wright and Nessan Danaher.
Christine Crawley, the first Irish woman in Britain to be elected a MEP, opened the meeting and stated her commitment to help IBRG locally and nationally. She reported that the European parliament had voted to ban plastic bullets and she urged the Irish government to use their year as President of the EEC to push for a political solution to Northern Ireland.
Dr Maire O’Shea gave details of the campaign for a public inquiry into the Birmingham, Woolwich and Guildford bombings which Cardinal O Fiaich and Jeremy Corbyn MP were supporting. The Chair called on IBRG to work towards holding a national Conference on British withdrawal from Ireland.
The following motions were passed;
A Lambeth motion calling on the Ard Choiste to get British MEPs to support funding for Irish language initiatives, repeal of the racist PTA, the introduction of an Irish dimension into the British education system, and support for the fostering of Irish culture among younger Irish children.
A Lambeth motion congratulating Ken Livingstone on his re-election to the GLC and welcomed his support for the Irish community including the GLC policy report on the needs of the Irish community along with GLC grant support for Irish welfare and cultural projects.
Wigan and Bolton put forward a motion calling on Ard Choiste to organise a campaign to demand effective legislation against anti Irish and other racist propaganda including jokes and shop items and to seek trade union support for the campaign.
Lambeth IBRG put forward a motion calling on Ard Choiste to hold a national conference on Irish welfare in Britain. Another Lambeth motion condemned the shipping lines for exploiting the Irish community by both high fares and by expensive goods on their ships.
A Bolton motion called on the Ard Choiste to organise a national conference for trade unions, labour movement and pressure groups on British withdrawal from Ireland.
A Lambeth motion called on the Ard Choiste to produce a fact sheet on the PTA and a petition against the PTA and a delegation to Ireland to push for these demands to end the PTA. A motion from Cardiff and Haringey noted the similarities between the tactics used in the current miners’ strike and those used in N. Ireland such as riot control, the terrorising of whole villages, and offered the miners support and solidarity.
A motion from Wigan condemned the shooting dead by point blank range plastic bullets of Sean Downes.
A Lambeth motion condemned the Irish Government for collaboration with Britain and NATO over early warning systems and called for extending of such cooperation.
A N.E. Lancs motion deplored the collaboration between the Irish government and Britain over extradition and cross border cooperation
On Sunday 28 October 1984 Sir John Junor, honoured by the British Queen and editor of the Sunday Express, stated in that newspaper ‘wouldn’t you rather admit to being a pig than to being Irish’. The IBRG acted immediately by complaining to the Press Council and called for an immediate boycott of the paper and a boycott of all advertising with the Express by Irish Companies.
The IBRG Ard Choiste met on Saturday 10 November 1984 (11) at the Socialist Club in Bolton. Present were Jim King Chair, Judy Peddle Runai, Alan Wallace Cisteoir, Caitlin Wright Internal Coordinator, Michael O Cnaimshi Youth officer, Bill Washe (Merseyside), Maire O’Shea (Birmingham), Arthur Devlin (Bolton) and Enda McCarthy (Leeds).
The meeting was informed that Sinn Fein had disbanded in Britain. The IBRG had received an invitation to the INC meetings in London but it had come too late. The meeting heard that the London Evening Standard had refused to meet with IBRG in London.
A letter from Conor McGrath, General Manager of Aer Lingus in Britain, was read to the meeting who implied that any picket of Aer Lingus would harm their relationship with IBRG. The situation had since changed in that John Junor’s racist article had appeared in the Sunday Express just above a big advert for Aer Lingus, this matter should be raised with Aer Lingus immediately.
Paddy Hill of the Birmingham Six had written to the IBRG asking for support.
The Youth Officer stated he was producing a factsheet for young Irish people urging them not to emigrate because of the high unemployment in Britain, and another one with information for the young Irish who did come over. He was also involved in helping to organise the Irish community games in Britain.
Birmingham IBRG raised their concerns about John Martin being a working miner given the IBRG support for the NUM strike. John Martin’s position was due to the NUM not holding a national ballot on the strike and each pit voting separately around earlier action.
On 19 November 1984 Maggie Thatcher gave her response to the New Ireland Forum with her Out, Out, Out. Gareth FitzGerald later described her behaviour as ‘gratuitously offensive’.
On 18 November 1984(12) Pat Reynolds spoke at a conference on Anti-Irish Racism held at the Brent Irish centre and organised by the Irish Interest group.
The Conference was addressed by John McDonnell, GLC Deputy Leader, and Ken Livingstone, Leader of the GLC, also spoke and stated ‘No one is in any doubt that the systematic denigration of the Irish community in Britain and of Ireland is seen as essential to retain control of the northeast of Ireland. There is nothing new about this. Anti-Irish racism has always been part of British colonial policy on Ireland’. Other speakers included Brian Parsons, Mary Hickman, Councillor Ivan Gibbons (Hammersmith) and Councillor Russell Proffitt (Southwark).
