History of the Irish in Britain Representation Group by Patrick Reynolds.Part six; 1986

 

 

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.
IBRG Mems CARD edited-3

IBRG Membership Card 1980s

 Islington IBRG in early January 1986 wrote to all the national and local radio stations in London asking them to provide the Irish community in London with a radio programme. The Irish were then the largest minority community in London with 235,782 Irish born people living in the capital, and an estimated half million second and third generation. The IBRG stated  ‘we understand your charter includes making provision for London’s various Minority communities, and we would like to know what you are planning for London’s Irish community.’

The second campaign by Islington IBRG was on “Fair Employment in N. Ireland” where they wrote to all the major companies who were discriminating against Catholics there, in particular they targeted the Building Societies who also had branches in Britain who were guilty of discrimination.

IBRG stated:  ‘ there is an estimated five million  people Irish born or of recent Irish descent living in Britain, and we will give serious considerations to the organisation of a boycott against any British building society which continues to discriminate against Catholics in Northern Ireland, and in this matter would urge our trade unions, Black and Asian communities and labour organisation to take action in solidarity with us. As with discrimination in South Africa, it is evil and has no place in a democratic society. In considering future action we seek an urgent end to employment discrimination in Northern Ireland’.

Irish American organisations had taken up the McBride Principles:  this was the first known action in Britain on the matter.  Later Nalgo Irish worker groups would take the matter to Nalgo national conference in Bournemouth. Later too, Haringey IBRG would take it to the AGM of Abbey National Building Society, and raise the matter from the floor during the AGM with over 1000 people there. To the IBRG discrimination was also political and needed to be challenged as the statelet of Northern Ireland was created out of discrimination when it was founded.

On 9 January 1986 Islington IBRG had a speaker address the Race Relations Committee of Islington Council regarding the use of Plastic bullets in Northern Ireland and their stockpiling in Britain for use here. The meeting was told that 15 people had been killed by plastic bullets including seven children with many more blinded or  injured.

The following motion was carried: This committee calls for the complete banning of Plastic Bullets. That Brocks fireworks be banned from all council displays, all displays funded by the council, or by council funded groups, and all displays on council property. That this committee organises the showing of the video Plastic Bullets the Deadly truth made by the United Campaign against Plastic Bullets, and invite a member of the UCAPB to address a public meeting, meeting any reasonable fares and expenses. That this committee purchase copies of They Shoot Children and distribute them to all councillors.

Greater London Council  had previously asked all London local authorities to investigate the paradoxical role played by Brooks Pyrotechnics in the production of fireworks:  an essential element of plastic bullets. Again, IBRG were sending out a message both to the community in Northern  Ireland that they stood with them, but equally a message to oppressors in England that they could not get away with what they were doing in Northern Ireland.

On 11th January 1986 the Irish Post carried the headline,  ‘Building societies jobs bias in North’, which showed that seven of the nine building societies in Northern Ireland did discriminate against Catholics in employment. The seven who discriminated were Abbey National, Gateway, Halifax, Nationwide, Leeds, Progressive and the Woolwich. Ironically the President of the Building Societies in England  was the Catholic peer the Duke of Norfolk.

Other Belfast companies like Shorts employed only 3% Catholics. Aer Lingus wrongfully supported Shorts and claimed they were not discriminating, and posed a photo of the Irish Taoiseach, Gareth FitzGerald, getting out of a Shorts plane. The Irish Post carried the IBRG threat to start a boycott of building societies unless we got a plan of action from them to address discrimination in Northern  Ireland. The IBRG were also letting the Irish community in Britain know they could take up the matter with their building societies  as by their nature they were all savers and shareholders.

Maire O’Shea Case

On 13 January 1986 the Irish Times reported on ‘Petition supports O’Shea” when  a 4,000 petition was  handed in to the Home Office in London  by Clare Short MP, to coincide with public meetings on her case  in London, Liverpool, Manchester  and other cities on the eve of her trial at Manchester Crown court. Peter Lynch, Peter Jordan, Billy Grimes, and Patrick Brazil were also on trial with Maire O’Shea.

Maire O’Shea had been released on bail because of her age and health,  but  the other four had spent a year in custody. PRO Pat Reynolds was called as a character witness for Maire O’Shea, and was asked by the judge how many members were in IBRG. He talked about the number of branches and possible number of members in each branch remembering he was on oath when the helpful Judge said, “can I assume you have 4,000 members,” to which he replied “Indeed your Honour you can assume that’.

Maire’s trial lasted 17 days and she was found not guilty of both charges. Her case was a significant victory, the first time that a defendant had mounted a public, political campaign in which she was frank and open about her support for a united Ireland.

Bloody Sunday March

At the end of the month IBRG called on ‘all Irish organisations and individuals to stand together with the struggle of the Irish people by being present for the Bloody Sunday march and rally.” Kenneth Baker, Home Office  minister, replying to the committee about  the ban on Trafalgar Square, stated it would be’ both inflammatory and offensive for permission to be granted in light of continuing violence in Northern Ireland’.

Lord Gifford, addressing the Bloody Sunday rally, stated that nothing had changed in Northern  Ireland since 1972 and that ‘People are still being gunned down in Northern Ireland, not only in open demonstrations, but also by undercover tactics of the SAS’. The march went from Hyde Park to Kilburn and was attacked by National Front, who threw bottles and sticks at the marches.The  police arrested 13 people.  Francie Molley of  Sinn Fein stated at the rally that the purpose of the Anglo-Irish agreement was to smash Sinn Fein, but he reminded the crowd that their rise was inevitable.  Caitlin Wright speaking for IBRG at the rally stated that one of the main effects of the British occupation in the Six Counties was virulent anti-Irish racism in Britain. The IBRG had a large contingent on the march flying  several banners and were joined by  the Maire O’Shea campaign and their banner.

Lambeth IBRG in January 1986 advertised for two workers for their new Irish welfare project in Brixton called Curam. On 25 January 1986 Deasun McGearailt responded to John Dromey, PRO of the Federation of Irish Societies, who had attacked IBRG in a reply to a letter from Jim Murphy from Brent.  Dromey talked about ‘so-called representation groups which seek to control minds and bodies for political reasons.”  Deasun ended up by stating ‘the greatest disservice any organisation can render its people is to insist on staying on stage when their part of the play is over. History should have taught us that’.

The ongoing hostility from the Federation from the foundation of IBRG was most irrational, from John Fahy, when PRO, a Labour Councillor, plus a trade union manager in USDAW to John Dromey,  now PRO, to Father  Claude Malone to Sally Mulready and others.

Anti-Irish Racism

On 8 February 1986 the Irish Post reported ‘Books chain rejects criticism’ . WH Smith’s Managing Director stated in a reply  to IBRG that Smiths would not be withdrawing anti-Irish joke books from their stores. He had stated the same to Bernie Grant, Leader of Haringey Council, who wrote to them on behalf of Haringey IBRG. Smiths went on to state that the sales of these books indicated that there was a public demand for them, and that their role was to make books available where there was a public demand, and suggest IBRG tackled the publishers instead. IBRG accused Smiths of promoting racist material by continuing to stock anti-Irish joke books, where the community had protested again and again about them.

When Pat Reynolds asked them why they did not have for sale Liz Curtis’ book Nothing but the same Old Story the History of anti-Irish Racism, which had gone into several runs and was popular in the Irish community and beyond. Smiths stated they had no knowledge of this book. Ignorance is bliss. The PRO  challenged Smiths’ claim that they could not set themselves up as censors, and accused them of promoting racist filth and of being partial to books which denigrate Irish people, while they ignored the great classics of Irish literature and did not sell one single Gaelic book even in Irish areas. The IBRG stated they would step up their campaign, and called on the Irish community to boycott Smiths until they withdrew their anti-Irish materials.

Bolton IBRG with Raymond Halliwell, Senior Officer of  the Bolton Racial Equality Council (BREC), visited a number of book shops in Bolton selling Irish Joke books and requested the management to cease selling and stocking such racist offensive material. All the shops visited complied. He said of IBRG: “Representatives of the local Irish community have campaigned vigorously on this question and theirs has been a lone voice raised against an increasing volume of jokes that have escalated from the ridiculous fun-poking to a degree of malign denigration of the Irish race”. BREC in 1984 had launched the “Campaign on Racial Abuse in Public Places”. Halliwell commented: “The IBRG were the first local community organisation to recognise and respond to that initiative.”

