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.
TUC’s refusal to recognise the Irish
In January the British Trades Union Congress (TUC) replied to IBRG Chair Pat Reynolds on the question of including the Irish within their ethnic categories stating that ‘The TUC categories have been developed to address the specific discrimination, faced by Black and Asian workers in the labour market’. In refusing to recognise the Irish the TUC even claimed that they were working with the CRE on the matter, which was false.
The IBRG went public on the matter, deploring the stand taken by the TUC and accusing them of trying to play colonial divide and rule games, by playing off the interests of the Black and Asian communities against the Irish community. Even the Metropolitan Police in their public statements have admitted that the Irish were victim of discrimination, racism and disadvantage over generations!
The TUC showed themselves as be the bastion of British imperialism when it came to the Irish. Given the contribution made by the Irish to the trade union movement in Britain, from Chartism in the 1830s to the present day, it was shocking, and based on anti-Irish racism by the TUC.
John McDonnell, Secretary of the Irish in Britain Parliamentary Group, stated: ‘I am staggered at the TUC’s response. It was like stepping back 20 years’. The Connolly Association also supported the IBRG’s call for recognition. Bronwen Walters, co-author of the Report on Discrimination and the Irish Community, wrote to John Monks General Secretary of the TUC on the matter.
The IBRG circulated the TUC response via the Irish Equalities group and to over 50 Irish community organisations in Britain. It is for historians and scholars to explain why the TUC and the Labour movement were so racist and hostile to the Irish community in Britain over the generations, and particularly over the last 40 years.
On 9th February the Irish World had TUC criticised for Irish status, which covered the IBRG position. The IBRG pointed out that recognition of the Irish was totally compatible with recognition of the Black and Asian communities. The CRE Commissioner Bob Purkiss, in the foreword to the Trade Unions Survey carried out by the London Irish Women’s Centre, talked about a formal CRE investigation into the RMT Union and stated:‘It is also recommended that the Irish be included in the categories used in such monitoring’.
ONS excludes Irish in ethnic categories
In January the IBRG deplored the decision of the Office for National Statistics to not include the Irish in their ethnic categories for their enumerators on the National Census, given the fact that the ONS were responsible for the Census.
On 25th January IBRG issued a statement entitled “Office for National Statistics in muddle over Census,” which stated: ‘Given that the ONS are the main and only body advising the Government on data required from the census, it is unbelievable that they have failed to take account of their own recommended categories. In the ONS recruitment form the Irish category disappears. The Count Me in Census does not inspire confidence. If the ONS cannot get the ethnic categories right, how can they expects other groups and individuals to do so. What message are they giving out to their enumerators, by they themselves, ignoring certain categories on the 2001 National l census’.
On 6th January the Irish Post had Row over Met Police plans to recruit in Ireland with a photo of Pat Reynolds who had criticised the Metropolitan Police for not even looking at the Irish community in Britain for recruitment. The Police Federation stated that vetting would have to be tightened if recruitment took place in Ireland, which the IBRG condemned stating that the Irish were no more a security risk than any other community or nationality, as nearly all communities in Britain had had to fight British colonization at one time or another. From India to the Caribbean from Cyprus to Kenya. It was simply more anti-Irish nonsense without any evidence to back it up.
On 13th January Pat Reynolds had an interview with RTE TV in London on the Irish being included in the National Census in Britain.
Bloody Sunday Rally
On 20th January IBRG members from North London, Lewisham, Hemel Hempstead, and Coventry attended the Bloody Sunday Rally at Caxton House in North London.
Diarmuid Breatnach was able to ask a question from the floor at the meeting. This was the first year since 1973 that no Bloody Sunday March took place in Britain. Speakers were John McDonnell, Jeremy Hardy from the Robert Hamill campaign, Sinn Fein and others, with a social in the evening. Over 200 people attended the rally.
On 24th January Northern Ireland Colonial Minister had to resign and was replaced by another colonial Secretary called Reid.
On 2nd February IBRG attended the Irish Equalities Group meeting with the CRE in London.
On 8th February IBRG members attended the launch at the House of Commons of the call for a public inquiry into the killing in cold blood of Diarmuid O’Neill in West London.
On 24th February the IBRG held their Ard Choiste meeting in Coventry at Tigh Muiris. Bernadette Hyland, Maurice Moore, Diarmuid Breatnach and Pat Reynolds attended with apologies from Joe Mullarkey, Sean Hone, Tim Logan and Peter Skerrit.
The meeting discussed the case of young Irish jockey Christie McGrath, a 23-year-old from Tipperary , who had been convicted of murder in the North east of England. Birmingham Six solicitor Gareth Pierce had taken over his case. Pat Reynolds had met Christie’s brother Larry in London and had promised IBRG support on the case.
Other issues discussed included the police shooting of Irish teenager in London in a standoff, the Census 2001 campaign, the St Patrick’s Day parades, the Irish Equalities Group, the forthcoming British General Election, the Hunger Strike 20th anniversary, the Irish in Islington Conference, and an IBRG policy on Travellers.