Pat Reynolds called for greater activism to challenge media distortion including pickets and boycotts. The meeting passed a resolution condemning John Junor for his recent racist ‘Pigs’ article in the Sunday Express and called on him to apologise. If he did not make an apology the Group would mount a protest campaign against the Express. The meeting stated that anti Irish racism could never be effectively countered without cooperating with other ethnic minorities in Britain since the issue of racism was common to all these communities.
On 18 November 1984, ten years after the Birmingham pub bombings, the Sunday Tribune in Dublin carried a major article on the injustice of the six men wrongly jailed by the British justice system. The article had a personal profile of each of the six, of their families and children. It was the first time that their story had been brought to the Irish public in Ireland.
On 21 November 1984 the IBRG had a meeting with NCCL to discuss the PTA and other repressive legislation used against the Irish.
In 27 November 1984 IBRG set up a new branch in Camden at a public meeting where Pat Reynolds spoke for the Ard Choiste. Coventry had earlier set up a new branch with Maurice Moore as chair.
On 27th November 1984 Dr Michael Maguire, IBRG member and lead worker at the new Irish in Islington project, was arrested under the PTA and held for thirteen hours in relation to an article he had written for the Sunday Tribune. The IBRG acted immediately to help secure his release, as usual the police refused to inform his employers which police station he had been taken to, a common practice under the PTA where Irish people just disappear and the police refuse to confirm their arrest or whereabouts. On 8 December 1984 the Irish Post covered this with a protest over the PTA arrest.
On 28 November 1984 Islington IBRG organised a picket of the Express newspapers over the racism of the editor Sir John Junor. Over one hundred people attended from across other IBRG branches and other Irish communities’ groups. Jeremy Corbyn MP and Steve Bundred, later Chief Executive of Camden Council, attended the picket.
In Haringey the Borough Librarian had apologised to the Irish community over stocking a book entitled Are you Irish or Normal? which had now been removed as it was racist and offensive.
On 7 December 1984 Donall MacAmhlaigh had a full page article in Ireland’s Own on the IBRG as an effective group. He covered all the main areas of IBRG including the framed prisoner’s, PTA, welfare and travel to Ireland.
Early on 7 December the Sunday Press covered the IBRG demand for boycotting the Express but was attacked by Edna Brophy as it being odd that we should be asking Irish state companies not to advertise in those papers.
The following week the Sunday Press covered two long IBRG letters one from PRO Pat Reynolds and one from Michael Sheehan which set out the record on the matter about anti Irish racism in British newspapers as the PRO stated ‘It does not make any economic sense to advertise Ireland in newspapers which calls Irish people pigs and Ireland a dung heap. We should not have to ask an Irish company to uphold its own dignity and that of Ireland and its people’. Irish taxpayers’ money should not be used to subsidize the slander of Ireland and its people. Michael Sheehan put it well when he stated ‘To the Irish in Britain it is more than just a little odd that Irish taxpayers should subsidise racist abuse directed at their own people-it is a national disgrace’.
On 8 December 1984 the Irish Post front page story was headed Downright Disgrace Anger growing at Slur on Irish. The paper reported that twenty six Irish organisations have threatened to picket the offices of Aer Lingus, Bord Failte and B&I and to organise a boycott of their services, if these state-owned Irish companies again advertised in any newspaper owned by the Express group. The action is threatened as the result of Sir John Junor, editor of the Sunday Express, having declined to apologise for the remark in his column of October 28th ‘wouldn’t you rather admit to being a pig than to being Irish’.
This coming together of twenty six Irish community organisations came from the Conference on Anti-Irish racism held at the Brent Irish centre on 18 November 1984 which both Ken Livingstone and John McDonnell addressed, who passed a motion to this effect and wrote to the Sunday Express. Islington IBRG had since placed a picket on the Express building with over one hundred people turning up. Pat Reynolds PRO stated It is a downright disgrace that Irish taxpayer’s money should be used to subsidize the slandering of Ireland and the Irish people. The groups called for a boycott of the Express and Standard and for public bodies to cease advertising with them. John Junor stated after President Reagan visit to Ireland ‘Ah well every man to his own taste. For my own part I would infinitely prefer to spend three days looking for worms in a dung heap’.
After the siege of the Iranian Embassy Junor stated about one of the groups inside who tried to hide from the SAS after the siege ‘Isn’t that instinct for preservation uncanny reminiscent of another and more familiar group of contemporary terrorists. Could it just be possible that Mr Nejad’s mother came from Ireland’. During the Malvinas war Junor started on the Irish in Britain calling for us to lose the vote ‘if they are so keen on Argentine why don’t they go and stick their snouts into the Argentinian trough instead of ours’. Clearly some fixation with pigs and dung heaps.
