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.
Last Bloody Sunday March
On 22nd January IBRG branches attended the annual Bloody Sunday March in London with their banners and the rally afterwards at London University. It was announced that it was the last Bloody Sunday march in Britain.
The IBRG made it clear it wanted the march to continue. Since 1982 the IBRG had marched with their banner on this march, and had been part of the organising committee each year making a large donation to the march, plus getting other sponsorships for it. The last photo of the start of the march was with people carrying crosses with the name of the murdered civilians written on included Thomas MacStiofan and Sr. Jean Marie both members of IBRG.
In Coventry, Maurice Moore, who was part of the Bloody Sunday Organising Committee, sent out a letter on 13th January to all Irish and political groups in Coventry to let them know there was a coach from Coventry going to the Bloody Sunday march in London. The leaflet gave a brief history of Bloody Sunday and the campaign for justice for its murdered victims. Maurice also got a number of press and radio interviews in the Midlands on the matter.
On 24th January IBRG members attended the Irish in Britain Parliamentary Group meeting at the House of Commons to hear the Irish Ambassador Ted Barrington speak on the social position of the Irish community in Britain. He gave a good outline of the problems facing many in the Irish community in Britain, and showed that the Irish Embassy at last had come off the fence in relation, to the social issues facing the Irish community in Britain.
The IBRG challenged the Irish Ambassador over the failure of the Irish government to give the vote to its emigrants abroad. The Chair of the meeting Tory Michael Mates expressed alarm at the fact that Irish citizens abroad were denied the vote, when the British government gave this right to their citizens for 20 years.
Towards a Just System: the Irish and Justice Lessons from the Lawrence inquiry.
On 24th January AGIY and NAPO held a conference Towards a Just System the Irish and Justice Lessons from the Lawrence inquiry. Fiona Murphy, the solicitor for the Richard O’Brien family ,spoke at the conference and outlined the death in police custody of Richard, and the family six-year campaign for justice, she outlined concerns about the operation of the PTA, of disproportionate stop and searches by the police against members of the Irish community, and that the Met police were doing little to address the concerns of the Irish community.
The Conference also noted other Irish deaths in police custody, and the use of strip searching against members of the Irish community. The conference called for an action plan which included monitoring across all criminal and judicial systems, the inclusion of an Irish dimension to training, and the need for an independent complaints system.
On 26th January Pat Reynolds took part in the Channel Four series on the White Tribes Debate led by the Black journalist and activist Darcus Howe.
On 31st January at the Haringey Ethnic Minorities Joint Community Council Pat Reynolds challenged the British Army over the case of two Scots Guards, convicted of murder of a member of a minority community who were allowed back into the British army, and also the case of the Royal Irish regiment displaying an orange banner at Drumcree.
The Army, who was there to present a recruitment presentation to minority communities in Haringey, was completely spoiled by the IBRG, who challenged their failure to tackle anti Irish racism and other forms of racism in the British army.
The colonial system of approving the murder of natives was still operating practice in Ireland, in that the British army saw it as no crime to kill an Irish person, and talked about the two soldiers having exemplary records, clearly the murder of an Irish person does not count. How can any murderer have an exemplary record?
Manchester IBRG announced plans to support the writing of a book on the Irish in Manchester.
Lewisham IBRG took up the issue of how Irish people, despite their health needs, get poorer treatment in Britain, and called on ethnic monitoring of the Irish along with better provision to meet the health needs of the Irish community. The Irish had made an enormous contribution to the building of the NHS on Britain by building the hospitals and staffing them with nurses, yet their needs were ignored.
Neglect of Irish in NHS
On 22nd January the Irish Post gave Diarmuid Breatnach letter their top place under Neglect of the Irish with a photo of Irish nurses, while the Irish World on 28th January had Dying for a Health Service.
In his excellent letter Diarmuid drew attention to the fact that Irish needs were being neglected by the NHS after a presentation to the IBPG on the health needs of the Irish. He noted that very few NHS Trusts recognised or monitored the Irish either in terms of staffing or of service delivery, and Diarmuid called on all Irish community organisations and individuals to start lobbying their local NHS trust to have the Irish recognised.
The IBRG condemned Home Secretary Jack Straw for turning down an inquiry into the killing of Richard O’Brien in Southwark in 1994 by the Met Police. The jury at the inquiry stated that Richard O’Brien had been unlawfully killed. Three police officers from Peckham police station were later acquitted of manslaughter of Richard O’Brien. The case highlighted how over centuries Irish men were killed by police forces in Britain without any means of redress.
Here with the support of IBRG and the Traveller community, the family were able to stand up and challenge the police and say, you will not get away with this, we will hold you accountable. It was a landmark case where the Met Police later paid out a substantial amount in damages to the wife Alison and the children of Richard O’Brien.
On 18th February the Irish World had an article entitled Fresh calls for PCA reform which featured Kevin McNamara who had called for major reforms to the Police Complaints system after a European report condemned the current procedures.
The report by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment reported on the police killing of Richard O’Brien. Only 0.4% of complaints against the police resulted in any action being taken against the police, it was very much a case of the police investigating themselves.
North London IBRG deplored the coverage of the closure of the Gresham Ballroom of Romance in Holloway Road by the Islington Gazette with comments like ‘we had to put up with drunks leaving at all hours;’ and ‘it was a haven for drunks. We need something to replace it’ The story was totally one sided, and contained the usual stereotypes with no comment from the very community, who used the venue, with major Irish showbands, great dancing, and the hall often hosted local events including the Labour Party, which Prime Minister Harold Wilson attended back in 1971.
Pat Reynolds who worked there after he came over to London remarked that as far as he knew Harold Wilson left the Gresham a sober man, despite receiving much Irish hospitality. The ballroom also made sizable donations several Irish and local charities and provided local employment.
The story by the Islington Gazette was typical of many such articles over generations against Irish people and their culture. The Gresham was on the Holloway road a busy road day and night with big lorries and noise. The dance hall was where most Irish nurses in London from the Whittington and Royal Northern Hospitals both local, the North Middlesex and Whips Cross hospital went to socialise in the evenings, and the vast majority of people went to hear country music and the showbands. It was the one-sided story that was so shocking as it was purely racist and lacked any kind of balance.
On 4th February the Irish World had Last dance for Ballroom which covered the IBRG response to the story. On 5th February the Irish Post had Gresham to be demolished with photo of Ballroom an inside picture and a photo of Pat Reynolds and covered the IBRG response to the story.
The IBRG highlighted the case of an Irish prison officer at Wandsworth prison who had won £22,000 because of the racial abuse from colleagues and superiors such as ‘thick Paddy’ and ‘bog trotter’. The IBRG asked if this is happening to Irish officers what is happening to Irish prisoners. Often the political prisoner gave support to other Irish prisoners in the system in offering them protection.
The IBRG welcomed new proposals to strengthen the Race Relations Act in the light of the Macpherson report into the Stephen Lawrence murder. The new Bill would outlaw indirect discrimination by all public bodies including eth police and introduce a statutory duty to promote racial equality. The IBRG called on the Home Office to include the Irish in their ethnic monitoring programmes including Home Office staff, prisons, police and judicial systems.