On the Patrick Kieron O’Donnell case Pat Reynolds had received replies from the Police Complaints Authority, the Metropolitan Police, Toby Harris – Chair of GLA Police Committee, and the leader of Islington council. Jeremy Corbyn MP did not reply. The Irish Government had replied, stating they would be asking the Irish Embassy in London to raise the four cases we had referred to them,_ Diarmuid O’Neill, Patrick O’Donnell, John Francis O’Brien and Harry Stanley – with the Metropolitan Police. Pat Reynolds had raised the killing of young Patrick O’Donnell at the House of Commons meeting on Diarmuid O’Neill.
These were Irish citizens whose lives were seen as cheap in Britain. The Harry Stanley campaign was going strong and had a very good leaflet. North London IBRG had written to the campaign to offer IBRG support. Frank Johnson had a RTE TV program which had been made in London. Frank was waiting for a date for his appeal and release. Eddie Guilfoyle had his appeal turned down.
In February IBRG put in a submission to the Department of Education and Employment on including an Irish category in ethnic monitoring of pupils in school and of school performance.
On 26th February Pat Reynolds presented a paper on the Irish Issues in Education for the Irish Equalities Group to the CRE and its outgoing Chair, Susie Parsons. The paper was later circulated to all Irish organisations.
Victory of Bolton Irish man in race case
In February the IBRG welcomed the victory of Gordon Campbell, a 25-year-old Tipperary man, who won a race discrimination case at a Manchester Industrial Tribunal against Carpet Factors in Bolton. Alan Birchall a manager at the company admitted telling Mr Campbell: ’ there three things wrong with you. One you are Irish, two you live in this country, and three you are still breathing’.
Joe Mullarkey of Bolton IBRG went on the Pat Kenny Show on RTE and Tipp FM to discuss the case, and called for more protection for Irish workers in the workplace against such racist abuse. According to the British TUC it does not exist. The IBRG highlighted this case in Britain and Ireland.
On 9th February the IBRG put out a statement Tipperary man wins British Race discrimination case. Mr Campbell had been regularly called ‘thick Paddy’ and ‘leprechaun’ and had ‘hey didley dee’ sung to him many times, mocking him in his work.
The IBRG welcomes Mr Campbell victory after a five-day hearing It was very difficult in Britain for an Irish worker to defend himself in Britain, as he or she often to represent themselves in the hearing, when the company often a had a barrister on their case.
The IBRG called for more support for Irish workers in Britain both from the trade unions, who still refused to recognise the Irish, and often discriminated against them in terms of offering representation in cases. The IBRG also called on the Irish government to create a distinct post with a view to supporting Irish workers in such cases, and called on the Dion committee to do so urgently.
Only two trade unions in Britain recognised the Irish and the Irish Workers’ groups had experienced great hostility from union HQs and at conferences, in blocking any motions on Ireland or the Irish in Britain.
The IBRG stated there was an urgent need for the Irish Government to move away from the Maynooth Catholic church 1960s model of welfare, to a community development model in Britain where support was given more to test cases like the Richard O Brien case and the various victories of Irish people at Industrial Tribunals. The Good Samaritan model does not work, and relied on pity when the community wants action to access fair employment housing and health rights. The case was covered by the Irish Post and Irish World.
On 9th March Pat Reynolds was interviewed by BBC Radio London about the treatment of an Irish family in Lambeth who had been racially harassed in their home. Jodie Clark was supporting this family.
On 10th March IBRG members attended an Irish In Islington Conference held at Islington Town Hall. The conference arose out of the fightback by the local Irish community over the closure of the Roger Casement Irish Centre by the ruling Liberal Democrats.
John McDonnell MP, Jeremy Corbyn MP, local Irish historian Peter Beresford Ellis, John Brennan of Cara Housing, Sarah Morgan of the University of North London, Fr Jerry Kilvehan of the Camden Irish Centre, Mary Tiki, Marie McCloskey Irish Embassy, and Ronan Bennett were among the speakers. Pat Reynolds was on the final panel along with Steve Hitchens, Liberal Leader of Islington Council, who was asked to address the issue raised by the Conference.
Launch of Miscarriages of Justice Organisation
On 14th March IBRG members attended the launch of MOJO (Miscarriages of Justice Organisation) at the House of Commons. The IBRG had agreed to support this new broad-based campaign. Gareth Pierce, Michael O’Brien and Paddy Joe Hill of the Birmingham Six were among the speakers. Paddy Joe Hill and Michael O’Brien were the two leading figures in the group.
On 15th March IBRG attended a picket of 10 Downing St over the murder of solicitor Rosemary Nelson by British death squads, using British explosives in a bomb under her car.
On 23rd March IBRG members attended a benefit for Pat Cullinane in west London to highlight his campaign to get justice from British Inland Revenue, who took and sold his house and made him a homeless man, a modern-day eviction.
On 31st March the IBRG Ard Choiste met at Caxton House in North London. Diarmuid Breatnach, Danny Burke, Laoise de Paor, Pat Reynolds, and Michael Holden attended with apologies from Bernadette Hyland, Maurice Moore and Tomas Macstiofan. Bolton, Manchester and North London had registered, and Hemel and Lewisham had yet to register this year.
Among the issues discussed were the upcoming National Census on 29th April, the Christie McGrath case, the upcoming General Election, and St Patrick’s Day march with Lewisham holding one locally. A policy on Irish Travellers put forward by Maurice Moore was agreed as IBRG policy, along with report back on the Irish Equalities group, the launch of MOJO, the Irish in Islington conference, and IBRG work on prisoners including Frank Johnson and Christie McGrath.