On 15 December 1984 the Irish Post front page headlined Row hots up. Growing pressure on Aer Lingus and Bord Failte. The article indicated that Aer Lingus had refused to pay for the advert which was just below the Pig comments but refused to stop advertising in the Express as did Bord Failte.
Meanwhile Councillor Luke Kearns and twenty two of his councillors from Bradford had written to the Council for Racial Equality on the matter. The CRE responded:’the article which you mention may indeed contravene those provisions of the Race Relations Act which refers to racial hatred. The enforcement of this part of the Act is down to the police and the Attorney General.
On 9 December 1984 the Ard Choiste met in Leicester where Jim King, Caitlin Wright, Nessan Danaher, Judy Peddle, Gearoid MacGearailt and Pat Reynolds attended. The Minutes of this meeting are missing from the National Minutes Book so no record is available of what took place.
The Irish Post gave the Express story its front page and ran it in the Frank Dolan column on 10 December 1984 and pointed out that the Evening Standard and the Express were owned by the same company. Dolan supported the position of the IBRG on the matter and compared the position of the GLC who had banned advertising in the Standard with that of the Irish companies Aer Lingus Board Failte and B&I who still continued to advertise in the Standard.
On 13 December 1984 Pat Reynolds PRO did an interview with RTE Radio in Dublin on the John Junor abusive article in the Express.
On 15 December 1984 Lambeth IBRG advertised for two workers for their new IBRG Welfare Project in Lambeth funded by the GLC
On 18 December 1984 Lord Lowry, Lord Chief Justice, threw out the case where police informer Raymond Gilmour had put thirty five defendants in jail for over two years. All are acquitted and on 24 December fourteen Loyalists were also acquitted over another police informer’s evidence.
On 22 December 1984 (13) the Irish Post covered the IBRG response to the failure of the Irish Embassy to respond to our demands on the PTA. The story PTA No Help from Embassy and went on to state The IBRG has expressed grave concern at the Irish government having turned down its request for support for the Irish community in Britain in contending with the effect of the PTA.
In July 1984 the IBRG had met Noel Dorr, the Irish Ambassador, and had made the following demands: that the Embassy put out a public statement condemning the use of the PTA against the Irish community, that the Embassy monitor every arrest under the PTA, and that the Embassy retain a solicitor to help those arrested under the Act. Peter Barry had come back to state that a public condemnation of the PTA would not be helpful in impractical terms, that it would not be proper for the Embassy to disclose information on any PTA case it dealt with, and that it would not be appropriate for the embassy to retain solicitor to help those arrested under the PTA.
The IBRG statement in response stated ‘the silence of the Embassy and the behind the scenes talking is totally inadequate while our community is daily harassed in Britain. The IBRG realises that the Irish community is on its own and must now take positive action to protect itself in the absence of adequate consular protection. We say to Peter Barry that they are not giving us the service we need and expect from them. The IBRG now plan to take a delegation to Dublin to push the matter with all Irish political parties, trade unions and other public bodies in Ireland.
The Sunday World on 30 December 1984 also covered the story and stated that the Gaelic League and Irish Women’s Group supported the IBRG position and all had called on GLC to boycott the Express. Aer Lingus stated they had received strong representation on the matter and would bear this in mind regarding future advertising decisions, while Board Failte stated that they found Junor’s remarks to be disturbing, that they monitored the papers and what was said about Ireland, and would have to take a serious look at its policy if such remarks continued.
On 31 December 1984 IBRG held a picket over Irish prisoners outside the Home Office.
In 1984 Liz Curtis and Information on Ireland published Nothing but the Same Old Story The Roots of Anti Irish Racism which ran into several editions over many years and which became a useful tool in fighting anti-Irish racism.
The IBRG had a meeting with Liz Curtis before publication and the IBRG view was that, while the publication was extremely useful, it failed to make the link between racism and discrimination leading to poor health housing and employment. It was still extremely useful because of its historical images and the sharing of common origins with anti-Black racism and the history of colonisation.
- Ard Choiste Mins 21/01/1984
- Irish Post 25/02/1984
- Ard Choiste Mins 25/02/1984
- Ard Fheis 24/25/03/1984
- Ard Choiste 28/04/1984
- Embassy Visit Doc. 5/07/1984
- Ard Choiste 21/07/1984
- Ard Choiste 9/09/1984
- CRE Doc 12/10/1984
- Comhcomhair 27/10/1984
- Ard Choiste 10/11/1984
- Irish Post 24/11/1984
- Irish Post 22/12/1984
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