On 28th January the IBRG put out a statement IBRG Welcomes Proposed extension of Race Relations Act. While the Irish were included in the provisions of the 1976 Race Relations Act, the earlier 1974 PTA racist laws prevented the Irish from making use of the law, to redress their grievances at work or in terms of service delivery.
The hostile environment for the Irish in Britain was part and parcel of Britain’s’ war effort against the Irish people which was both military, psychological and cultural to suppress the Irish demand for self-determination at all levels.
It would be 20 years later before the Irish after a long battle with the CRE were able to prove their case with the Report on Discrimination and the Irish community in Britain, and the IBRG campaign for ethnic recognition. In doing so the Irish were taking their place among other ex-colonial communities in Britain, and worked in solidarity with them to combat all forms of racism discrimination and disadvantage in Britain.
The IBRG welcomed that the new Act would be extended to prisoners, policing and all areas of public service and that it would attempt to tackle institutional racism in Britain. The IBRG also called on the Home Office to include the Irish in ethnic monitoring of prisons the police service the judicial system, and the civil service.
The IBRG pointed out that it was strange in Britain that the community who had contributed the most to housing in Britain should be the worst housed, that those who contributed the most to the NHS in terms of building the hospitals, and staffing them should receive the worst heath, and that those who were the most likely to be victims of street crime should be themselves the most likely to be stopped and searched., The IBRG called for plans and strategies to tackle these issues.
On 4th February the Irish World had Straw toughens discrimination law and included the IBRG response to the proposals. Outgoing Chair of the CRE Herman Ouseley also welcomed the proposals.
On 10th February London IBRG members met at the Irish Bookshop at Archway to plan their work for the year ahead.
“Lawful killing” verdict in Diarmuid O’Neill Inquest
On 18th February the verdict ‘lawful killing’ was given at the Diarmuid O’Neill inquest which was held in Kingston, a Tory area rather than Hammersmith, where he lived. In Britain it was common to move Irish political cases to garrison towns or Tory towns, so they got the verdict they wanted as they did not trust the working communities in some areas to support state policies towards the Irish.
The IBRG described the verdict as a mockery of justice, and condemned the coroner’s remarks to the jury when he stated that an unlawful killing verdict would make Diarmuid O ‘Neill a martyr, and justify the campaign he was involved in. There remarks were politically motivated to steer the jury away from a fair verdict. Of course, O’Neill, had been vilified in the British press. The facts of the case were that he was unlawfully killed contrary to the Geneva Convention as he had surrendered to the police at the time, he was killed.
On 18th February the IBRG put out a statement Inquest Verdict a Mockery of Justice which stated ‘the IBRG views the verdict of the inquest into the killing of Diarmuid O’Neill as a mockery of justice, and condemns the remarks of the coroner as biased and one sided. Where was his concern for justice when the character of Diarmuid O’Neill was destroyed in the court hearing, long preceding the inquest? It would be impossible in Britain for Diarmuid O’Neill’s case to be given a fair hearing. The demands for a public inquiry grow with this controversial verdict. Diarmuid O’Neill was killed contrary to the Geneva Convention and Britain should be answerable in an international court for the conduct of its agents. Diarmuid O’Neill had surrendered and no prisoner should be shot after surrendering. There was clear evidence in advance that there were no weapons on the premises and no danger to the police. The reality is that if the police knew there were guns there, they would not have come within three hundred yards of the house like at Balcombe St.
On 26th February the Irish Post had Appeal over Jury Verdict and covered the IBRG response to the verdict. The Federation also found it impossible to accept the jury verdict in the case. The IBRG stated ‘No person can be lawfully killed on the basis of what they are suspected to have done, or may do in the future. The case is another example of how difficult it is for Irish people to get justice within the British judicial system’. The Irish World on 25th February had Supporters anger over coroner’s martyr remarks and covered the IBRG response to the verdict. The O’Neill family stated that the inquest had shown that the police were totally out of control during the raid.
On 19th February the IBRG Ard Choiste met in Manchester. Bernadette Hyland and Joe Mullarkey were the only two present so they had a discussion around the different items plus discussed issues pertaining to the North West.
North London IBRG announced that some 200 Local Authorities in Britain now recognised the Irish and include them in their monitoring of Town Hall staff and of service delivery.
Irish Community and Labour Party 1968-2000
On 11th March IBRG Chair Pat Reynolds spoke at the Labour Party 100 Centenary Conference at Manchester University on the Labour Party and the Irish community since 1970. Bernadette Hyland IBRG PRO of Manchester IBRG chaired the seminar. The title of his talk was The Irish Community and the Labour Party 1968-2000.
Pat pointed out that the Labour government of the 1960’s did nothing to change anything in N. Ireland and it was Labour who sent in British colonial troops into N. Ireland. The Tories were responsible for Internment without trial and for Bloody Sunday the Irish Sharpeville. The Labour Tory bipartisan policy had been the mainstay of British politics in N. Ireland from 1968 to 2000.
In 1974 the Labour Party brought in the racist PTA laws to stifle any Irish politics in Britain and to close down the debate on N. Ireland. They were in power and backed the framing of the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven, The Gillespie Sisters, Judith Ward, and Frank Johnson.
Kevin McNamara, Labour M.P., even praised the Birmingham police for their arrest and interrogation of the Birmingham Six, saying that these police officers had used ordinary decent police tactics to arrest, interrogate and convict these innocent men. It was shameful that McNamara many years later in the 1980’s should still justify the brutal police tactics used to convict the Birmingham Six.
McNamara stated in 1983 in the Commons ‘ordinary decent coppers using ordinary decent police methods apprehended those responsible for the Birmingham outrage’. The Labour Government of 1974-1979 failed to stand up to the Orangemen and backed down every time. In 1971 Harold Wilson called for the establishment of a constitutional commission made up of representative of the government of Britain, the North and South of Ireland. The terms of reference of this commission would be involved in agreeing on the constitution for a United Ireland. Shirley Williams was right when she stated’ In Northern Ireland we have inherited a historical tragedy. We are paying for three centuries of past imperialism’.
But Labour was the party fit for imperialism. The Ulsterisation policy of Roy Mason left a bitter legacy for a generation. Kinnock in his imperialistic heart policy on Ireland was summed up in his statement ‘Nobody in or associated with Sinn Fein is welcome within a million miles of the Labour Party’.
The Labour Party has been the faithful servant of British colonial policy in Ireland throughout its history, and put the Nationalist community in N. Ireland through the most repressive policies in European since the 1930’s and openly oppressed the Irish community in Britain to suit their colonial purposes abroad. There have always been some friends of Ireland in the Labour Party, Benn, Corbyn, Livingstone and others. Tony Benn stated in 1980 ‘The partition of Ireland was a crime. The sooner we withdraw the better’.