“The ousting of IBRG president” On 22 February 1986 the Irish Post had a long letter from John Martin,  ex-President of the IBRG under this title.  John Martin sought to justify his role as a working miner during the miners’ strike because his pit voted to stay in, and no national ballot for the strike took place.

The letter was way off the mark,  however, as IBRG was a democratic organisation with no set privileges for any member, and the election of Dr Maire O’Shea was done because the British state had attacked the IBRG through the use of informers and touts, and the organisation took steps to protect Dr O’Shea and our other members. Every Ard Fheis elected different officers every year, that is the nature of democracy.

John Martin founded IBRG in the sense that he wrote the first letter and called the first meeting, but Michael Sheehan who wrote the second letter played a far more important role in developing IBRG. Indeed John Martin must take much of the blame on how he set up the organisation, which nearly destroyed it, by modelling  it on the right wing SDP, and failing to set up branches in London, which gave rise to the London Regional Council, which had no constitutional base in the organisation.

IBRG members were concerned about his role during the miners’ strike when a number got arrested for collecting for the miners, and were heavily involved in supporting the miners. The IBRG made its decision in that no British organisation has ever split on the question of Ireland, and no Irish organisation was going to split on the question of British unions, and why they did not hold a national ballot.

IBRG had a duty to the majority of its members who were to a person supportive of the miners, and John Martin should have understood this issue. He should also have respected Dr Maire O’Shea role as President when she spoke at over 30 meetings in one year, and gave IBRG a huge profile on a national level in taking forward the IBRG’s PTA campaign, and stepped up the role of President.

Gearoid McGearailt replied to John Martin in the Irish Post with ‘there’s still a role in the IBRG for John Martin’. He set out the position of IBRG and the close links between the Irish community and the miners and where similarities were drawn to how, the police treated the mining communities with how they treated the Nationalist community in Northern Ireland. Much education on the issue of Ireland had gone on. The NUM had a history of supporting the Bloody Sunday March each year, and had thousands of Irish born and following generations working in the English mines.

But the main issue of the day was that IBRG had been attacked by the state and sought to defend itself by standing with our people under attack, and by electing Dr Marie O’Shea gave  a clear message to the  British state, that the IBRG and the Irish community of this generation would not be intimidated. It was not a vote against John Martin but a vote of defiance against the British state who had sought to terrorise us.

Antagonistic relationship On 1 March 1986 Gearoid McGearailt had a long letter in the Irish Post in which where he took to task Father  Claude Malone of the Camden Irish Centre over his Irish Post letter of 15 February 1986. Mr Claude Malone was later to marry Orla O’Halloran from the Irish Embassy in London.

Malone had attacked the GLC Irish Unit making the claim that ‘the record of grants awarded and refused to Irish groups is evidence of the GLC  falling victim to the nasty political game of fractionising the Irish community, and thus placing in antagonistic relationship  Irish groups whose only strength lies in unity and solidarity for example  groups like the IBRG versus traditional organisations,  such as ourselves, the Council of Irish Counties and the Federation of Irish societies’.

Gearoid went on to challenge this view and stated ‘any suggestion or inference that IBRG fared better than other groups or at the expense of other groups, in their dealing with the GLC is grossly misleading. Considering the GLC now has but weeks to run before abolition, should we not be praising it and its workers for allocating upwards of £3M to the Irish community in London, instead of attacking them. What other local authority has had the much courage to match its conviction?’

Gearoid went on to list the many ways IBRG had been opposed by the Irish establishment in Britain and the Federation. Malone had failed in his letter to show how the Irish centre or any other traditional group had been overlooked in any way.

Vital that Irish attend Manchester meeting On 1 March 1986 the Irish Post carried the story which invited the Irish community to attend a meeting on 11th March at Manchester Town Hall, where Manchester City Social Services committee were setting up a working party concerning race and social services. ‘It is vital for a range of Irish representatives are present at this meeting so that we can convey the specific needs of the Irish community’  said Jim King. ‘Manchester has a high proportion of elderly Irish born and many of them are in need for various reasons not being reached. but with social services, we have to establish more effective means of communicating with them’.

Earlier in the year Manchester City Education department made a firm commitment to include an Irish dimension in the curricula of the city’s schools. That too was the result of last year’s IBRG submission. The Council has accepted that children from an Irish background have a right to know about their own culture and that the fostering of respect for Irish identity is a useful antidote to anti-Irish racism.

Two Irish projects were set up  in Manchester and Lee Hankin had been seconded for a year to work full time on the development of Irish studies. A series of seminars and workshops were to be arranged and the Education Department has set about developing links with the Irish community involving consultation on a regular basis.  Leeds, Birmingham,  Islington Haringey and Lambeth. had followed the GLC in recognising the Irish.

John Martin also had a letter in the same issue on the matter. John stated ‘The IBRG is a relevant organisation. Town hall support is an IBRG achievement. It needs to be emphasised that the IBRG did not come into existence to compete against another Irish organisations. Its purpose was and remains to stand up for the Irish community, and pursue its interests whatever they may be. I do hope that on reflection Father Malone realises he erred in attacking the IBRG. His letter of 15 February was unnecessary divisive’.

“Lambeth aid to Irish to continue”. This headline in the Irish Post in March detailed the fact that Lambeth Council had taken over GLC funding for IBRG of £38k a year for an office and two workers. Gearoid McGearailt stated that ,while they had made gains in Lambeth,  the Race Relations department were still refusing to recognise the Irish as a minority community, subject to racial abuse and harassment. A fresh report was now going to Lambeth Community Affairs committee setting out the demands of the Irish community The Council had already taken a position on the PTA and on strip-searching, but needed to go further and include  the Irish in ethnic monitoring of its workforce and of its service provision in the borough, so that it could more effectively address the needs of the Irish community, particularly Irish elders and address areas of discrimination in employment and housing

In early March 1986 Gearoid McGearailt addressed the London Labour Party Annual Conference at County Hall,  London, where he stated that Labour party official policy towards the Irish people was one of patronisation and dismissal. At the same meeting Seamus Carey of Islington IBRG addressed the meeting on a motion, calling for better provision for travellers in London which was carried. Two motions on Ireland: one calling for an end to strip searching in Brixton and Armagh jails, and another calling for a commitment to open discussion on British withdrawal from Northern Ireland, with invites to Sinn Fein, and it attacked the bipartisan approach of the Labour Party in accepting the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Both motions were deferred to the first NEC meeting on 10 March.

In mid-March for  St Patrick Day  the Irish Club put on a dinner at the Hilton where they invited Tom King as guest of honour, and the IBRG and the London Armagh Women’s’ Group called a picket of the event to protect at the strip searching of Ella and Martina in Brixton prison, and the strip searching of women in Armagh Jail.  40 demonstrators turned up with loudhailers. The event was covered in An Phoblacht and the Irish Press.

At the dinner Tom King attacked Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish Constitution and its claim to a united Ireland. He ruled out any kind of joint authority in Northern Ireland and a United Ireland ‘Neither, despite all the nonsense being put about by some in Northern Ireland is implied by the Agreement. Neither would it be tolerated by most of the people in N. Ireland’.  In saying so King gives total support to the Unionist veto, yet wanted Ireland to drop all claims to her national territory stolen by an imperial and colonial power.

On the PTA renewal debate, at the House of Commons,  IBRG in a statement called for a mass lobby of MP’s of all political parties demanding the repeal of the PTA. The IBRG urged all concerned organisations and individuals to express the strength of feelings within the Irish community against this obnoxious act, by writing to their MP, or visiting them in the House of Commons, to demand their presence to vote against the renewal of the Act. ‘The Irish community will take note of how many MPs this year vote against the Act. MPs who don’t seek its repeal are not deserving of a single Irish vote’ the statement said without mincing its words.  The Irish Post stated later: ‘The IBRG is right. The Irish community owes it to itself to note what happens in this year’s renewal debate and remember this when it comes to polling day.’

The  IBRG Ard Fheis took place on 22nd March 1986 in Leeds at the CAB office (1). The following branches sent delegates:  Birmingham, Bolton, Brent, Bristol, Camden, Coventry, Haringey, Harrow, Lambeth, Leeds, Lewisham, Manchester, N.E. Lancs, Southwark, and Wigan, 15 branches in all. The following outgoing officers attended: Jim King, Alan Wallace, Caitlin Wright, Pat Reynolds, Marie Wynee, Gearoid McGearailt, Maire O Shea and Joe Mullarkey.