Laoise de Paor and Danny Burke had both been to see Frank Johnson lately, Laoise had painted Frank’s banner some years ago. Gareth Pierce had taken on the Christie McGrath case and Pat Reynolds was chairing the campaign with help by Andy Parr.
The IBRG had eight members attending the Irish in Islington Conference which Pat Reynolds had helped to organise. Diarmuid reported back on a successful St Patrick Day march in Lewisham despite poor weather. They had seven floats, the IBRG had their banner plus a banner on the 2001 census. The floats had an Irish Pageantry lorry which highlighted Celtic and Irish myths and legends.
There was concern that the Irish Post and John McDonnell had censored IBRG and other groups, in giving the London parade back to the church and the Irish county societies, who had largely stayed silent over the past 30 years, and now wanted to climb on the bandwagon of the Peace Process. Tony Blair had been featured on the front page of the Irish Post and Irish World leading up to the General election, electioneering promoted by the Irish in Britain Parliamentary Group.
Coventry IBRG were thanked for their policy on Travellers which was adopted as IBRG policy. Pat Reynolds was now chairing the Irish Equalities Group meeting and had recently made a presentation on Education to the CRE.
IBRG take up James Hanratty case
In April the IBRG took up the case of James Hanratty, hanged for murder. Many people believed he ws innocent. The British press tried to claim that he was guilty after the police leaked the results of DNA testing. The DNA material was all mixed up in his case, and stored in the same box, and should not have been used as evidence in this case as it was all cross contaminated. All the evidence looked at by the IBRG points to Hanratty’s innocence.
Back in the early 1970s John Lennon used to picket on his case. Even a dead Irishman cannot get justice in Britain, because the British state does not want to admit that they hanged an innocent Irishman. The Irish World on 20th April had IBRG appeal to government on James Hanratty. The IBRG called on the Irish government to send a representative to the Court of Appeal in the Hanratty case.
In Hanratty’s fourteen witnesses had placed Hanratty more than 250 miles away from the scene of the crime There was no forensic evidence against Hanratty at the time of his trial. The right-wing press again went to town, trying to convict Hanratty all over again with the Daily Mail headline during the hearing of Hanratty was Guilty, with The Sun running this headline two years ago. The IBRG called the digging up of Hanratty’s body a publicity stunt for propaganda reasons. It was already admitted that because the materials relating to the murder had been contaminated, the match was worthless.
However, the IBRG do not believe that DNA fake matches can prove that Hanratty had powers of bilocation, that he could be in two places more than 250 miles apar at the same time t. John Lennon was right, Hanratty was murdered by the British state, who were now trying to destroy the family#s fight for justice. It will remain forever a deep stain on the British record of the killing of an innocent Irishman. How could fourteen different witnesses be wrong about his location?
Ealing Council recognise the Irish – at last
In April the IBRG welcomed Ealing Council in West London coming on board to recognise the Irish after a battle lasting several years. Ealing became one of the last boroughs in London to recognise the Irish, despite them having a large Irish population.
On 11th April the IBRG issued a statement Ealing Council to recognise the Irish at last, after IBRG had spent six years trying to get them on board. 29 of the 32 London boroughs now recognised the Irish. Two Tory controlled boroughs in London Bromley and Kensington and Chelsea had no monitoring of any groups at all, while Wandsworth refused to include the Irish in their monitoring. Ealing had 16.374 Irish born residents according to the 1991 census, with an estimated Irish population including second generation of over 40,000 residents, the second largest after Brent.
Overall, in Britain 309 local authorities recognised the Irish out of a total of 442 local Councils in Britain, some 75% recognise the Irish, and most of these were the bigger Councils where more Irish lived. In the campaign the IBRG had sent out over 3,000 letters with some Councils needing more pressure than others. The IBRG also used a network of people in the community of different organisation like the GAA, Ceolthas or Conradh who lived in an area to also write in. The IBRG had contacts in every single area of Britain from students to political contacts to community contacts.
The history of ethnic monitoring in Britain is a more recent thing, apart from the Special Branch monitoring the Irish since Fenian times. Ethnic groups were included in the census in Britain for the first time in 1991 and at first there was opposition from some sections of the Black community to monitoring, and the SWP for example opposed it, under their slogan Black and White Unite and Fight, and claimed monitoring was dividing the workers.
In the Irish community the issue was led by IBRG and by Seamus Taylor, former Irish Liaison Worker, in Haringey. Seamus led the campaign to get the CRE to take up the case of the Irish, and Seamus led a range of Irish groups to meet with the CRE on a regular basis, until we got the research done in the report on discrimination the Irish community by Mary Hickman and Bronwen Walters.
The rest is history, there was no promise from the Labour Party to recognise the Irish, and we had to fight up to the last moment, to have the Irish included. The story is told that Mike O’Brien asked his Irish mother on the issue and she argued with him, that he should include the Irish. The fact that the Race Relations Act in 1976 recognised the Irish as racial group in Britain, confirmed by a House of Lords judgement on the matter, with a definition was helpful, along with the CRE who had forgotten the Irish for over 20 years, in pursuing just a Black /Asian agenda.