Karl Marx writing about English workers in 1869 stated one hundred years before Britain, again put its imperialistic forces backing a supremacist statement in1969 into N. Ireland, ‘I have become more and more convinced, and the only question is to drive this conviction home to the English working class, that it can never do anything decisive here in England until it separates its policy with regard to Ireland, most definitely from the policies of the ruling class, until it makes not only common cause with the Irish, but actually take the initiative in dissolving the Union, if not the English people will remain tied to the leading strings of the ruling class, because it will have to join with them in a common front against Ireland’. Is it not time for Labour to create that common front with the Irish people in Ireland and in Britain to serve the interests of the working classes of both our peoples? On 11th February the Irish World had Seminar of Irish link with Labour, a preview of Manchester conference.
History of Irish in Holloway over 30 years
On St Patrick Day the Highbury and Islington Express newspaper carried a major front page and second page article in their leisure section, on the Irish headed, Where have all the Irish gone with a major photo of Pat Reynolds in the Irish bookshop at Archway and the Pogues in a truck on the Holloway Road. And subtitled The Gresham was the place to be. Queues would go right up to Archway Tube. It was a brilliant article and in depth of what had happened to the Irish community in Holloway over the previous 30 years.
With an interview with Tommy McManamon from the Pogues and Pat Reynolds who had arrived in Holloway in 1970. It had a photo of the Gresham and Tommy on his Banjo on page two. Shane McGowan still socialised on the Holloway Road but the community had changed, and many Irish had gone home in the 1990s.
Pat Reynolds ended by stating Islington is much more multi-cultural community now than when I came. There a more vibrant Black Asian and eastern European community now along with the Irish. And I think we richer for that experience, You know’.
The posters in bookshop in the photo showed James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Samuel Becket Sean O’Casey and Brendan Behan. The article spoke proudly of the Irish nurses who staffed the two local hospitals the Whittington and the Royal Northern since the war, and the various Irish pubs along the Holloway road including the famous Favourite famed for its traditional music and Sunday afternoon dancing in the streets.
The article was a celebration of a generation of Irish people who had passed through Holloway and made an enormous contribution to its cultural life along with its health and welfare. The article put to shame the racism of the Islington Gazette who were pandering to anti Irish racism earlier in the year on the closure of the Gresham.
On 21st March the IBRG attended the Irish in Britain Parliamentary Group at the House of Commons to hear Norah Casey, Editor of the Irish Post, speak on Irish representation in the media. The IBRG had a long history of challenging anti Irish racism in the media over the past 20 years.
Irish community support Ken Livingstone and his Campaign for Mayor of London
On 31st March IBRG members in London attended a benefit for Ken Livingstone at the Camden Irish Centre. The IBRG were the only Irish organisation to publicly support Ken Livingstone who stood as an Independent against Labour’s Frank Dobson. Dobson had made enemies of the Irish community when he blocked the right of Sinn Fein to open offices in Camden. A cross community group called Chairde Ken which included the IBRG did campaign for Livingstone on the street.
An Irish Post Poll showed 95% of Irish people voting for Livingstone, the highest figure ever achieved by any British politician. The Labour Party asked to comment showed their ignorance by asking whether all Irish Post readers were Sinn Fein Supporters.
On 31st March the Irish Post had Livingstone defends stance on Ireland in mayoral bid, and he stated that the Hunger strikers of 1981 were Freedom Fighters ‘Ten of them starved themselves to death. That’s not what a criminal does. That’s not what some godfathers of crime does. It is someone who believes they are fighting for the freedom of their country and you have got to deal with them on that basis’. Here was a lesson for British politicians Livingstone with positive views on Ireland was getting 95% of the Irish vote. The Labour Party needs to wake up if it wants the Irish vote and support Irish rights.
The Irish World on 14th April had Mayoral candidates make Irish pitch. It quoted Pat Reynolds, on how the candidates would address the perception that the Irish were a second-class ethnic community. Dobson talked about the importance of the 2001 Census which included the Irish for the first time, while Livingstone called for the performance of localAauthorities to be monitored in term of the Irish to ensure fair employment and a fair delivery of service. The Irish Post on 15th April had Confident Confused and Bemused in their report of the evening with Livingstone being confident, Dobson being confused, and Norris the Tory bemused.
The IBRG condemned the Scottish Parliament for leaving the Irish out of the national census in Scotland on the draft questions and started an immediate lobby of all MSPs to win the issue. The IBRG had already won 22 of the 32 Scottish local authorities to recognise the Irish in terms of ethnic monitoring and could argue that the Scottish Parliament should recognise the will of the democratically elected majority of its people and recognise the Irish. On 17th March the Irish World has Anger over census which covered the IBRG position.
North London IBRG ,who had mailed out some 200 local authorities in a follow up exercise last month, announced that some 283 local authorities in Britain now recognise the Irish an increase of 40 more than last month alone.
Winning some 40 victories for the Irish community in terms of monitoring of employment and service delivery was some achievement. Recently Oldham, Wolverhampton, Liverpool, Bournemouth, Lancashire County Council, Surry County Council, Essex and Oxfordshire now recognise the Irish as do Swansea, Newport, and Preston.
In another important move the IBRG had clarified with the British Government that it was now using the CRE ethnic categories which include the Irish in their new Best Values within Local Government performance indicators which all local authorities in Britain had to adopt from 1st April 2000. No 17 of the BVP is the requirement of every Local Authority in Britain, to record minority ethnic community staff as a percentage of the total workforce which should reflect the makeup of their local communities.
On 8th April the IBRG held their Ard Fheis at the Roger Casement Irish Centre in Islington North London. Motions were passed supporting Ken Livingstone with a £100 donation to his campaign, ethnic monitoring of the Irish, the inclusion of the Irish in the Scottish Census, the inclusion of the Irish in the 2001 Census, and establishing an IBRG website.
The motion on Livingstone read ‘The IBRG recognises Ken Livingstone to be the outstanding candidate for election to London Mayor. In his time at the Greater London Council and since he has opposed anti Irish racism, opposed the racist PTA laws, has been instrumental in providing welfare and cultural support to the Irish community, supported the demand for British withdrawal from Ireland and given a platform for Irish republicanism to state its case in Britain. Ken Livingstone has done more for the Irish community than any British of Irish politician in living memory, and had provided more funding in five years for the Irish community than the Irish government has done over the previous 60 years. The IBRG urges London Irish community to a person to vote for Ken Livingstone to be the first elected Major of London.
The following officers were elected;
Chair Pat Reynolds North London
Vice chair Diarmuid Breatnach Lewisham
Membership Bernadette Hyland Manchester
Cisteoir Maurice Moore Coventry
Prisoners officer Tim Logan Coventry.
Death of Bernie Grant: friend to the Irish Community
The death of Bernie Grant MP for Tottenham elected in 1987 with huge Irish support occurred in April. The IBRG paid their respect at his laying instate at Tottenham Library and at his funeral at the People Palace at the Alexander Palace once an ancient Celtic place of worship. Bernie Grant had given the Irish their community centre in Haringey and had welcomed Sin Fein councillors to the borough and to the Civic centre in Haringey.
Pat Reynolds wrote his Obituary for An Phoblacht and Pat’s name was placed on the Bernie Grant centre website with his tribute to Bernie’s life. In the 1970s Pat Reynolds had worked with Bernie Grant on community and trade union rights and the IBRG in 1989 had held a joint Black Irish march for Civil Rights and Justice in Haringey. Bernie had also spoke at a huge public meeting in 1988 on the anniversary of the Irish Civil Rights movement. In 1987 several hundred Irish turned up for an Irish election rally for Bernie Grant where the vast majority of Irish people voted for Bernie because of his track record of support for the Black and Irish communities in Britain.