The following Officers were elected;

Cathaoirleach, Gearoid McGearailt Lambeth,

Leas Cathaoirleach, Jacqueline Jolly Southwark.

Uachtaran, Maire O’Shea, Birmingham,

Leas Uachtaran,  Joe Mullarkey Bolton

Runai,  Eamonn de Faoite Lambeth.

Cisteoir,  Maurice Moore Coventry.

Internal co-ordinator,  Caitlin Wright Bolton

Runai ballraíochta,  Marie Wynee Haringey

PRO, Pat Reynolds Islington

Youth officer,  Barry O’Keefe

Nessan Danaher was thanked by the Ard Fheis for all his hard work for IBRG in the field of education.

The following policy motions were passed:

That the Ard Fheis calls on Irish Banking and insurance companies to disinvest from South Africa and make resources available for further economic development of the Irish in Britain (Haringey),

That IBRG recognises the right of the Irish people to choose for themselves the methods they see fit to resist the British occupation of the six occupied counties of north eastern Ireland.

That IBRG call a Northern Ireland Policy Conference within six months of this Ard Fheis and invite motions and delegates to attend with a view to developing and defining IBRG policy on Nt Ireland

That all IBRG press for funding to help meet the social and welfare needs of the Irish community

That this Ard Fheis agrees that the IBRG nationally should submit its Northern Ireland policy document to the Labour Party NEC by personal delegation, and to present it to any other national political party.

That the Ard Fheis agrees that all IBRG request the views of parliamentary candidates during elections as regards Ireland and take steps to publish these views.

That this Ard Fheis condemns in the strongest possible terms strip searching as used in British prisons and police stations against Irish people and reject British government statements that this is necessary for security reasons.

That IBRG should reiterate its position on strip searching in the light of the visit of Dublin Trade Unionist to Armagh prison and should encourage IBRG to take up the issue in their trade unions.

That this Ard Fheis agrees that IBRG condemns the strip searching of Martina Anderson and Ella O Dwyer in Brixton prison and calls for an immediate end  to this harassment, and to the harassment of any other women in British controlled jails, and agrees  to send a message of solidarity and support to the two women in Brixton prison, and to lend support  including financial to the campaign on behalf of these two women.

That this Ard Fheis agrees that the IBRG press ahead with its campaign against the PTA launched in January 1985.

That this Ard Fheis agrees in relation to the campaign against the PTA, the IBRG investigates the feasibility of calling a national demonstration and rally against the PTA

That this Ard Fheis rejects the Anglo-Irish agreement as a vehicle for the just ending to the war in Ireland. The IBRG condemn it as an attempt to reintroduce British rule in Ireland, to maintain the division of Ireland, to further repress the National aspirations of the Irish people, and to undermine the gains made by the Republican Movement.

That all branches take up the discussion about the Anglo-Irish agreement in order to explain to the community and people in general the reasons for rejecting the accord

That the IBRG be seen as more prominent at major demonstrations concerned with Ireland and that the IBRG should press for the 1987 Bloody Sunday demonstration to be held in Birmingham and that all future demonstrations be held in rotation through the principal cities of Britain.

That this Ard Fheis agrees that the IBRG supports the actions of the PRO in expressing deep concerns about recent research which shows that leading British building societies discriminate against the Nationalist community in their employment policies. Therefore, it is proposing that the IBRG Ard Choiste investigates the most appropriate method of campaigning for equality of opportunity among companies operating in the Six Counties.

The Irish Post covered the Ard Fheis with “IBRG gets new chairman” and reported that Gearoid McGearailt from Lambeth had replaced Jim King from Manchester who had stood down after three years as chair. Jim was now a Labour councillor in Salford and had led the early years of IBRG expansion. Dr Maire O’Shea was re-elected President as a show of support for her courage and resolve while held under the PTA. Dr O’Shea had addressed the meeting about her experiences under the PTA and called for the PTA to be attacked with new vigour. The Ard Fheis heard that new branches were being set up in Hammersmith, and Ealing in London.

On 29 March 1986 the Dolan Column in the Irish Post,  written by editor Brendan McLua, devoted his column to Ken Livingstone in which he gave the history of Livingstone’s  position on Ireland and his support for the Irish community in London. He recalled how Livingstone called together at the Irish communities in London, but the chair of the Federation dismissed the GLC Leader as Red Ted Livingstone mixing him up with Ted Knight Leader of Lambeth. The older traditional Irish organisation did not consider themselves ethnic and found the word pejorative. The IBRG understood. ‘But other Irish organisations in London fully understood and fully subscribed to Livingstone’s caring socialist philosophy. Foremost among these was the IBRG, which was then in its infancy. It represented mainly the young and largely British educated second generation. They understood the language being spoken. So did too London’s radicalised women most of them by contrast Irish born’.

IBRG would dispute that the organisation was mainly second generation, it was both. In London you had Irish born people like Seamus Carey, Pat Reynolds, Brid Keenan, Marie Wynee,  Margaret O’Keefe, Bridgit Gavin and many more and then the second generation like Gearoid McGearailt, Steve Brennan, Alex McDonnell, Virginia Moyles, Laura Sullivan, Mary Hickman, Maude Casey, and many more. It was the politics of the individuals rather than the generation or age. The IBRG were, like many Irish before them,  a radical working-class leadership born into a culture of resistance at home and in Britain, and like the Bob Marley song were ‘fighting on arrival’ for survival.

N.E. Lancs IBRG had their Ard Fheis on 30th March 1986 where they looked back on a successful year including the publication of a report entitled the Irish in Lancashire, which they had circulated widely to local authorities, MPs, libraries, councillors and community relations councils. It had a history of the Irish in the county and set out their current needs. They had been involved in the Blackburn Irish Festival and the Mayor of Blackburn, Michael Madigan, had joined the IBRG. Michael OCaimhsi stated ‘The IBRG have a very exciting program for the coming year. We plan to form a Sean chairde club for Irish elders and as well as groups for women and youth people.’

Blackburn 2

In April 1986 Diarmuid Breatnach of Lewishham IBRG had a letter in the Irish Post, Strip Searching Principle of civil liberty involved,”  in which  he reported on Lewisham IBRG attending a march against strip searching from Kennington to Brixton Prison on 5 April 1986. Dr Maire O’Shea had spoken and stated that ‘Defending our prisoners, those who are victimised  because of their aspirations to see Ireland free, is an integral part of standing up for ourselves as a community. Diarmuid ended by calling on the Irish community to support the Saturday morning picket of the prison.

Seamus Carey of Islington IBRG had a letter in the same issue stating that IBRG was not just a second generation organisation but a broad based organisation across the generations   ‘to assert vigorously the rights and interest of the entire Irish community.

On 12 April 1986 Gearoid McGearailt had a letter in the Irish Post entitled “Unjustified Unwarranted Smear” in reply to a John Dromey’s, PRO Federation, letter on 22 March. John Dromey was looking for a small share of GLC grants for himself but Gearoid pointed out ‘No one ever was nor ever should be automatically entitled to their share of public money, because it is ratepayers’ money and should be the subject of careful and frugal management”. Gearoid went on to question the donations the Federation got without competition from Aer Lingus, Allied Irish Banks, Bord Failte, Sealink B&I, Guinness and the Dept of Foreign Affairs which were not scrutinised in any way.

On 26 April 1986 the IBRG Ard Choiste met at the Haringey Irish Centre in North London. Twenty-four delegates and officers attended including Eamonn de Faoite, Gearoid McGearailt, Sean Cross, Eddie Caughey, Maurice Cahill, Nuala Effting, Fionbarra O Cuillin, Marie Wynee, Pat Reynolds, Tom Barron, Seamus Carey, Thomas McEoin, Brian Miller, Diarmuid Breatnach, Elizabeth Cassidy, Maurice Moore, Maire O’Shea, Sean Hone, Maura Cassidy, Kate Bruder, Alex McDonnell, and Pat Daly.

This Ard Choiste was mainly taken up going back over all previous motions to the Ard Fheiseanna, to see what progress had been made on each. The Trade Unionists for Irish Unity and Independence (TUIUI) had invited IBRG to their AGM in Dublin and it was agreed that Maurice Moore should attend this. An invitation to the Fianna Fail Ard Fheis had come in too late to be actioned. It was agreed to provide a speaker for the Wolfe Tone Hunger Strike Commemoration at Conway Hall on 10 May 1986. The Labour Committee on Ireland had invited an IBRG delegate to attend their meeting with a view to creating links and facilitating communication with the IBRG.