For the Irish community there was a clear recognition that we were a colonial minority in Britain with an unsolved colonial disputed territory in Northern Ireland. There was also the fact that at the GLC conference in the 1980s, every single Irish community group attending supporting the fact, that the Irish needed recognition as a distinct community. The pro-British and pro Unionist section of the Irish community tried to suppress this demand, making the false claim that the Irish did not want this. They were heavily defeated time and again on the issue, and it was part of their continued oppression of Irish culture, and Irish self-determination.
On 30th April the Irish World had a banner headline at last Ealing recognises the Irish, and in their editorial stated under a Tribute to Perseverance ‘That Ealing had moved is largely down to the perseverance of the Irish in Britain representation group, whose long running campaign for recognition for the Irish had now secured a positive response from 70 per cent of local authorities in Britain’. And ‘The IBRG showed the same persistence in the successful battle to secure an Irish category in the national census which take place at the end of the month. The Irish community as a whole must show the that the same determination, if we are to make the most of the opportunities that have been won. Everybody in the community whether Irish born or of Irish descent can play apart in that by ticking the Irish category in the census on April 29th. The results of the census will have a huge impact on the future of the Irish community here. Its findings will be taken into account by local and central government in planning public services. They will even be used by historians increasing the picture of contemporary Britain which will be transmitted to future generations. If we want to be a part of that picture, we have to say so, and we should. The Irish have contributed a great deal to the country in recent generations. The census may be our historical opportunity to have that contribution recognised’.
On 27th April the IBRG put out a statement Over two million Irish to claim their cultural heritage in British Census. It stated ‘Two hundred years after the Act of Union with Britain the largest ethnic minority in Britain are claiming their cultural rights. The Irish in Britain join over 40 million Irish American in claiming their identity, which in the past has often been denied and supressed in Britain. In the 1991 Census in Britain there were 837,000 Irish born residents living in Britain with over 1,090.000 living in Born in Ireland headed households. The 2001 census will reveal the sharpest decline in the number of Irish born residents since the second world war, because of the massive numbers, who have returned to Ireland in the past ten years, the low emigration from Ireland and because of the high early death rate among the Irish in Britain. Ironically the second generations Irish born in Britain who go back to Ireland are classified as British under the Irish census. The IBRG call for both the Republic to use ethnic rather than Born in categories, and for Northern Ireland to include ethnic categories as well as religious ones. The results of the 2001 census would allow comparison to be made with both Black and Asian groups and to look at discrimination and disadvantage in all communities. Ten years after the release of the Birmingham Six the Irish community are also walking into the limelight of hopefully more enlightened times.
London IBRG members met on 19th April to discuss issues in London.
On 28th April the IBRG held their 20th Ard Fheis in Manchester. Delegates attended fom Manchester, Coventry, North London and Lewisham with apologies from Bolton and Hemel Hempstead.
The following officers were elected
Chair/PRO Pat Reynolds North London.
Vice Chair Diarmuid Breatnach Lewisham
Cisteoir Maurice Moore Coventry
Membership Bernadette Hyland Manchester.
Prisoners Officer Tim Logan Coventry
Pat Reynolds listed some of the achievements of IBRG in the last year, The IBRG had supported Ken Livingstone as Mayor of London, and gave a donation of £100 to his campaign. IBRG had won the debate in Scotland on including the Irish in the Scottish census after lobbying 80 MSP on the issue, and getting 22 of the 32 Scottish local authority to recognise the Irish. IBRG had defended Lewisham IBRG and its 1916 event from the right wing press, had opposed the closure of the Roger Casement Irish centre in Islington, which the IBRG had set up. Lobbied for the Irish language to be taught in Catholic secondary schools and had campaigned to get UCAS to include the Irish which had been successful. Had challenged the British TUC over their refusal to recognise the Irish, had continued our campaign for ethnic recognition by British local authorities , had worked hard for the inclusion of the Irish in the 2010 Census, had played a full part in the Irish Equalities group, had supported Irish prisoners and Irish campaigns, taken up Irish deaths in custody, and the shooting by police of Kieron O’Donnell in North London.
The IBRG had welcomed the decision by the High Court that travellers were an ethnic group under the Race Relations Act, while Coventry IBRG had drafted the IBRG policy statement on Travellers.
Looking ahead the Chair stated that the 2001 Census was crucial for the Irish community moving forward, and the coming General Election, which Labour was expected to win, was important in terms of pushing Irish issues from self determination to equal rights in Britain, and the IBRG would be putting an Irish manifesto out to the community.
The following motions were passed;
A motion calling of the Irish government to do more for the Irish language, including passing the Irish language bill,
A motion noting the huge amount of work carried out by IBRG to win ethnic recognition in the 2001 census.
A motion supporting the Diarmuid O’Neill campaign with a donation of £50,
A motion noting the historical importance of the 1981 Hunger strike and its impact upon the Irish community abroad,
A motion in support of the Irish Political Prisoners campaign,
A motion noting the 20th anniversary of the founding of the IBRG and its work in the Irish community over the last 20 years,
A motion supporting Pat Cullinane’s campaign and calling for a new law in Britain to prevent the eviction of any individual from their primary home over tax disputes,
A motion supporting MOJO with a donation of £50. At the end of April on 29th the National census was held, and for the first time included an Irish category in the ethnic groups, which allowed the Irish in Britain to identify themselves.