Pat Reynolds detailed Bernie’s support for a United Ireland and his support for the Irish community, how he as Leader of Haringey Council gave the Irish community their own centre an old secondary school. Bernie had spoken with Michael D Higgins later President of Ireland at an Irish Caribbean evening in Haringey talking about the Irish in Monserrat.
In October 1988 on the 20th anniversary of the Irish civil Rights movement Bernie spoke with Michael Farrell and Bernadette McAliskey to over 500 people. At that meeting Bernie talking about growing up in Latin America under British rule in British Guinea, and talking about experiences of colonialization of Irish people and the colonisation and slavery for Black people, and talking of innocent prisoners from both communities like Broadwater Farm, Birmingham Six and Guildford Four, strip searching and employment discrimination in N. Ireland and in Britain.
His early death at the age of 56 was such a great loss to both the Black and Irish communities where he was seen as the people’s MP with his funeral the largest ever seen in the area. The scene outside Haringey Civil centre where they stopped for the last time, and where a Black woman came out from the crowd to sing Amazing Grace before they moved on to the People Palace at Alexander Place for his funeral service was moving, on how this warrior had touched the hearts of everybody in the community.
On 13th April IBRG attended a farewell ceremony for Herman Ousley of the CRE organised by AGIY. The IBRG had worked with the CRE for several years along with other Irish groups to get them to recognise the Irish and to carry out their research into discrimination and the Irish community in Britain .
The IBRG first met the CRE back in 1983 with Seamus Carey, Pat Reynolds and Michael Maguire meeting them on Irish issues. The IBRG had led the Irish community campaign on equality and ethnic recognition.
On 13th April the IBRG put out a statement in London entitled Call for Irish Community to support Livingstone for Major. With it the IBRG sent out the Irish population’s statistics for each of the London constituencies. With Brent & Harrow having nearly 32,000 born Irish person and along with the second generation making up some 80,000 of Brent residents some 18% of eth population. Overall, the Irish make up over 10% of London residents.
The IBRG stated that Ken Livingstone recognised the Irish some twelve years before the CRE did, and neatly 20 years before the British government did. Livingston had opposed the PTA and supported the fight to free the Birmingham Six, Guildford Four and eth Maguire seven, he opposed British colonial involvement in Ireland and supported the right of the Irish people to decide their own future, free from British colonial interference. He supported the rights of all minority communities in London, Blacks, Asians, Irish, Travellers, Gay and Lesbian, and People with Disabilities Dobson had no record on the Irish or Ireland and opposed Sinn Fein having an office in Camden.
On 17th April London IBRG members held their meeting at the Irish Bookshop which was well attended. Issues discussed included having a public meeting in London on the Peace Process, progressing the IBRG website, and the Irish language.
The IBRG condemned the shooting of a Longford man called carry at Abbeylara in hide home by the Gardai. The shooting was totally unnecessary and his death was avoidable.
On 28th April the Irish Post front page story was Army Row Flares up Killers should be sacked say campaigners with a photo of a picket by the Justice for Peter McBride Campaign in London, which showed Laoise de Paor of IBRG with Pegeen O Sullivan of the Connolly Association.
The photo like many of pickets in London highlighted the huge role played by Irish women including retired women in highlighting issues affecting human rights in N. Ireland and issues affecting the Irish community in Britain. The IBRG had condemned the British government for restoring the two killers to their former position in the army thus restating the old colonial practice that it was no crime to kill an Irish person.
On 4th May Ken Livingstone was selected Mayor of London. The IBRG had declared for Livingstone back in December 1999 and had campaigned for his victory. On 6th May the IBRG put out a statement Irish Celebrate Livingstone’s Victory. The IBRG called for the setting up of a London Irish Forum made up of all the Irish community groups in London in order to put together a united agenda and approach to achieve our aims in London.
The Irish World on 12th May had London Irish urged to unite for Mayor in which the IBRG demand for an Irish Forum, was supported by Fr Kivlehan Federation PRO and Director of the Camden Irish Centre, and he stated ‘Such a body would be preferable to isolated groups working on single issues. As a community we need to work in a more strategic way’.
Lewisham IBRG held their annual 1916 event at the Lewisham Irish centre on 5th May. The same evening the London Evening Standard attacked the events as a 32 County Solidarity Movement event as London fundraiser for Omagh bombers. Despite this witch-hunt the event was a huge success. Some weeks later the Lewisham Irish centre was attacked with a fire device at its front door.
The IBRG condemned the right-wing media attack on a 1916 event, as the Irish had every right to celebrate their patriots and the founding of the Irish nation. The London Evening Standard with a long history of anti-Irish racism came out with the headline London fundraiser for the Omagh Bombers alleging that the event was organised by supporters of the real IRA. The IBRG were seeking legal advice on the article as the event was organised by Lewisham IBRG.
Looking back Diarmuid Breatnach of Lewisham IBRG remembers;
As we in the SE London, Lewisham branch of the Irish in Britain Representation Group began to plan our Easter Rising commemoration locally in 2000, we could not have imagined the drama it would bring. It resulted in calls for the event’s cancellation, for the Lewisham Irish Centre to revoke our hire of the hall and even for the withdrawal of Centre’s meagre funding from the local authority. And shortly afterwards an attempt was made to burn down the Centre.
Even in the general atmosphere of anti-Irish racism in Britain and context of the 30 Years’ War in Ireland, we could not have expected these developments. The Lewisham Branch of the IBRG, founded towards the end of 1986 had been hosting this annual event locally long before the Irish Centre had opened in 1992 and in fact the branch was instrumental in getting the disused building, which had belonged to the Cooperative Society, handed over to the Irish community and refurbished by the local authority. Furthermore, the 1916 Rising had been commemorated at the Lewisham Irish Centre by the local IBRG branch for a number of years running without any fuss.
As usual, whenever the event was to take place we naturally hoped others would promote it. In the days before Facebook and Twitter etc, email would would reach some contacts, a poster in the centre would be seen by users, some illegal street postering might be done and the Irish Post or Irish World might publicise the event. The rest would be by word of mouth.
It happened that in the week preceding the 1998 event, an activist of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement in London was in touch with the branch and he posted the event on the 32CSM site, intending it as a supportive advertisement. However, someone who hated that organisation took it to be an event of the 32 CSM themselves.
Victor Barker’s son James had been killed in the Omagh car bombing of 15th August 1998, carried out by the “Real IRA”, a group opposed to the Provisional IRA’s signup to the Good Friday Agreement and to the British colonial occupation of Ireland. Although the organisation responsible has always stated that it intended to kill no civilians, with 29 fatalities the bombing took the highest death toll of a single incident (but not of a single day, which was the British intelligence bombing of Dublin and Monaghan in May 1974) during the 30 Years War.
Understandably Victor Barker had pursued a vendetta against the Real IRA since and, less understandably perhaps, against anything connected with it, including the 32CSM and even, in this case, the right of an unrelated Irish community organisation to commemorate its national history.