It was agreed that a review of the  Northern Ireland Policy at a Conference would take place on 20 September 1986 and that it would include discussion on the Anglo-Irish Agreement passed in 1985.

On the issue of fair Employment in Northern Ireland it was agreed that that Ard Choiste contact the Fair Employment Agency for information on the issue, that branches raise the issue within their trade unions, that branches raise the issue with their MP and MEP, and that the Ard Choiste compile a factsheet on the matter. This had been proposed by Maurice Moore and seconded by Diarmuid Breatnach.

On Strip Searching it was agreed to support the Saturday morning pickets of Brixton Prison to support republican prisoners, Ella O’Dwyer and Martina Anderson. On being informed, that Pat Reynolds PRO was attending the NCCL monthly meetings on the PTA, it was agreed that the Minutes of these meetings should  be sent on to the branches, and that Birmingham and Haringey bring back proposals re- their motion on holding a national demonstration against the PTA.  It was learned that Neil Kinnock Leader of the Labour Party had spoken out in parliament against the PTA recently.

The proposal from Lambeth on holding a Welfare conference for the Irish in Britain was referred back to Lambeth for future proposals. The proposal that IBRG resolve to organise a campaign to demand effective legislation against anti-Irish and other racist propaganda in any form including jokes and articles of merchandise, which are being widely disseminated by the media and by many commercial establishments was referred to a subcommittee for further active proposals.

The meeting heard that plans were in hand to set up an IBRG branch in Nottingham and it was decided to write to the 60 plus members who belonged to the previous branch there. Maurice Moore and Maire O’Shea were tasked with setting up the Nottingham branch. In the  early days of IBRG the Ard Choiste were held in Nottingham many times.

There was discussion about setting up a second branch of IBRG in Birmingham and Maire O’Shea was asked to come back with proposals as to how the city could be divided for this purpose. Pat Daly informed the meeting of a new campaign being set up for Peter Jordan, but it must be borne in mind that Daly was likely to be working for M15.

 “British media and the North” a story in The Irish Post in April 1986 told its readers  that Liz Curtis, the writer, was organising an evening course in Hammersmith on the British media coverage of Northern  Ireland . Her speakers would include Pat Reynolds PRO, Ken Lynam of the Irish Video project and Joanne O’Brien from Format Photography.  Liz  was the author of a new book called  Ireland the Propaganda War.

liz curtis 2

 “IBRG list election issues”a story in The Irish Post on 1 May 1986  about how  IBRG had set out its manifesto for the local elections on 8 May  in London. It stated that the Irish vote could determine the result in nine London boroughs,

The IBRG Manifesto listed seven issues which the voters should take up with any candidates standing. These were; to recognise that Irish people Irish or British born are frequently the victims of racism in areas such as housing and employment, as well as in the development of their culture and identity;  that boroughs councils should support positive steps  at countering anti-Irish discrimination; that councils undertake research in order  to identify and analyse the needs of the local Irish community; that councils should  include the Irish in equal opportunities programs; that councils recognise the special needs of Irish elders and provide more services for them, as well as providing resources for the children of Irish parents  so that they can maintain and develop their cultural identities; that  the relevant council employees be educated in understanding the social and cultural problems and needs of the Irish community: and finally  and that councils recognise that the PTA is a racist weapon used unjustifiably and indiscriminately against the Irish in Britain, to stifle their political development.

IBRG stated that the Irish were a determining vote in Brent, Ealing, Hounslow, Waltham Forest, Richmond on Thames, Camden, Hammersmith and Fulham, Lambeth and Tower Hamlets as the Irish vote was larger than the majority of the leading party. In several other boroughs like Islington Haringey and Lewisham the Irish were a sizable community but Labour easily won these Councils.

After the London local elections and ILEA elections the IBRG issued a statement welcoming the return of Town Hall administrations which were supportive of the Irish in Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Leicester, Coventry, Haringey , Islington, Newham, Greenwich, Camden, and Lambeth Changes  in  administration in Brent, Waltham Forest, Hammersmith and Ealing offered the Irish community new opportunities to push for recognition in these area.

IBRG also took good notice of the new ILEA (Inner London Education Authority) who controlled all the schools in the Inner London boroughs. The outgoing authority had  refused to recognise the Irish and had discriminated against the community in terms of recognition, resources and curriculum.  The IBRG noted that ILEA were out of step with the London Labour Party in its policy towards the Irish community, and IBRG demanded that the new ILEA administration immediately take on board recognition of the Irish. IBRG would be putting their demands to ILEA and would await their response. ‘Recognition of our culture and identity is a right, we want them to be educated that they may be free, rather than be forcibly assimilated. The IBRG view education as a top priority for the Irish community in Britain today, and will act to demand that Britain’s multi-cultural society gives equal recognition and rights to Irish culture within Britain.’

On 6 June 1986 the Irish Post ran the story from IBRG that ILEA were refusing to recognise the Irish as an ethnic group and were making no provision for the Irish.  The IBRG accused them of having racist approach to the Irish and because the Irish did not fit into the black/white perspective, they ignored the Irish despite the Irish history of colonial oppression. ILEA  then responded to say that the Authority were concerned about the experiences of Irish children and recognised that anti-Irish prejudice existed, and that their policy documents have emphasised that discrimination affects not only black groups by also some white ethnic minority groups. In Leeds the Irish community were facing the same problem in not being recognised in any way.

On 3 May 1986 the letters page of the Irish Post was taken up with replies to Sally Mulready’s earlier letter of 12 April where she had attacked IBRG. Her principal charge against the IBRG was that ‘I get the strong impression that many of the IBRG members are young, educated people who are not here essentially for economic reasons. As one reader replied, ‘ Naturally, they are not in Britain for economic reasons. They happen to have been born here.’ Mulready attacked the Irish Unit at the GLC and falsely raised the claim that  the Irish centre did not get funding because it was led by Catholic priests. Steve Brennan as GLC Irish officer replied to Mulready stating the facts of the case which was very different. One reader replied I do wish that Father  Claude Malone, John Dromey and Sally Mulready would stop using the Irish community as a pawn in their little power games.

In the same issue of the Irish Post another story ‘Haringey committed to Irish’, showed that Haringey Council had committed £65K to fund Irish community projects which were previously funded by the GLC with Haringey IBRG getting £23k for their two-worker project.

Marie Wynee, Finbarr Cullen and Pat Reynolds represented the IBRG at the meeting while Councillor  George Meehan, Bill Aulsberry and Donal Kennedy represented Irish Community Care Project which was run by Sister Joan Kane. Earlier that year Bernie Grant, now leader of Haringey Council, had given over a surplus school  to be converted into a centre for the Irish in Haringey. In addition, the Council,  like the GLC,   had created an Irish Unit with Seamus Taylor leading it with four full time staff. The new Irish Centre was chaired by Maria Higgins of Haringey IBRG. In the same issue the Post reported that Green Ink Bookshop funding had been taken over by Greater London Arts from the GLC.

“Your Vote on the London local electionsA story in the Irish Post in the Dolan Column on 10 May 1986responded to ICRA (Irish Civil Rights Association) led by Jim Curran, who took out an advert in the Irish Post,  which stated that ‘until Irish Unity is official party policy, no Irish person should join, vote or give support to any British political party.’ In this they repeated their 1981 claims.

IBRG strongly disagreed with them on this matter, as it would mean Irish people not voting for Ken Livingstone, John McDonnell, Tony Benn, or Jeremy Corbyn who were supporters of Irish Unity and Independence.

Dolan stated ‘I put the Irish community first. We and our offspring are as numerous as the population of Ireland. We are entitled to our own perspective not just on partition, but on the welfare of our community’ Partition and Irish reunification is the supreme issue. But withholding your vote this Thursday will not solve that ingrained problem. What it may do is deny recourses to our children in growing up proudly Irish’. Dolan went on to quote John Martin ‘Town hall support is an IBRG achievement”.