Pat Reynolds had written up a preliminary chronological history of the IBRG over the last 20 years which he circulated to IBRG branches.
On 4th May IBRG members attended a meeting on policing at the Greater London Authority and raised the issue of the Irish being monitored within the judicial and policing systems in London.
On 5th May IBRG members attended a Black Flag picket of Maggie Thatcher in London over her role in the Hunger strikes, and to let her know that they were honoured in our community. The Irish World carried a colour photo of the picket which showed Pat Reynolds leading the protest.
The Irish Post had a two-page feature on the Hunger strikes, on How the Hunger Strikes changed Britain’s Irish Community, and quoted Mary Hickman, Jonathan Moore and Pat Reynolds who stated that the fightback in the Irish community had its inspiration in the hunger strikes, and that the campaign to free the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four had come from that inspiration and energy.
Death of Mary Crofton
On 14th May the funeral took place in Newport, Wales of Mary Crofton, a lifelong Republican and activist who was a member of TOM and IBRG. Mary attended every Bloody Sunday March, and was involved in political campaigns from Chile to South Africa and was a real campaigner for Irish freedom, the Birmingham Six, and the Miners.
In a statement the IBRG said Mary was an example to younger people in various movements, she was a gentle woman with a heart of gold for the working class and struggling peoples of the world, no struggle was too big or too small for her support. Mary will be missed by many, who will want to celebrate her life by continuing her struggle for equal rights and freedom for all peoples.
Christy McGrath campaign
On 25th May Pat Reynolds, Chair of the Christie McGrath campaign in London, spoke at a public meeting in Carrick on Suir on the case long with Paddy Joe Hill, Larry McGrath, Richard Guest – Grand National winner, Michael O’Brien and Seamus Healy TD. Over 500 people attended the meeting, the largest political meeting in Carrick in generations. Carrick was the home of Sean Kelly, the great Irish cyclist who attended the meeting.
The campaign, including Paddy Joe Hill, was given a Civic reception by Carrick on Suir District Council. While in Carrick Paddy Joe Hill made a point of thanking Pat Reynolds for the work IBRG had put in for the Birmingham Six, and stated that IBRG were the first to raise the issue in the Irish community in Britain.
To be fair it was for Father Faul and Father Murray with their Birmingham Framework booklet that brought the issue to the Irish community in Britain, and the Troops Out Movement were the main group before IBRG bringing this booklet to the community via their bookstalls at different events.
Paddy Joe Hill got taken aback and was speechless when Pat Reynolds informed him, that a booklet on the Irish Chaplaincy which came out in the early 1980s stated that there were innocent Irishmen in prison, that they knew to be innocent, and that that they were likely to die in prison. Paddy Joe went silent as he was unaware of this and then said I am a dead man walking free then. Certainly, Pat Reynolds and others in IBRG did not accept that these men should die in prison, but that these political hostages taken in 1974 from our community should be released. As long as they were kept in prison the whole community was imprisoned, and their release would help to free the community from Babylonian PTA laws.
Pat Reynolds appeared on RTE TV and on Radio Eireann to speak about the campaign while in Ireland.
Camden Council failing Irish Children
Early in May the IBRG took up the issue of Irish children failing in Camden schools in terms of attainment. The IBRG has long taken up this issue and are the only Irish organisation to do so. Others prefer to stay silent and let our children suffer, and pretend that our children were b doing ok. Earlier in the year the IBRG had a notable success when the Department of Education and Employment indicated, that they would be including the Irish within their ethnic monitoring programme of pupil attainment in Britain.
On 13th May the IBRG put out a statement Camden Council Failing Irish Pupils in which it stated:
‘The IBRG accuse Camden Council of falling Irish children in their schools, and calls for urgent and immediate action to address the issue, the results of the 2000 GCSE exams show that only 24% of Irish children gained 5 plus Grades A-C the lowest performance of any ethnic group in Camden. The average for all Camden pupils was 51%.
The figures are shocking and disturbing and yet Camden can give the community no reason for these failing figures. The Irish community pay their fair share of taxes both locally and nationally, and are entitled to equality with the education field. Irish parents in Britain have made many sacrifices to ensure either children get access to decent education.
This is an ongoing problem, and yet Camden Council have yet to consult with the Irish community, or provide any research as to why Irish children are failing in Camden schools. The IBRG called on Irish community organisation and local Irish welfare projects to broaden their horizons, to include the educational and welfare of our children within their brief.
Why are local Irish welfare centres, including the Camden Irish centre remaining silent, while our children are being failed by the local education system. Welfare had to include employment, health provision, criminal justice education and welfare. Irish organisation needs to start engaging with their local authorities and other bodies to challenge institutional anti Irish racism within the system, in both employment and in the provision of services including education.
The Irish World covered the issue with Camden Lashed over Irish pupils. In it Pat Reynolds argued that this was why the IBRG wanted the Department of Education, to include the Irish in ethnic monitoring of both pupil and their performances, and deplored the narrow debate in Britain on race, which would condemn Irish children to suffer and to remain hidden within the system.
Race Relations (Amendment) Act Challenge to Irish Community
In May the IBRG made a submission the Home Office on the new Race Relations (Amendment) Act which was enacted on 30th November 2000. In July 2001 the government was going to introduce secondary legalisation imposing specific duties on public bodies in relation to equality. This would include Codes of Conduct for public bodies such as the police, health service, local government, educational bodies and central government. Six months would be allowed for compliance with the new codes. The IBRG were concerned that the PTA and Civil Service employment remained outside the code as did the British monarchy.