Barker contacted the Lewisham Irish Centre and expressed his outrage, demanding the event be cancelled. A nonplussed Brendan O’Rourke, Manager of the Centre, explained that the event was an annual one and booked by a local comunity organisation and affiliate of the Centre. Not in the least mollified, Barker then got to the local authority, an official of which rang Brendan, he repeated the explanation and the official seemed satisfied.
But Brendan was getting a bit worried and phoned me at work – I had been Chair of the Management Committee since the Centre opened and was at the same time Secretary of the local IBRG branch. We discussed the matter and agreed to cary on but his next phone call was to alert me that the matter was now national or at least London-wide news, with a report in an early edition of the Evening Standard headlining that we were running a “London fundraiser for the Omagh bombers”. Furthermore, the cowardly local authority official was now saying – and quoted — that while they had no power to cancel the booking, they would be looking at the Irish Centre’s funding.
I hurried home to Lewisham as fast as I could – the SE London borough is about 90 minutes’ journey by underground line and overground train from King’s Cross, where I worked. With no time for a meal, I got some things ready and got down to the Centre, about 15 minutes’ walk from my flat.
By virtue of being Chairperson of the Irish Centre’s management committee, I had a key, opened the door, turned off the burglar alarm and locked the door again, then began to get things ready. The part-time Caretaker would lay out tables and chairs for events but I generally liked to change it to a less formal arrangement for our events and so I set to that. There was also “decoration” to be done: some posters and portraits of 1916 martyrs to put up in places, flags to hang etc.
In the lobby I placed a chair by a table there and also some hidden short stout lengths of wood. This was a provision inherited from earlier days when Irish or British left-wing meetings might be attacked by fascists of the National Front or the British Movement but we hadn’t felt the need at the Irish Centre for some years now. However, with the current hysteria being whipped up by Barker and the Evening Standard and assisted by the wriggling of the Council officer, fascists might well decide the conditions favoured an attack.
Early arrivals started to knock at the door and I was in a quandary – until I had some reliable able-bodied people to staff the door, I didn’t want to start letting people in. On the other hand if we were going to be attacked, I couldn’t leave them outside either. So it was open, let them in, lock the door again, open, let some more in …. until the arrival of some I could ask to mind the door (after I’d told them about the “extras” in case they were needed).
Then there were sound amplification checks and gradually the hall was filling up. I was to be MC and so on duty inside the hall but kept checking the lobby to see everything was ok. And of course people wanted to chat about the news so would stop me and ask me about it …
For the evening’s program, the MC was to welcome people, introduce the Irish ballad band and have them play for an hour. Then intermission, MC on again with a few words on behalf of the local organisation, introduce the featured speaker, get the band on again for an hour or so to finish. So, some time to kill, to worry before the hour for which the band was booked.
The time came but the band didn’t. At half an hour late I started to worry and the supporter who had booked the band on behalf of the branch couldn’t get any reply from them by phone. As MC I apologised to the attendance and asked for their patience. Over an hour late, the band’s manager finally phoned to say they would not be coming. Because of worry arising out of the media reporting.
A few of us in the organising group held a quick conference. Nothing for it but to face the music – or rather its absence – and so I got on the stage and told the audience that the band had pulled out and everyone was entitled to a refund of their ticket price without any hard feelings whatsoever or …
Before I could lay out the alternative, a guy sitting near the stage jumped up and shouted “We will NOT accept our money back!” to the applause of some others. A little taken aback, I thanked him for his spirit but said people should have the choice and laid out the alternative, which would be to hear the speaker and just socialise for the rest of the evening. Nobody made a move to get up and approach the door so ….. I introduced the speaker, who that year might have been from the Irish Republican Socialist Party. He did his bit, I did mine, much of that not surprisingly being devoted to censorship, intimidation and repression of the Irish community as well as the commemoration of our history.
Then a guy approached and said he’d play guitar and sing, so he went up on stage, I followed with a few songs acapella, someone else sang a few …. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the evening, there was no trouble at the door …. and because there was no band to pay, we made more money than we had ever done for function organised by the local IBRG branch!
But there were to be two dramatic sequels to this controversy. And tensions between myself and the Centre Manager would follow.
THE “MAC CHICKEN BROTHERS”
The professional name of the Irish ballad band was The Mac Namara Brothers but Brian, a resilient Dublin comrade from a deprived background, that night baptised them the Mac Chicken Brothers (a play on the Mac Donald chain’s naming of items and a reference to the band members’ cowardice.
Our event had been on a Friday night and they were due to play Sunday afternoon at an Irish bar a five minutes’ drive from the Lewisham Irish Centre. We didn’t see how we could let them do that without confronting them. In discussion I suggested we present them with some white feathers and denounce them and Brian was all up for that; he was taking the kids to the seaside and would pick up some white feathers around the beach. But, unbelievably, he could find none. Nor could I in a local park. In the end, I opened a pillow and took out handfuls but they were all small.
The next day, we declined to invite anyone who might get hurt without being accustomed to defending themselves or who might not be sufficiently disciplined in behaviour and of the remainder, only myself and Brian were available. The pub, The Graduate, was under new management, one of three sisters from the Six Counties (perhaps Armagh), who lived in South-East London. I knew her from when she had been barmaid and perhaps manager at the Woodman, another Irish pub in the general area, where I attended Irish traditional music sessions (and sometimes a lock-in for an extra hour or so).
On Sunday we were a bit late in getting going but Brian drove us there and we entered the crowded area that would have been the public bar before the lounge and that area were combined. I bought us a round and we tried to act as relaxed and natural as possible, nodded to people we knew … It was certain that many of those present already knew what had happened but no-one came to ask us about it.
The “Mac Chicken Brothers” were playing and I was unsure whether we had perhaps missed their break. I got another round in but that was going to be my limit. To our relief, the band took a break but now my tension racked higher as I positioned myself nonchalantly near the stage and waited for the band to get ready for the second half of their act.
Finally, I saw them coming and with a small plastic bag in my hand I jumped up on to the low stage, Brian ready to handle any trouble from the floor.
“Ladies and gentlemen!” I called out loudly and got instant attention. “A few nights ago the British press ran a scare story about a 1916 Rising commemoration in Lewisham,” I continued. “This band here was booked to attend but didn’t turn up, leaving a couple of hundred people waiting. This is what we think of you,” I said, turning to the band members and threw a handful of the feathers from the bag in their direction.
“Hear, hear!” shouted someone in the crowd and I got down from the stage, glanced at Brian and made for the door, with him following closely behind. Incredibly I heard one of the band members say to me: “You might have told us you were going to do that!”
As we walked away outside, my heart thumping, the manager came rushing out.
“You had no right to do that,” she said, her eyes flashing fire. “Not in my pub!”
“Sorry, Bridget,” (not her real name), I replied, “It had to be done!”
“Not in my pub!”
“But that’s where the band was! It just had to be done.”