He is partly correct. It was the street activism of the IBRG which consolidated the Town Hall response to our disfranchisement debate. We, Irish here, must function at two complementary levels. Ireland’s cause is one level and the other level is the sustenance and development of being Irish in Britain. If we fade away or fail to develop our potential as Irish in Britain, then we can make no contribution to Ireland. The Town Hall is materially and psychologically an important source of being proudly and effectively Irish in the country’ he went on to state that Ken Livingstone gave far more money and moral support to the Irish in London than have Irish governments since 1922. There are hints of similar developments in Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Leicester and Bradford.  Thanks to the GLC Irish activism in London culturally, politically educationally  and in caring for our aged is now an effective level of performance.

On 28 May 1986 Gearoid McGearailt sent a letter out to IBRG branches setting out the discriminatory and sectarian way the Irish Embassy/Government were acting towards IBRG. One example was the composition of the Dion Irish Welfare Committee which had two Federation members on its committee, one of whom  Seamus McGarry who had no social work experience.

Gearoid stated ‘The policy of the present Irish government is to contain IBRG as best they can and to use finances and the Federation,  the media and anything else they can to achieve this purpose. It would make sense therefore for IBRG to recognise this and to gauge each and every contact with the Government, or the Embassy, whether official or unofficial on the basis that it will be used by Dublin to undermine or curtail our development… It would be far more appropriate and sensible  for us to adopt a more long term approach to this problem, by firstly recognising that Dion was never intended to fund genuine welfare in Britain, but was instead intended to be a vehicle for transferring funds from the Irish government to the Federation, the strategy being to avoid the situation  which the Embassy in America now faces. They have become a lone government voice crying in the wilderness of an Irish community which sees them for what they are’… It is surely no coincidence that sponsorship of the Federation grew from £2750 in March 1984 to £13,480 by March 1985 and the sponsors included Aer Lingus, Bank of Ireland, B&I, Bord Faillte, Dept of Foreign Affairs, Guinness Irish Distillers and Sealink.

These were largely  the same companies which were sponsoring anti-Irish racism in the British media in the Sun and Express and other papers were now sponsoring the Federation. The IBRG would be punished for their principled stand against anti-Irish racism in Britain, while the Federation who largely stood idly by would be rewarded for their silence.

On 31 May 1986 the IBRG Ard Choiste (3) met at the Unemployed Centre in Birmingham when 24 delegates and officers attended with Gearoid McGearailt in the Chair and Eamonn de Faoite as Runai. The following attended Sean Cross, Eddie Caughey, Maurice Cahill, Joe Mullarkey, Marion O’Brien, Marie Wynee, Jean Somers, John Martin, Pat Reynolds, H McIntyre, John O’Neill, Elizabeth Cassidy, Maurice Moore, Maire O’Shea, M Cassidy, Sean Hone, Gearoid Elliot, Steve Brennan, Antoine MacLean, Joe Murphy,  Mark O ‘Sullivan and Celia McGarron.

The Ard Choiste heard that Steve Brennan had spoken at the Hunger Strike Commemoration meeting at Caxton House London, and that Maurice Moore had attended the AGM of TUIUI in Dublin. It was agreed that Maire O’Shea attend the Labour and Ireland committee meeting as an  IBRG delegate.

The Ard Choiste agreed to complain to the Daily Mail over an article by Mary Kenny which had been extremely detrimental in its comments on Northern Irish people. The Irish Commission for Prisoners Overseas had been in touch requesting information and possible support in helping relatives out when coming to Britain.

The Ard Choiste elected Steve Brenan as Education Officer and agreed to hold an Education day in Haringey where Steve could present his plan and strategy.  The Swan Report needs to be included in our strategy. On the issue of South Africa Maurice Moore reported back from the TUIUI conference, and stated that Irish Anti-Apartheid movement had information around Irish banks being involved in St Africa but no information was available on insurance companies.

The Ard Choiste heard that the IBRG picket of Brixton Prison on Saturday 24 May for Ella and Martina drew over 50 people with a number of branches present. Islington IBRG reported back that it would be better to organise a National lobby around PTA renewal than any national demonstration.

The Ard Choiste met on 5 July 1986 (4) at St Finbarr’s Club in Coventry at which 19 delegates and officers attended including Gearoid McGearailt, Eamonn de Foite Runai, Sean Cross, Pat O’Sullivan, Denis Case, Marion O’Brien, Marie Wynee, Pat Daly,  Mick Cole, Brian Millar, Mary Donnelly, Dave Kernaghan, Maurice Moore, Maire O’Shea,  Nora Doyle, Aine bean Ni Gearailt and Antoine MacLean.

IBRG badges 3

The Ard Choiste agreed to affiliate to the Guildford Four Campaign and to send a representative  to their meetings, to buy packs to send them out to branches and send to  other parties and groups.  Tom Barron from Islington IBRG was already involved in the campaign which used the Islington Irish centre which the IBRG had set up as their base.

Birmingham Six Group Campaign in North West. On 16 July 1986 Arthur Devlin of Bolton IBRG wrote a long letter to Pat Reynolds of Haringey IBRG setting out what the newly formed Birmingham Six Campaign Group were doing in his area, while London IBRG were planning to set up a London campaign on the case. The Bolton Group had written to over 120 MPs and had only got eight replies so far: from Kevin McNamara, Seamus Mallon, Neil Kinnock, Harry Cohen, Ron Brown and others. There was also a Birmingham Six Group within NCCL in Manchester.  The letter is an indication of how different IBRG branches were working on differing issues and supporting each other.

IBRG Policy  Document on Emigration A Positive Action Plan was launched In July 1986.

Gearoid McGearailt, Chair of IBRG ,said the document   addressed the  mass immigration from Ireland to Britain and other countries in the 1980’s while the Dublin Government as usual stood idly by.

The policy document set out the IBRG strategy for tacking mass emigration from Ireland, and stated that the action around emigration must be directed into two areas.  One: measures  and policies  aimed at reducing unemployment in Ireland, and two: adequate information and support for those  forced to emigrate by economic necessity to adjust to British society,  as well as support and encouragement to return home.

IBRG stated that the appalling economic and social situation in Ireland was as much the result of continuing neo colonial domination by Britain of Ireland as well as years of Dublin’s mismanagement. The accepted use of Emigration as safety release valve for the declining social /economic situation in Ireland has been proved by past example to be short sighted and damaging to the long-term development of the Irish nation. Britain benefits by millions of pounds from the training and education given to Irish young people, before they emigrate to the British State without paying one penny has the total benefits for educated workers for their system. Ireland loses that financial investment by accepting the re-emergence of emigration but also loses the skills and intelligence of its young and life blood, putting in jeopardy its own potential economic an industrial development.

The Dublin Government should see emigration as a social and moral embarrassment and monies saved by emigration, should be put into schemes aimed at helping young emigrants abroad, and at alleviating socio economic condition in Ireland. The Dublin Government should prioritise the welfare and needs of the people above that, of maintaining a security role in Britain’s intervention policies in N. Ireland.

The Irish people did not want the war in Ireland, the Irish people did not cause the war in Ireland, and the Irish people should not have to pay for the war in Ireland. The Dublin Government should stop subsidising foreign multi nationals, who show no allegiance or commitment to the Irish people, and  who take all their profits out of Ireland

IBRG stated that the Irish Government should not abrogate its responsibilities toward Irish people, who have been forced to leave and should consider every instance of emigration, as a failure to support its own people.  In that context the Irish Government should maintain the right of Irish emigrants to participate, in all elections and referenda taking place in Ireland This would be a clear acknowledgement that Irish emigrants are still considered to be an important and integral part of the Irish nation.

IBRG called on the Irish government to redirect the massive financial outlay incurred because of ‘’border security’, be redirected back into the infrastructure of the Irish state, and providing support for Irish industry. The Irish Government should at all times give priority to schemes, aimed at overcoming the root cause of emigration unemployment, aimed at negating the popular myth of success through emigration and be aimed at encouraging Irish people abroad, to return home with their skills to assist in rebuilding a successful, caring and enterprising Irish Nation..

The IBRG policy document was sent to the Irish Government and to all political parties, trade unions and social and cultural bodies in Ireland and to the Irish media, where it received much attention and received much support from trade unions and ordinary Irish people. It received much media attention in the Irish press in Britain and at home and in America.