On 16th May the IBRG put out a statement Race relations (Amendment) Act Challenge to Irish Community based on its two-page submission to the Home Office. The IBRG took exception to the use of ‘Mainland Britain’ in relation to Ireland which was legally wrong as no part of Ireland was part of Britain. In relation to the Great Starvation of Ireland it should be noted that Ireland was part of the United Kingdom from 1801 and that the migration of its people should be seen in that context.
The IBRG drew attention to how the report could state that 15% of the British Army were Irish in 1900, and yet today we cannot get any figures on the number of Irish in the British Civil Service or other republic bodies. The IBRG also challenged their research by stating our own, and showing that some 355 local authorities in Britain recognised the Irish some 70%. In the larger Borough and country council 181 of the 203 nearly 90% recognise the Irish.
The IBRG pointed out that discrimination against the Irish was highest on the British left and trade union movement within only two trade unions out of 73 recognising the Irish, and with the Labour Party, the party of government, refusing to include the Irish. The submission went on to make proposals on health education employment and service delivery, to improve the duty on public bodies to deliver to communities. The IBRG were opposed to the collapsing of monitoring into Black White categories which covered up discrimination against the Irish.
The IBRG had mailed out the remaining 137 local authorities in Britain who did not monitor the Irish in April and 25 more local authorities had come on board.
General Election and Irish Community
On 7th June there was a General Election in Britain and Northern Ireland with Sinn Fein winning four seats and outvoting the SDLP for the first time. The Nationalist vote made up 43% of the votes cast. Labour got elected in Britain with a landslide with Tony Blair staying on as Prime Minister. The Irish community in Britain made up about 10% of Britain’s population and their vote was crucial in many cities in Britain such as London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow, and in many towns such as Luton Derby, Leicester and other places. The majority of the Irish had traditionally voted Labour although in Wales and Scotland they can now vote for Nationalist parties.
The IBRG could not endorse any political party in Britain as most are parties of imperialism when it comes to the Irish and because of the first past the post system, it restricted any vote to either Tory or Labour in most cases in England.
On 2nd June the Irish Post had IBRG unveils its manifesto goals, which coved the IBRG seven demands. The Irish World on 1st June had Irish to decide on Hague’s fate which included the IBRG statistics of different constituencies showing the number of Irish in each. Two IBRG members had stood in the general election Tim Logan in Coventry for the Socialist Alliance and Tomas MacStiofan in Brent for the Tenant and motorist.
The IBRG published its election manifesto for the General Election in April calling for
All political parties to recognise the Irish
Equal access to employment
A fair service based on the needs of the Irish community
A health action plan to address the need of the community
Fair access to housing
Fair access to justice
And fair access to Irish culture
The IBRG recognised that three of the five demands made by IBRG for the 1997 election had been won, Irish political prisoners had been transferred to Ireland and released, Sinn Fein had been included in the political process, and the Irish had been included in the 2001 National census. The Irish World had IBRG spells out Election Demands.
On 6th June Pat Reynolds had an interview with RTE Radio on the British General Election and the Irish community. Labour got back in with a landslide but got 3 million less votes than in1997.
Campaign for political status for post Good Friday prisoners
On 16th June IBRG members took part in a picket of the Home Office over political status for post-Good Friday prisoners, and later attended benefit in London for the same purpose where Diarmuid Breatnach read his poem on Bobby Sands MP. The evening was to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Hunger Strikes which were all about political status for prisoners.
On 30th June Diarmuid Breatnach had a letter in the Irish Post with top billing, and photo of the picket of the British Home Office on political status, and on the Good Friday agreement. It was a good critique of the Good Friday agreement and that other Treaty back in 1921, which was supported by the majority too.
The Irish World on 22nd June had Political status protest at Home Office.
On 10th August Diarmuid Breatnach, Chair of the Irish Political Status Committee, had a letter in the Irish World arguing for political status for all Irish political prisoners, not just those who supported the Good Friday Agreement.
Irish Deaths in Police Custody
In June the IBRG highlighted four Irish prisoners’ suicides in Brixton prison and listed over 30 Irish deaths in custody over the past 15 years highlighting a hidden problem in the Irish community.
While the Irish government paid for a Catholic priest to work with Irish prisoners in Britain, he had kept complete silence on these Irish deaths in prison, just as the same Church had kept quiet for 14 years on Gerry Conlon being at Quest Road Irish hostel, on the night of the Guildford bombing and could not have done it. Ireland on Sunday contacted the IBRG on the story as did the South London Press and the Irish Examiner but the Irish Post ignored this very serious story affecting the Irish community,
The IBRG Ard Choiste met in Coventry on 23rd June. Maurice Moore and Pat Reynolds attended with apologies from Bernadette Hyland, Diarmuid Breathnach, Michael Holden, Tim Logan, Peter Skerrit and Sean Hone.