Now a customer came haring out looking for us and, from the look on his face, it wasn’t to offer congratulations. I felt Brian beside me change his stance to take him on but the manager took the guy by the arm and talked him back inside and we got in Brian’s van and car and drove off. “Bridget” wouldn’t talk to me for some years afterwards, though one of her sisters would.
The following day, I wrote a letter about the matter to the Irish Post, attacking the Labour Council for its cowardice, the band for failing to comply with their booking and the Evening Standard for its felon-setting. Since I was Chairperson of the Management Committee of the Centre, which was already under some pressure, I wrote it under a pseudonym. The letter was published.
I felt that not only our branch of the IBRG but the Irish community had been attacked and we had responded appropriately and publicly, both locally and in the wider context. We would now face the next move, if one was to come, from the Council, as an Irish community with pride.
But at the next monthly meeting Management Committee, I was surprised to find that the Brendan, the Centre Manager, believed that either Lewisham IBRG had organised the event jointly with 32CSM or that I had placed the advertisement. But worse, I was genuinely shocked to see that he believed my use of a pseudonym for the Irish Post letter was an attempt to distance the IBRG and myself from the controversy and leave him to face it alone. Brendan and I disagreed politically (he was a Sinn Féin supporter and I was by this time hostile to the party’s new trajectory with respect to the conflict in Ireland) but I supported him as Manager of the Centre while as Irishmen we stood together against oppression. But no matter what I said now, I seemed unable to convince him that the use of a pseudonym, far from being a device to have a say and protect myself at the same time, was to protect the Centre and himself as its Manager.
We got through the meeting and the Council officials seemed happy to let the matter rest, since the Standard lost interest and moved on to the next sensation.
But a more direct attack than that of Barker and the media was being planned somewhere.
ARSON ATTACK ON THE CENTRE
In the early hours of one morning a couple of weeks later, I received a phone call from the Fire Brigade, attending at the Lewisham Irish Centre. I was one of the emergency nominees. When I got down there, Pat Baczor, another member of the Management Committee and also an emergency nominee, was there already. So were the Fire Brigade and the police.
There had been an arson attempt and a hole was burned in the wood of the front door. We opened up and let the Fire Brigade in, who came out a few minutes later, pronouncing the building safe. A container with some inflammable liquid had been set by the door and had burned a hole about the size of my fist but the floor inside was tile and had not caught.
In response to the police, I said while we had received no threats, there had been some controversy in the media about a history commemoration and though I would suspect local fascists, I had no specific individuals in mind.
If we hadn’t wire screens on all the external windows, it would have been easy to smash a glass pane and to throw in the container with a lit fuse. The flooring of the whole hall was wooden and the result would have been quite different. I was very glad that during discussion on the refurbishment of the Coop Hall for use as an Irish Centre more than many years earlier, as Chair of the Steering Group, I had made a point of insisting on the wire screens. An Irish Centre in Britain could expect to be the target of an attack some day.
AFTER ALL THAT
But we weathered that storm and the following year’s 1916 Rising commemoration took place without incident.
The next crisis for the Irish Centre came some two years later when the Council’s Labour Party Leadership, which had been “Blairite before Blair” as one local Leftie commented years later, listed the Centre for cuts to our total staffing: one (underpaid) Manager and one part-time caretaker-handyman. There were heavy cuts planned to the whole Council-funded service sector across the Borough of Lewisham so, although in our case the cuts would have meant wiping out our entire staffing, it was difficult to say whether the controversy some years earlier had played a role or not.
But that was another day’s battle.
On 11th May Angie Birthill had her farewell party on leaving the London Irish Women’s centre.
Scottish Parliament include Irish in Census
The IBRG welcomed the decision of the Scottish Parliament to include the Irish within the ethnic categories in the Scottish census. This would not have happened without the IBRG lobbying of over 80 Labour Liberals and SNP members of the Scottish parliament along with the IBRG lobby of 32 local authorities in Scotland which saw 22 of them recognised the Irish. The Irish World had on 12th May Ethnic win in Scotland, which stated that IBRG had welcomed the decision to include the Irish in the Scottish census, and that the IBRG strategy of getting the majority of local authorities on board had been successful in winning the debate.
On 23rd May IBRG members attended the IBPG at the House of Commons where Seamus McGarry spoke on the Irish community. Despite inviting IBRG to speak earlier the IBRG were censored again by the IBPG, but the IBRG still presented our written detailed report on the Irish community to all those present. A proposal from the IBRG was accepted that delegation from the IBPG should meet with Minister Hilary Armstrong to persuade her to include the Irish as a separate category in the Best Value Local Government targets, which had at present only had Black/ White categories.
The IBRG, denied speaking rights, laid around a four-page report on issues affecting the Irish community and the IBRG demands in these areas such as, ethnic monitoring, education, Welfare, Criminal Justice system, Irish self-determination, Ireland and voting rights, health, anti-Irish racism and discrimination.
On 4th June IBRG members attended the Bronterre O’Brien commemoration at Abney cemetery in Stoke Newington East London.
The IBRG had as usual a stall at the Fleadh at Finsbury Park North London on 10th June and displayed the Frank Johnson banner there all day.
On 15th June IBRG members attended a packed public meeting the Roger Casements Irish Centre in Islington, held in protest at the decision of the Liberal held Islington Council to withdraw the £80,000 annual grant from the centre, which would mean its closure in October 2000. Jermyn Corbyn, Local MP, Gareth Pierce and Seamus McGarry spoke at by the meeting. The IBRG had set up the Irish in Islington Project and later went on to set up the Roger Casement Irish Centre.
The IBRG Ard Choiste met on 17th June in Coventry. Present were Diarmuid Breatnach, Maurice Moore, and Pat Reynolds with apologies from Bernadette Hyland and Tim Logan.
Maurice Moore reported that Liz Davis, Islington Labour Party and Labour NEC member was supporting the Leo O’Reilly campaign. She also supported the Frank Johnson campaign in London. The O’Neill family were to appeal the verdict in the Diarmuid O’Neill inquest, due to extreme bias shown by the coroner before the jury reached their decision.
Frank Johnson was waiting for a date for his appeal in the autumn as is the relatives in the Hanratty case, Susan May had a big event at the House of Commons recently. Martin O Halloran was waiting for CCRC to make a decision but is getting some home leave.
The meeting condemned the shooting by the Garda Special branch of a young man with mental health issues in Co Longford, when he could have been talked out.
The demand for a public inquiry in the case of Rosemary Nelson and Part Finucane continue to grow after a TV programme by Peter Taylor. A new support group had been set up in Britain for Robert Hamill. The inquiry into Bloody Sunday is continuing. The meeting welcomes the decision in Scotland to include the Irish category in the census there.
On 22nd June IBRG members attended a picket of Islington Town Hall over the funding cuts to the Roger Casement. The picket was heavily policed for no reason as the huge crowd was angry but good humoured.
Th University of North London had been given a new Irish library collection with funding from Smurfitts of £75,000. The Hammersmith Irish centre got the old ILEA Irish library collection, while the Working-class Movement Library got the Desmond Greaves and Jackson collections.