‘IBRG call for action on exodus Irish Post  headline on 15 August 1986, which detailed the  Emigration policy document drawn up by IBRG Chair Gearoid Mc Gearailt, and listed the ten proposals put forward by IBRG, a campaign to discourage emigration,  the provision of financial assistance  whereby first time emigrants can return home within a year,  The Irish Embassy in London to take responsibility  for the provision of advice guidance and assistance to those wishing to return home, with the Embassy required to keep statistical records  of all such request for assistance,  Irish  people who leave  as part of the present wave of emigration, to retain the right to vote by postal ballot in all elections in the Irish Republic, the production of an information kit for those  who insist on coming to Britain. This would include a briefing as to their rights as EEC citizens, a list of all Irish community organisations in Britain in the field of welfare and information on various aspects of life in Britain including advise on accommodation and employment.

The IBRG Ard Choiste met on 16th August 1986 at Pinner Road, Harrow, West London where nine branches sent delegates, namely, Lambeth, Lewisham, Camden, Islington, Haringey, Harrow, Southwark, Birmingham and Coventry.  The minutes of this Ard Choiste are missing so  the list of officers attending is not known.

The Ard Choiste decided  to investigate the feasibility of the IBRG of producing an IBRG journal to reflect the work of the organisation, set out the terms of the Women’s subcommittee, to ensure all women play a full part in all IBRG activity, at all levels of the organisation, terms for the prisoners subcommittee to coordinate all IBRG activity on behalf of the welfare legal  and civil rights of all Irish prisoner in Britain, and to campaign on issues such as Irish political prisoners, framed prisoners, Strip searching,  and for the repatriation of Irish prisoners. The Ard Choiste called  all Irish political parties to respond to the IBRG  Emigration policy document and to seriously tackle the issues  raised by the document.

The Ard Choiste  agreed to send the following motion on the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four to the All Party  delegation which recently visited Britain on the issue, and Fianna Fail  urging them to put the motion before Dail Eireann after the recess  “That the Irish government demand the release of the innocent Irish citizens jailed for the Birmingham and Guildford bombings, and for a public acknowledgement  of their  innocence along with that of the Maguire family.  That Peter Barry make a detailed and public statement on the kind of representation that he and his government has made to the British government, on their behalf and the British responses to them.”

The Ard Choiste urged all IBRG branches and members to take up the issue of the Birmingham 6 and Guildford 4 by writing to their MP,  TD Peter Barry,  the Home Office, and the Irish Embassy.

Manchester  IBRG In August 1986 wrote a letter of protest to the Equal Opportunities Commission over an EOC booklet entitled Do Girls Give Themselves a Fair Chance? It included a cartoon in which a young woman bricklayer on a building site is shown as being smarter and more hardworking than two male operatives who are, of course, Irish and are shown speaking in “Oirish”. In reply, the EOC’s Ann Godwin said that she very much regretted it had caused offence and that it would be revised in a new edition.

IBRG held their first IBRG Education Policy Conference on 30 August 1986 at the Haringey Irish Centre in North London in order to set out IBRG demands around the Irish and education in Britain. This would differ from the open IBRG Education conferences which were held by Nessan Danaher at Soar Valley Leicester who had key note speakers and raised several issues, but did not create any policy document or framework.

The Conference in Haringey set out an IBRG Policy document on education. The preamble stated IBRG recognises that the imperialist and colonial policies of Britain have been and continue to be the primary determinant of racism in this country, and that racism is not and never has been based exclusively on perceived differences between racial groups. Racism is a practice which assumes innate superiority by a dominant people or nation towards a subject people or nation, and which also assumes the innate inferiority of the subject people. In Britain this racism is endemic and is interwoven into the culture, history and traditions of Britain. The structures and institutions arising from this ideology have been created by Britain both at home and in its colonies to maintain its colonial domination, and have developed forces intended to divide and thereby rule, those subjected to its colonial ambition. IBRG therefore recognises that the colonial domination by Britain of Ireland has underscored and dictated the educational policies and practices in Britain towards the teaching of language, history, and culture in British schools. This has led to the suppression of Irish culture within the educational system and has reinforced anti-Irish racism.

The IBRG therefore callsed for; the recognition of ethnic/colonial minority status for the Irish community in total, equal opportunities monitoring of all Irish staff at all levels within the education service, monitoring of the numbers, performance and achievement of Irish students in schools, the monitoring of texts and other teaching materials and the revaluation of curriculum to eradicate anti-Irish racism, the adoption of a policy and effective procedures to deal with anti-Irish racism in language and behaviour of staff and pupils, the provision of an Irish prospective throughout all subject areas, especially British Irish history and the introduction of Irish language, music and dance as optional subjects in schools with a significant  number of Irish pupils, the provision of Irish studies courses in schools with a significant number of Irish students,  the introduction of training to acquaint staff with the needs of the Irish. This to include day schools and courses to raise the awareness of anti-Irish racism and to include appropriate staff secondment for these courses.  This to include Irish studies courses up to degree level and courses for Irish games, dance, music and language teachers with staff secondment as appropriate. The commissioning of teaching packs, videos and exhibitions, that could be developed and used in schools to help combat anti-Irish racism. The promotion of existing resources and their distribution or availability to all teaching staff. The provision of funding for adult and community education initiatives by Irish community groups, and for all education authorities to appoint an education Officer with responsibility for Irish curriculum and Irish students, and who will be accountable to the Irish community with responsibility for implementing these policies within the local education service.

On 19 September 1986 the Universe newspaper  covered the IBRG demand Put Irish in the time table which was important given the Catholic Church ran most of the schools in Britain that Irish children attended.  The report was based on the demands which came out of the IBRG Education Conference which was held at the Haringey Irish Centre and hosted by Haringey IBRG. The Conference produced an Irish Education policy document setting out  all the demands  calling on local and church education authorities to provide Irish studies course in schools, where there are significant number of Irish children, that an Irish perspective be taught in such school on Irish/British history that the performance of Irish children be monitored  in school, and that school curricula be examined to ensure that anti-Irish racism, was removed and the each local authority in Irish areas have a specific office, who could liaise with the Irish community on these issues. The report also called for degree courses in Irish studies and demanded that Irish children have equal access to their own heritage and culture. ILEA (Inner London education Authority) stated they were given the policy document very serious consideration.

IBRG’s Northern Ireland Policy was discussed at a National Conference on 20 September 1986. Its aim to update its earlier Policy  which was agreed in 1983 at Brent Town Hall. The Policy with a preamble which stated that ‘the lives of Irish people living in Britain are underscored and structured by Britain’s relationship to Ireland, and further recognises that this relationship has historically been one of intervention on the part of Britain. It is this intervention which has resulted in the situation in Ireland and the disadvantaged position of the Irish community in Britain…. The IBRG recognises that the statelet of N. Ireland was deliberately created by the 1920 Government of Ireland Act and maintained against the wishes of the majority of the Irish people.  The IBRG recognises that the war in Ireland is a direct result of British colonial policy and therefore maintain that any just and lasting solution must include the recognition of the island of Ireland as a single independent and sovereign political unit. The IBRG recognises that this continuing war has led to attacks on the civil liberties and political rights of Irish people living in Britain and see the ending of the war in the Six Counties and a political solution as apriority for all Irish people living in Britain.

The new  policy  was updated by adding that the IBRG ‘condemn the Anglo-Irish agreement which has led to increasing attacks on the Nationalist community and the reinforcement of Partition, undermining the principle of self-determination enshrined in the Irish Constitution. IBRG call on all democratic people to oppose this agreement and continue to assert the right of the Irish people to a United Ireland.  IBRG demanded the immediate release  of this Irish prisoners wrongly convicted as a result of the war in Ireland and called on all government on Britain’s withdrawal from Ireland  to release immediately and grant an amnesty to all Irish political prisoners, and demanded that adequate compensation be paid by Britain  for the damage and hardships caused by its interference in Ireland.

In September 1986 the Irish Post covered  the story Committee elected to run Haringey Irish centre where Maria Higgins of IBRG was elected chair over Federation member and Labour Councillor George Meehan, which showed that the IBRG had the support of the Irish community in the strongest Federation area in Britain, as Meehan had previously been the Leader of Haringey Council.  The Irish community had not forgotten that Meehan failed to deliver an Irish Centre to the Irish community but Bernie Grant did when he became Leader.

Eight Sinn Fein councillors toured Britain In October 1986 and visited a number of local authorities including Manchester. Sinn Fein councillors Caoimghin o’Caolain  from Monaghan and Lily Fitzsimmons from West Belfast visited Manchester.  The visit was organised by the Labour Committee on Ireland and supported by the leftwing Manchester Labour Council. Manchester IBRG organised a meeting for the Irish community in the Town Hall for Irish people to meet the councillors and hear their views on the current situation in Ireland.