Among the issues discussed were the 2010 census, the British general election, deaths in custody, Christie McGrath campaign, Race amendment act and political prisoners. The IBRG had a stall at the London Fleadh in Finsbury party and displayed both the IBRG and the Frank Johnson banners. Pat Reynolds reported back on the hugely successful public meeting held in Carrick on Suir for Christie McGrath which drew over 500 people, at which he spoke with Paddy Joe Hill and Michael O’Brien and Richard Guest the Grand National winner. The Dion funding had been increased to 2 million a year. The Roundwood Irish Festival had closed down as many of the Irish had gone home.
On 4th July IBRG members attended a meeting at Conway Hall on the wrongful conviction of Barry George to hear Mike Mansfield and others speak about the Court of Appeal.
On 5th July the IBRG had attended a meeting at the Camden Irish Centre on Irish deaths in custody along with the Connolly Association and the Wolfe Tones who wanted to set up a new group CASSK (Campaign against State Sponsored Killings) to cover Britain and N. Ireland. A new campaign had also been set up for Derek Fegan by his widow as Derek had committed suicide in Brixton without getting the help he needed.
On 7th July IBRG members attended a Race Equality Conference at Haringey Civic Centre with CARA and Irish Community Care.
Pat Reynolds had also attended a Disabilities Tribunal this week to support an elderly disabled Irishman from Tipperary who had come over for a hearing. He had been , injured in a building site accident back in 1965 in Britain, and is still fighting for his rightful benefits.
Pat Reynolds wrote to Bill Morris, Leader of the Transport and General Workers Union, asking them to provide representation as the man was a member of their union in Ireland, and worked in Britian at one time. Bill Morris was generous in his reply and agreed to provide support and argued that any Irish worker if given the choice would have joined the union, and thus was entitled to support.
On 9th July the IBRG made a submission to the Conway Hall Tribunal into Deaths in Custody listing over 30 Irish deaths in custody and linking in with general campaign in Britain on the issue.
Christy McGrath Campaign Meeting in House of Commons
On 12th July Pat Reynolds spoke at the Christie McGrath Campaign meeting in the House of Commons along with John McDonnell MP, Billy Power and Paddy Joe Hill. The meeting was to launch an EDM (Early Day Motion) on the Christie case. Speakers from the Harry Stanley campaign and Derek Fegan campaigns also spoke, linking deaths in custody to framed prisoners, which was a useful link up in the community. Pat did an interview with Tipp FM radio and was able to get a piece in the representation Racing Post and into the Star in Ireland. Later Pat was interviewed by the Star newspaper in Ireland.
On 21st July IBRG members attended the Respect Festival in Finsbury Park which over 50,000 people attended. The Connolly Association, BIAS and Construction Safety all had stalls there along with all the major trade unions.
On 29th July the Christie McGrath campaign had a stall at Southwark Irish Festival at Burges Park helped by IBRG members.
In July the IBRG supported the case of Irish nurses and Unison fighting the Department of Health over the withdrawal of £5k bursaries for Irish nursing students in Britain. On 20th July the Irish World had Bursary Blow for Irish Nurses and covered the IBRG response to the story, with the IBRG calling on the Irish in Britain Parliamentary Group to raise the matter with the Department of Health.
On 11th August Pat Reynolds had spoken at Derek Fegan meeting in South London. The Christie McGrath campaign had a front-page Irish Post story last month.
Labour finally to include Irish in ethnic monitoring
On 25th August the IBRG put out a statement Labour Party to Monitor Irish Nominees for local Government Elections. The Irish World had on 31st August Labour to include Irish in ethnic Monitoring by Donal Mooney former editor of the Irish Post, now editor of the Irish World.
This was a good victory for the IBRG who had fought the Labour Party on this issue for number of years. The IBRG stated, the first time ever the Labour Party in Britain are to include the Irish in its ethnic monitoring programme for nominees at local government level for selection of councillors. An Irish category is now be included in the Labour Party Rule Book for 2001.
The campaign to get Labour to recognise the Irish was spearheaded by Jodie Clark a former Labour Councillor Southwark. The IBRG stated it was time the Labour Party paid back its debt to the Irish community in Britain, for its huge contribution to the working-class movement in Britain, and to Labour sponsored objectives like the NHS.
Seamus Taylor had now been appointed Head of Public policy at the CRE the highest post ever achieved by an Irish person at the CRE. Seamus was also the founder of Action Group for Irish Youth in London. He was also a member of the Commission on the Future of Multi Ethnic Britain which was set up by Jack Straw after the 1997 general election.
On 8th September the IBRG Ard Choiste met in North London. Bernadette Hyland and Pat Reynolds attended.
Among the issues discussed were the Ardoyne school situation, political prisoners, deaths in custody, Christie McGrath and the Hunger strike commemoration. The IBRG Box no. was up and running while Manchester IBRG were working on an IBRG website. Susan May’s appeal starts on 30th October. Frank Johnson’s appeal will be next Spring.
The Hunger Strike Commemoration March planned for London for Sunday 23rd September, the first Irish march to use Trafalgar Square sine the 1972 ban was called off by Sinn Fein at the last moment. The IBRG felt that the march should have went ahead in defence of democratic rights. Sinn Fein should not be interfering with the political expression of the Irish community in Britain.
The September 11th plane bombings on New York Twin Towers and the Pentagon led to an American backlash against civil liberties and the right to free expression, the slogan You are with us or against us, led to a similar scenario in Britain. No definition was offered of terrorism except being against America. There was a very public shift by the establishment to stifle all dissent and political opposition.