On 7th July the Irish World reported on a report Study challenges emigrant views, on a new study Between Two Places a case study of Irish born people living in England, which found more discrimination now than back in the 1950s and 1960’s. This did not surprise the IBRG which had highlighted this as had the Discrimination and the Irish community report
On 14th July Sr. Joan Kane had her leaving party at the Haringey Irish Centre after years working with the Irish community
On 19th July Pat Reynolds National Chair IBRG was interviewed by BBC2 Newsnight team on the Peace Process.
On 20th July IBRG member again picketed Islington Town hall over the cuts to the Roger Casement Irish centre. The IBRG had written a full report on the social position of the Irish community in Islington, and had lobbied all 52 councillors in Islington on the matter before the council meeting. The IBRG had written to Charles Kennedy the Liberal Leader on the Islington Irish centre with copies to Chris Smith, Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Simon Hughes.
On 3rd August IBRG members attended a meeting of the Greater London Authority chaired by John McDonnell MP. Over 100 people attended. The clear view of the meeting was for a secular march on St Patrick’s day but the Council of Irish Councils wanted to keep their march on a Sunday. The IBRG wrote a letter to the Irish Post setting out our views on the march. The Irish Post refused to published the letter or invite IBRG to any further meetings., despite the fact that we had indicated our interest. The IBRG had called on GLA to help facilitate a London wide Irish Forum to represent the needs of the Irish community in London.
The Irish Bookshop at Archway north London closed for good at the end of August. Many IBRG members had been involved in Green Ink over the years and the London Irish Bookfair. The IBRG also used the address as HQ and held many meetings there. It was set up by Pat Reynolds who later ran it for the past three years without funding. It never got one penny of the Irish government yet sold over one million pounds of Irish books and music. It was funded at first by the GLC and later by London Arts Board. Because it sold books the subsidy was about 50% of the income of the shop because of high rates and high rents in London.
Irish Travellers recognised as ethnic group
At the end of August, the IBRG welcomed a Court decision recognising Irish Travellers as an ethnic group under the terms of the Race Relations Act in Britain. On 1st September the IBRG put out a statement IBRG Welcomes Court Decision on Travellers. The IBRG congratulated the Travellers for their fight back against discrimination, but remain concerned about the lack of access to proper sites and facilities. The IBRG called on Labour to restore the duty on local authorities to provide sites which had been abolished by the Tories. The IBRG also called on the Press Complaints Commission to take up the issue of anti-Traveller hate in the British media, where reporting is one sided biased and intended to stir up anti Traveller feelings. The IBRG called for accurate and fair reporting on Travellers with Travellers being able to put their position to the public like any other community. In particular the IBRG called on local authorities to ensure Traveller shad access to education health employment and welfare.
On 9th September at Thousands are Sailing Conference at the Camden Irish Centre.
Pat Reynolds gave the opening speech on Irish emigration to Britain since 1945. Philip Donnellan’s film The Irish Men was shown during the day along with a performance of Tim Grady’s I could read the Sky. Over 100 people attended the event.
On 16th September the IBRG Ard Choiste met in Manchester at the Friends Meeting House. Manchester, Bolton and North London attended with Coventry and Lewisham held up by the fuel crisis. Bernadette Hyland, Joe Mullarkey and Pat Reynolds attended with apologies from Maurice Moore and Diarmuid Breatnach.
The meeting heard that a Jim Allen event had been sold out in Manchester on 7th October. Michael Herbert was working on a History of the Irish in Manchester. There was an Irish bookfair at the Hammersmith Irish centre on 23rd September. The British Independent were doing an article on Frank Johnson which would help his appeal.
The Ard Choiste welcomed the High Court decision to recognise Travellers as an ethnic group in their own right under the Race Relations Act. The IBRG were mentioned in Tim Pat Coogan book on the Irish abroad Wherever Green is Worn and, in another book, the Irish Diaspora by Longmans.
In October the IBRG welcomed the introduction of the Human Rights Act into law in Britain on 2nd October. Britain had such a bad record in Europe many of the cases involving Irish prisoners, that they decided to hear these cases in Britain, rather than let them go on to the European Court. The book the Future of Multi Ethnic Britain was published and was attacked by the right wing with Jack Straw joining in the attack. Home Office Minister Mike O’Brien welcomed the report which Seamus Taylor had been involved in.
On 3rd October the British Independent carried a major full-page article on Frank Johnson’s case.
On 7 October Bernadette Hyland of Manchester IBRG was involved in organising and speaking at a commemoration for Manchester socialist and writer Jim Allen.
Bernadette in her contribution to the commemoration said “Jim Allen described the life of the Irish community as that of a “clenched fist”. He came from a working class Irish background and he lived and worked with Irish people and respected their struggle for equality and justice. In “Hidden Agenda” he exposed the brutality of British rule in the N. of Ireland and said “Like the hot lava from an exploding volcano, Ireland has hurled her defiance at the ruling class of England”. Jim’s archive can be found at the WCML.
On 16th October IBRG members attended a meeting with the CRE on Housing as a member of the Irish Equalities group.
On 17th October the James Hanratty Appeal opened at the High Court but was adjourned to exhume the body over disputed DNA.
Inclusion of Irish Language in National Curriculum
North London IBRG had written to some 36 Catholic Secondary schools over the inclusion of the Irish language in the curriculum in the national curriculum Only four responded (11%) which is poor compared with a response rate of 90% with local authorities. It would appear that the inclusion of the Irish language in the national curriculum in Britain, had made no difference whatsoever to the teaching of Irish in secondary schools.
The Catholic Church in Britain was deeply hostile to the Irish, and to the inclusion of anything Irish in the curriculum. This was the English Catholic church who spent much of their time supressing Irishness within schools. In their book Sisters in Cells the Gillespie sisters refer to Catholic nuns, forbidding them, as native Irish speakers to speak Irish in the playground in Manchester thus carrying on the old colonial regime. In Southwark teachers from Catholic schools refused to attend the Irish Teacher group. Mary Hickman has written at length on the Catholic Church teaching and the Irish, and their role in denationalising the Irish in Britain.
Police shooting of Cork born teenager
The IBRG condemned the shooting dead by the Met police of a 19-year-old Co Cork born teenager in a siege in upper Holloway on 30th October. The IBRG had raised the issue with local MP Jeremy Corbyn, Steve Hitchens Leader of Islington council, Islington Police Consultative Group, Toby Harris Chair of MPA (Metropolitan police authority) Stevens Commissioner of the Met and the PCA (Police Complaints Authority). The case was now to be investigated by West Mercia police.
The Irish World covered the story on its front page but the Irish Post refused to carry it which was total censorship. Imagine a Black or Jewish paper refusing to cover the shooting dead in disputed circumstances one of their community. The Irish Post had moved away from the Irish community and was losing its readers in vast numbers.
Of the six fatal shootings in London in the past six years, four have been Irish connected, with two of the killings in north Islington where the Irish were heavily policed based on Jock Young’s study of stop and search in North Islington. Harry Stanley was shot dead because the police believed him to be Irish, while they shot young Diarmuid O’Neill, contrary to the Geneva Convention, like they did in Gibraltar.
On 18th November the IBRG held their Ard Choiste at the Lewisham Irish centre. Diarmuid Breatnach, Tomas MacStiofan and Pat Reynolds attended with apologies from Bernadette Hyland, Maurice Moore and Michael Holden.