The Economist on 11 October 1986 ran the story “Two dimensions of History” which reported that Britain now had an Irish studies unit staffed by two “Brits Out supporters” in reporting on the new Irish studies unit at the Polytechnic of North London. The Economist reported that the newly formed British Association of Irish Studies which had been set up in Oxford the year before with the education secretaries from London and Dublin present, and who were hoping to get a grant of £30k from the Irish government. The IBRG at the time felt that this was set up to counteract the success of the IBRG Education Conference which had been set up by Nessan Danaher of the IBRG.

The Economist stated that over 400 academics were interested  in Irish Studies,  On the North London initiative which was seen as rival to BAIS the paper stated  ‘These studies are unlikely to  fit the mould revisionist to it republican critics, open minded  inquiry  to those who work within it, that British or Irish officialdom might prefer.  The research fellowship advertised in the Irish Post the voice of the Irish in Britain, attracted more than 80 applicants. The winner was Alan Clinton a research officer at the Institute of Housing, labour historian and in public life deputy leader of the local far left Islington borough council. Mr Clinton earned some local fame for his support for a meeting due to be addressed by Sinn Fein leaders in the Town Hall. Time may have greyed his views, but has not essentially altered them. His research assistant Mary Hickman is a sociologist active in Irish in Britain causes, the history group, notably but also the Irish in Britain Representation group which demands total withdrawal from Northern Ireland’.

On 18 October 1986 Trevor O’Farrell of Haringey IBRG sent a letter signed by over 25 IBRG members to Douglas Hurd at the Home Office regarding  the cases of Birmingham Six and Guildford Four. It  complained about the delays in reopening the case. On 24 July 1986 Hansard revealed that Hurd was considering points raised in the recently published  book on the Birmingham Six by Chris Mullin, and Hansard also showed that Clare Short MP in the same day asked Hurd,  whether it is true that the Home Office repeated the forensic tests, and found that the tests that were used were totally unreliable, which Hurd refused to answer. Mr Duffy M.P. on the same day noted that it was a year since the Home Secretary ordered an investigation following the Granada Reports  programme on the Birmingham Six. He  ended by asking ‘how long must these wrongly convicted wait before you reach the decision which will give them the chance to be vindicated and compensated’.

The Home Office responded back on 24 November 1986 to Trevor O’Farrell  saying that the Home Secretary was still looking at fresh evidence which had come in on the Birmingham Six including the World on Action programme , and the fact that Chris Mullen had identified four other men whom he alleged were part of the bombing team.

In terms of the Guildford and Woolwich case the Home Office stated they were also looking at fresh evidence from Yorkshire TV First Tuesday programme of 1 July and a feature in the Observer of 29 June plus Robert Kee’s new book which came out on 13th October which were all being looked at. The letter ended,  ‘The Home Secretary is fully aware of concern which has been expressed in various quarters about these cases and is anxious to reach a decision as quickly as possible, as to whether there may be any action he should properly take with regard to the convictions.  The Home Secretary at the time had powers under Section 17 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968 to refer a case where there was fresh evidence to the Court of Appeal.

The letter shows how local IBRG branches were taking on the British establishment and pushing them towards reaching decisions on outstanding matters affecting the Irish community.

On 2 November 1986 the IBRG PRO Pat Reynolds put in their submission on the Prevention of Terrorism Act to Lord Colville at the British Home Office,  listing 20 different objections to the PTA;

 The Act is racist in concept and in practise, the fact that it now extends to other minority groups as well as the Irish does not make it any the less racist.

 6,155 people had been detained under the Act since 1974 and a mere 173 had been charged with any offence under the Act mainly minor charges.

 In 1985 55,328 Irish people were stopped, searched and questioned use the PTA at ports in England and Wales a 16% increase on 1984, about 150 Irish people a day were being stopped searched and examined.

 The European Commission on Human Rights on 12 July 1986 judged that Britain had a case to answer in respect of s12 of the PTA contravening the European Convention on Human Rights Art 5, which states that no person should be arrested or deprived of their liberty, except for the purpose of bringing them before a court. Contrary to the European Convention the vast majority over 97% were detained solely for the purpose on interrogation are not brought before any court, and are not able to challenge the lawfulness of their detention, are denied a right to compensation and have no effective remedy in respect of their complaints.

 The European Parliament voted to investigate the harassment and infringement of human rights of Irish nationals’ resident in or travelling to Britain in January 1985.

 Dail Eireann passed a motion expressing its concern at possible abuses of the act and its application in a discriminatory manner to Irish citizens, and deplored the regular practise of denying legal advice to detainees and information to relatives for up to 48 hours and beyond.

 Fianna Fail the largest political party in Ireland condemned the Act in it provisions and implementation as clearly discriminatory against Irish citizens and being in violation of the European Convention in human rights and called for its abolition.

The British Labour Party, which introduced the Act in 1974, now wants it repealed. Roy Hattersley Deputy Leader noted that law abiding Irish visitors feel threatened and harassed at ports, and the Irish community in Britain feels that it is under constant suspicion.

 The NCCL states that by giving the Home Secretary and police powers that cannot be challenged in court, the PTA has destroyed at a glance the edifice of safeguards,  built  up in this country’s legal system to protect the citizen against wrongful arrest, detention and that all the people  detained under the Act,   and later charged with criminal offences could have been arrested  questioned and charges without using the powers of the act

The victims of the PTA have been the entire Irish community and in particular those arrested for no good reason.  The Act gives the police an open season to harass the Irish community and deprive many of their liberty and civil rights. The Guildford Four and the Maguire Family are clear examples where the PTA was instrumental in the arrest interrogation and conviction of totally innocent Irish people.

The IBRG regards the PTA as a racist and discriminatory weapon of repression used almost exclusively against the Irish community to stifle lawful and legitimate political activity, and which has institutionalised anti-Irish racism into policing policy and the legal system in Britain.

 The PTA includes the power of exclusion and internal exile. The individual has no right to know or cross examine the evidence on which the Home Secretary   had made that decision, or to appeal against it in any court or tribunal. The Home Secretary is not even responsible of accountable to parliament for his decision.

The power of exclusion violates article  8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and art 12(1) of the International Covenant in Civil and Political Rights.

 The Greater London Council study of PTA victims showed that all these arrested were denied access to a solicitor, and effectively disappeared because neither family nor friends were informed of their detention. Detainees complained of physical ill-treatment threatening behaviour on the part of police and sever mental pressure. The after effect of their arrest on neighbour’s employment and personal security were enormous. 

 The PTA has attempted to criminalise an entire community with the label of terrorism. Christine Crawley MEP stated that it creates an invisible line over which Irish people dare not cross. The IBRG view its apolitical breathalyser which view any Irish person holding genuine political beliefs as being over the limit defined by the British police.

Detainees were denied access to legal advice contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights and relatives are denied knowledge of their arrest or where they are being held’ This practise of holding detainees incommunicado is the most serious threat to lawful questioning by the police.  The practise was linked with ill-treatment /torture by the European Court of Human Rights in 1974 after British agents used this method of detention in N. Ireland. In the  early 1970’s. the holding of detainee’s incommunicado has been linked with beatings, ill treatment, torture false confessions, and wrongful convictions.

 The PTA prevents the detainee or their  legal advisors from applying for Habeas Corpus, or the opportunity to challenge their detention of ill treatment. The treatment of Irish citizens held in police custody for up to seven days has meant a complete denial of basic human rights, such as access to food, sleep and washing facilities.

The Irish Press editorial of 2/01/1985 stated that the incidence of detention under this particularly oppressive law would indicate that the British police seem to think all Irish people a terrorist or a political terrorist.

The Irish Post in its editorial of 12/01/1985 stated “Our community is beyond reproach.  It has acted responsibly in a law-abiding fashion throughout the last 15 years of violence emanating from N. Ireland. But it has suffered by way of intimidation and at times harassment”.

The PTA has not prevented IRA military action in Britain but has been used to politically police the Irish community, and to control any expression of legitimate political activity around the question of Ireland and the ending of British interference in Ireland.

IBRG calling  for the repeal of the PTA clearly views the PTA as a racist weapon, geared toward the intimidation of innocent Irish citizens in Britain, which had led to a 97% victimisation rate against innocent Irish citizens, and the remining less than 3% could have been arrested under the normal law in Britain.