On 21st September there was a major feature in the Irish Post on Demand for political status which was a long interview with Diarmuid Breatnach talking about the campaign.
On 11th October IBRG members attended the Equalities Group meeting in Camden which Pat Reynolds chaired.
On 24th October Pat Reynolds had an interview with BBC Radio London on decommissioning arms after the IRA announced that they had decommissioned some weapons. The IBRG had no intention of decommissioning any of its work in Britain.
On 25th October IBRG members attended a meeting in Camden to set up an Irish Deaths in Custody umbrella group in the Irish community.
On 27th October IBRG members attended the Rally and March to 10 Downing Street as part of the United Campaign Against Deaths in Custody, which was mainly Black families who had lost members in police custody.
On 31st October IBRG members attended the Irish in Britain Parliamentary Group at Government buildings opposite Parliament at Portcullis House.
October marks the 20th anniversary of the founding of IBRG the most important Irish organisation in the political life of the Irish community in Britain from 1981- 2001.
First public meeting on campaign on Irish Deaths in Police Custody
On 1st November at the Friends Meeting House in London Pat Reynolds spoke with Billy Power and others on Irish deaths in custody. This was the first public meeting of the new campaign. North London and Lewisham IBRG members attended. Joy Garner’s mother spoke with Billy Power and the widow of Harry Stanley. The police will not prosecute the officers who shot Harry Stanley. The inquest on Kevin Sheridan will take place on 5th and 6th December at Southwark Coroners court.
On 9th November the Irish World had a story Lewisham Dismay over Lewisham Council stopping the autumn Irish children’s events which were an annual thing in the past. It quoted IBRG and how unhappy the community was with the lack of consultation by the Council
On 14th November IBRG members attended the Irish in Britain Parliamentary Group meeting at the House of Commons.
On 22nd December Diarmuid Breatnach, Chair of the Irish Political Status Committee, had a long letter in the Irish Post taking them to task over their reporting of a picket by the Group of the Irish Embassy in London. The Group had also produced a four-page newsletter for November /December.
On 24th November the IBRG held their Ard Choiste meeting in Manchester. Bernadette Hyland and Pat Reynolds attended with apologies from Joe Mullarkey, Maurice Moore and Diarmuid Breatnach.
Among the issues discussed were the web site, the launch of the Irish in Manchester book written by Michael Herbert, Christie McGrath, deaths in custody, and the Irish Equalities group.
Launch of The Wearing of the Green: a Political History of the Irish in Manchester by Michael Herbert
That evening Bernadette chaired the launch of the Wearing of the Green a political history of the Irish in Manchester, at which Pat Reynolds spoke for the IBRG and Micheal Herbert author went through the main historical events in the book. It was major first by the IBRG to produce a book on the history of the Irish community in Manchester, probably the most significant community outside of London in the earlier decades. The book was also the first history of an IBRG branch – Manchester.
Main events of 2001 for Irish Community
The main events of 2001 for the Irish community was the inclusion of the Irish for the very first time in the 2001 National census in Britain, and the impact will be huge in future years in terms of knowing where the Irish are, also in terms of provision for the community and also issues like housing and employment along with health, and lastly in terms of history and sociology, where future scholars can go back and do research on the Irish community during this time.
For the first time both historians and sociologists, will know of the existence of a second-generation Irish community. It will also give a lot of information about the forced assimilation of the Irish in Britain through discrimination racism and political pressure.
The second big event of the year was the 2001 General Election which Labour won with a large number of Irish MPs elected like John McDonnell, Kevin McNamara, Margaret Moran, Siobhan McDonagh, Clare Short, Mike O’Brien, Tony McNulty, Ruth Kelly, Jim Dowd, Jim Fitzpatrick, and Lorna Fitzsimmons. Of these Clare Short, John McDonell and Kevin McNamara already identified with Irish issues. Jermyn Corbyn MP and other left MPs also were good on Ireland but the numbers were few and none had any power within Labour.
Events from Northern Ireland still impacted on the Irish in Britain: the Peace Process, the Ardoyne school situation, the BBC bomb, the Ealing bombing, Irish prisoners, Diarmuid O’Neill, Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson cases, the anniversary of the Hunger strikes, revelations about the Omagh bombing and the coverup, the Dublin Monaghan bombings, and Bloody Sunday inquiry.
In Britain two new campaigns had taken off one on Irish deaths in custody and the other on Christie McGrath both of which the IBRG were very much involved in.
The IBRG were still involved with the Irish Equalities Group, the Irish in Britain Parliamentary Group, the Irish political status campaign and other general campaigns.
The PRO had two TV interviews, 5 radio interviews and spoke at six public meetings during the year.
The IBRG had held their Ard Fheis along with five Ard Choisteana meetings.
Michael Herbert’s book The Wearing of the Green on the Irish in Manchester had given the Irish in Manchester a history they could be proud of. Every city in Britain should follow this example from London to Liverpool to Birmingham and Glasgow.
The PRO had completed a 20-year chronological history of the IBRG which was important in term of keeping a history of the movement and would help future historians writing about this time.
Listen to my talk about the IBRG in the northwest in the Irish Collection at the WCML here
For an 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
The IBRG website (now defunct) can be accessed here
Read previous posts on IBRG history here