The meeting discussed the recent police killing of Patrick O’Donnell in North Islington in Jermyn Corbyn’s constituency where the young Irish man had taken his girlfriend and mother hostage with a knife, and had mental health problems. The question arose as to whether lethal force was necessary in the situation The IBRG had raised it with the local MP Corbyn, Islington Council Police unit and the GLA police unit. Four of the last six killings by police in London had Irish connections John Francis O’Brien, Diarmuid O’Neill, Patrick O’Donnell, and Harry Stanley who the police thought was Irish when they killed him.
Bloody Sunday Inquiry ongoing. Don Mullan, who wrote book on Bloody Sunday, has a new book coming out on the Dublin Monaghan bombings which will be launched at the House of Commons with John McDonnell. The Irish Equalities Group had meeting with Irish Embassy which the Federation were annoyed about as they were seen as the Embassy crowd. The Embassy stated they could not get involved in campaigning on the issue of Irish self-identification. It was recently reported in the British that a Tory advisor stated to the Russians that the British needed a well-armed police force to control the Irish and the Blacks. The Irish and Blacks also made up a high proportion of deaths in police custody.
On 25th November IBRG members attended the 32 County Sovereignty Meeting at a pub near Euston to support their right to hold a public meeting. The event was picketed by some of the Omagh relatives and led to a right-wing hunt against the 32CSM.
The IBRG took up the case of a 32CSM member, Simon Pook, who was suspended by Manchester City Council because of his membership of a legal organisation, and raised the matter with the Leader of Manchester City Council and Tony Lloyd MP for Central Manchester.
On 26th November IBRG members attended the Fergus O’Connor commemoration event at Kensal Green cemetery.
Irish and ethnic monitoring in schools, Labour Party and Police
On 29th November the IBRG wrote to David Blunkett, Minister for Education and Employment, asking him to include the Irish in ethnic monitoring for schools, colleges and for employment, arguing that he should follow the CRE guidelines of groups to be monitored. Blunkett wrote back himself saying he would need to get his department to reply.
On 11th December the Department replied to Pat Reynolds Chair of IBRG on behalf of Blunkett to say they were conducting a consultation on guidance for schools on ethnic monitoring which they hoped to send out in September 2001.
On 29th November Pat Reynolds wrote to Margaret McDonagh of the Labour Party calling on them to include the Irish within their ethnic monitoring of membership and of staffing, and pointing out that this was the recommendation of the CRE, and he also wrote to Commissioner Stevens of the Met police arguing the same that the Met should include the Irish in their diversity programme and in their monitoring of staff and services. It was pointed out to them that redefinition of Irishness accepted by the Irish community was once first drafted by the Special Branch at the time of the Fenians. Anyone born in Ireland or those whose recent forebears came from Ireland. Certainly, the police were not shy in Britain in monitoring the Irish in terms of their political work on Ireland or their trade union work.
IBRG welcomes Irish inclusion in UCAS
In November IBRG welcomes the move by UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admission System) to recognise the Irish and include them within their ethnic categories after IBRG campaigning. On 30th November the IBRG put out a statement IBRG Welcomes Irish Inclusion in UCAS Ethnic Monitoring UCAS had agreed to have the Irish as a separate ethnic group within their 2001 entry forms, which would bring in line with the 2001 census and the CRE recommendations.
It was a major breakthrough for the Irish community in terms of ethnic recognition in Britain, as a National body was now recognising the Irish rather than a local authority. For the first time the Irish community would know how many Irish students applied for University in Britain, and how many were successful. In terms of education the Irish community remembered the Sun headline ‘We’re thicker than the Irish’ when studies showed Irish children in Britain performing better than English children in schools.
The IBRG called on David Blunkett and the Education and Employment Department to end their stubborn resistance to Irish recognition. The IBRG also called on the English Catholic Church to come off the fence on the issue, and support the recognition of the Irish the right of Irish children in Britain, to access their heritage and culture within the catholic schools. It was the great silence from the English Catholic Church which Mary Hickman had identified as having over generations suppressed Irish nationalism and culture in their schools and churches. The Irish World on 9th December had College applicants get ethnic status which covered the IBRG statement.
On 1st December IBRG members picketed the Ministry of Défense and Buckingham Palace of the decision by the second British Army Board to retain the two Scots Guards guilty of the murder of Peter McBride, an Irish teenager in Belfast.
The IBRG had written to Tony Blair on the issue, along with Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson and Geoff Hoon the Defence Minister. The British Army were relying on the old racial colonial practise, that it was no crime to murder an Irish person.
The IBRG drew attention to the comments of the current British Ambassador to Mexico who stated back in the early 1970’s that diseases should be introduced into Derry, and that the people should be allowed to rot from within. Despite the Labour Party and its new ethical Foreign policy Robin Cook did nothing on the matter. When it comes to Irish lives, there is silence. This Nazi style proposal from a British diplomat had come out in the Bloody Sunday Inquiry.
DFEE considers Irish category for schools
The IBRG welcomed the response from the DfEE (Department for Education and Employment) to include the Irish as distinct category in their consultation paper, on ethnic monitoring in schools being sent out to all local authorities in Britain.
On 14th December the IBRG put out a statement DfEE to Consider Irish Category for Schools based on the Department document entitled Consultation on Guidance for schools on Ethnic Monitoring, which had been sent out to all local education authorities in Britain. These new categories would be in place for autumn 2001 after the Census.
The IBRG called on all Irish community organisations in Britain to raise the inclusion of the Irish with both their local LEA and with David Blunkett the Education Minister. The community had until 16th February 2001 to make their submissions. The IBRG notes that Irish parents mostly mothers in Britain made enormous sacrifice to get their children a decent education in Britain, and the Irish community also made enormous efforts to make Irish culture available to the second and third generation, with groups like the GAA, Ceoltas, and Conradh doing fantastic work. Sadly, the Irish have been let down by the Catholic Church who still remain hostile to the Irish community and its culture. The IBRG also praised Irish teachers in Britain who again had made enormous efforts to educate the children of all communities.
The IBRG drew attention to how Headteacher Irish born Mr Lawrence had given his life for the safety of his pupils in London. It was important that the Irish community be aware of the overall attainment of their children in schools. On 22nd December the Irish World had Irish category for schools and the Irish Post had Ethnic category is welcome.
In December the IBRG wrote to Robin Cook Foreign Minister over the memo written by the current British Ambassador to Mexico about introducing diseases to the Derry communities and letting them rot from within. The memo a written in the early 1970’s and appeared at the Bloody Sunday Inquiry. The IBRG called for the Ambassador to be sacked immediately for his racist and evil views.
An appeal opened at the High Court for Eddie Guilfoyle with a picket on 7th December.
By December Frank Johnson had been 25 years in prison.
Listen to my talk about the IBRG in the northwest in the Irish Collection at the WCML here
For Aa excellent history of 200 years of Irish political activity in Manchester – including Manchester IBRG, read “The Wearing of the Green” by Michael Herbert. Buy it here
IBRG website can be accessed here
Read previous posts on IBRG history here