The abolition of legal safeguards and normal policing and administration of justice for the Irish community is extremely dangerous for other minorities in Britain. The lessons of Hitlers’ Germany should not be forgotten. Where the defence of minority rights is abused, democracy ceases to be, and we are left with a sham of democracy

The IBRG urge you to call for the repeal of this despicable piece of legislation whose main purpose and practise has been to terrorise the innocent and alienate an entire community.

IBRG’s  press release called on the Irish government to make public  their submission on the PTA It called on Foreign Minster, Peter Barry  who  shortly before in Vienna  took a very strong line on  abuses of human rights in Russia contrary to the Helsinki Final Act, yet  his own Government in Dublin supported the British government in their abuse and 97% victimisation rate against their own citizens in Britain. The IBRG called on Barry to condemn the racist PTA and demand its abolition, as it was contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights which the Irish government had signed up to. The IBRG condemned the collusion of the Irish government in the abuse of Irish citizens in Britain and called on Barry to demand the release of the innocent Birmingham Six and Guildford Four. The IBRG reminded Barry that justice like charity begins at home.

The Irish Post covered the press release with Repeal PTA IBRG Demand. The Sunday Press also carried the story with Barry is attacked over Act on 30 November 1986 and went over the main point as the Irish Post did over Barry’s public statement over Human Rights abuses in Russia compared with his stance over abuse of Irish human rights in Britain.

On 29 November 1986 the IBRG Ard Choiste met at the Old Co-op in Bristol (5) where 17 delegates and officers attended from NE Lancs, Harrow, Lambeth, Lewisham, Coventry, Haringey, Birmingham, Camden, Hackney and Bristol. Among those attending was Gearoid McGearailt Chair, Michael O Cnaimhsi, Maurice Cahill and Dennis Casey, Steve Brenan Education Officer, Diarmuid Breatnach, Del Thorogood, Pat Reynolds, Maurice Moore, Maire O’Shea, Virginia Moyles, Pat Daly and Seamus O Coillean. The meeting heard there were 15 registered branches with 9 attending.

The Comhcomhairle had been cancelled because the branches had dealt with two conferences on Education and one on Northern Ireland in quick succession.

The Ard Choiste heard that the next Bloody Sunday March would be in Sheffield on 31 January 1987 and IBRG were part of the organising group. The meeting agreed to donate £100 for the event and ask branches to try and contribute too. Virginia Moyles agreed to be the IBRG representative on the organising committee.

The Runai was standing down as he was leaving Britain, and Caitlin Wright also stood down for family reasons. Tom Jones from  Camden took over as Runai with Virginia Moyles as Leas Runai.

On the PTA the Ard Choiste heard that the PRO had put in a submission to Lord Colville who was reviewing the Act and the submission had been sent to all branches. The IBRG agreed to support an anti PTA lobby of the House of  Commons on 28 January 1987. The IBRG agreed to affiliate with Irish anti-apartheid movement and support their actions re South Africa. The Education Officer had produced a 20-page Document on Education and the Irish which he was sending to all the branches. It was noted that the Chair, Runia and Cisteoir of the Guildford Four campaign were all IBRG members.

The Ard Choiste heard a report back on the successful Education and Northern Ireland Policy conferences which were held by IBRG and also of a successful Sinn Fein tour of Britain where IBRG had worked with TOM and LCI. The IBRG decided to affiliate to the West Midlands PTA campaign.

On 2 November 1986 Sinn Fein voted by two thirds majority to take their seats in Dail Eireann.  Ruari O Bradaigh and Daithi O’Connell and about 100 delegates walked out of the meeting and  set up Republican Sinn Fein.

On 15 November 1986 up to 200,000 Unionists attended a rally at Belfast City hall to protect on the first anniversary of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

In November 1986 on the first anniversary of the Anglo Irish Agreement IBRG called for it to be scrapped, and noted that nothing of any substance  had been delivered to the Nationalist people during the last year, and the agreement had been exposed as a dangerous cul de sac for the Irish people. The Anglo-Irish Governmental Conference had been a complete sham and the failure of Barry and Fitzgerald to be able to get anywhere showed them to be obedient servants of Thatcher.   IBRG drew people’s  attention to  the cover up over Britain’s policy of shoot to kill, the silencing of John Stalker on the matter,  the  killing of Sean Downes by Plastic bullets, the strip searching of women prisoners,  the continued harassment of the Irish community in Britain under the racist PTA laws and the continued detention of the Irish political hostages the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four. The IBRG deplores the Irish government ceding to British pressure on the Unionist veto, and the British attacks on Articles 2 &3 of the Irish Constitution.  The IBRG condemned the use of Irish taxpayers’ money to police the border and British war in Ireland, while thousands of Irish young people are forced to emigrate.

‘Opposition by IBRG to Accord’,was the headline in The Irish Post about the Northern  Ireland conference which,  whilst  reaffirming  the new policy also included fresh demands on  equal opportunities in employment, and an end to discrimination in Northern Ireland. IBRG held their Northern Ireland policy Conference in Birmingham. The conference also called for the release of the innocent prisoners, the  Birmingham Six and Guildford Four

Accord of little or no value. The Irish Post covered the IBRG and LCI response to the Agreement anniversary . The Irish People in the USA covered the full IBRG statement. In November the Irish Post reported on a Leeds exhibition which Leeds IBRG had helped put together with the Councils’ libraries on the history of the Irish in Leeds. It traced their history back to An Gorta Mor around 1850, when over 10,000 Irish came to Leeds. Enda McCarthy had helped to put the exhibition together to show not just the Irish but the general public the contribution the Irish had made to Leeds.

In early December 1986 PRO Pat Reynolds sent a letter to a number of newspapers in Ireland and abroad on the cases of the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four pointing out that they had served over 120 years between for something they had nothing to do with.  The IBRG pointed out that the evidence used to convict was uncorroborated, unconvincing and flimsy, with over 100 discrepancies in the police evidence.  They were convicted because they were Irish in Britain, and for that crime they remain in prison., and while they remain in prisoner, we the Irish community in Britain remain unfree. The IBRG asked readers, as they prepared to enjoy Christmas with their families and friends to remember these innocent people, and that they join the campaign for the release of these 10-innocent people.  The letter was carried in An Phoblacht, the Sunday Press and the Irish People in America.

On 7 December 1986 IBRG were quoted on the front page of the Sunday World where Mrs FitzGerald, partner of the Taoiseach, had gone shopping in London at a time the Irish government, were telling the Irish people to Buy Irish and thousands were forced to emigrate. IBRG were named as the biggest Irish community organisation in Britain and the IBRG pointed out when the Irish went abroad to shop the Irish economy lost out over £25M a year.

In November and December 1986, the row over the ending of BBC Manchester’s Irish Line went on with a flurry of letters in the Irish Post . Tom McAndrew, the presenter, of the new toned-down entertainment programme “Come Into the Parlour”   had a go at Michael Herbert (Manchester Irish History Group) for his letter. The letters appear orchestrated with three letters in one week attacking the IBRG Irish Line radio programme as having been too political. Read more about it here

Notes

  1. Ard Fheis 22/3/1986
  2. Ard Choiste 26/04/1986
  3. Ard Choiste 31/05/1986
  4. Ard Choiste 5/07/1986
  5. Ard Choiste 29/11/1986

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

Read Part 1, 2 and 3 of IBRG history 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

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About lipstick socialist

I am an activist and writer. My interests include women, class, culture and history. From an Irish in Britain background I am a republican and socialist. All my life I have been involved in community and trade union politics and I believe it is only through grass roots politics that we will get a better society. This is reflected in my writing, in my book Northern ReSisters Conversations with Radical Women and my involvement in the Mary Quaile Club. .If you want to contact me please use my gmail which is lipsticksocialist636
This entry was posted in education, human rights, Ireland, Irish second generation, labour history, Manchester, North of Ireland, political women, trade unions, Uncategorized, women, working class history, young people and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to History of the Irish in Britain Representation Group by Patrick Reynolds.Part six; 1986

  1. sandy rose says:

    Looking forward to reading this. B. When have time. Have had a week of internet probs. Now resolved x

    On Mon, 27 Jul 2020, 9:39 am lipstick socialist, wrote:

    > lipstick socialist posted: ” 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. Islington IBRG in” >

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