History of Irish in Britain Representation Group, part twenty two, 2002

 

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.

 

Christy McGrath Campaign leaflet

IBRG attend Irish Equalities Group Meeting

On 10th January IBRG officers Diarmuid Breatnach and Pat Reynolds attended the Irish Equalities Group meeting at the Camden Irish Centre to plan for the next meeting with the CRE. Pat Reynolds was elected Chair of the group for the coming year. The Irish Equalities Group was made up of all Irish community groups in London.

First campaign meeting for Christy McGrath

On 11th January the Christie McGrath Campaign had its first meeting. Five IBRG members from London attended and Pat Reynolds was elected Chair for the campaign. The Irish Post and the Irish World attended the meeting which was attended by twenty people from different organisations in London. The Irish Post had given Christie case the front page and had visited Christy in prison. The Tipperary Association in London had agreed to back his campaign which was a major breakthrough.

On 14th January IBRG members attended the picket of 10 Downing St over the Loyalist attacks on Holy Cross School in the Ardoyne area of Belfast, and the recent murder by Loyalists of a young postal Catholic postal worker in Belfast.

IBRG condemns former N. Ireland Office Minister for anti-traveller comments

On 15th January the IBRG issued a statement in response to a Tory MP and former N. Ireland Shadow Secretary who described Travellers as ‘scum’, and stated that they were not entitled to civil rights. The IBRG condemned his statements and called for Travellers Rights to be upheld. How could such a bigot be appointed Shadow Secretary in N. Ireland.

 The IBRG condemned Tory MP Andrew Mackey, former shadow Minister for N. Ireland, for his anti-Travellers remarks, and stated that these remarks could lead to further attacks upon Travellers, and their way of life. Mackey was not fit to be an MP, and as an MP he should be defending the rights of the more vulnerable in society, instead of trying to scapegoat them. Mr Mackey should be calling on the Government and local authorities in Britain to provide sites to accommodate Travellers, and restore the public duty on local authorities to provide sites, which his party had taken away.

The Tories having created the problem in the first place now want to punish the victims of their creation. To suggest as Mackey did that Travellers do not merit the same human rights as other citizens is deeply offensive, and is reminiscent of Germany in the early 1930’s and their attitude to the Jewish community. The IBRG called on the Tory Party and its leader to condemn these remarks and dissociate themselves from them. The issue of accommodation for Traveller can only be addressed by government action.

Irish deaths in Police Custody Meeting

On 17th January IBRG member attended the Irish Deaths in Custody campaign meeting at the Camden Irish centre which BBC South East TV covered for its news on 18th January.

On the same day Pat Reynolds Chair IBRG went head-to-head with Toby Harris Chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority over Irish deaths in custody and inquests on BBC Radio London. Toby Harris later to become Lord Harris was the former leader of Haringey Council, and was well known to Pat from attended Council meeting in Haringey, and meetings of the Ethnic Minorites JCC.

The IBRG raised questions over the recent inquest into the ‘suicide’ of Michael Barry in Brixton prison, the fourth Irish suicide in the same prison. The Irish family were not present or represented at the inquest, which made a mockery of any concept of justice.

Bloody Sunday Rally

On Sunday 27th January IBRG members from Coventry, Lewisham and N. London attended the Bloody Sunday Rally at the Hammersmith Irish Centre where Eamon McCann gave an inspiring speech. Other speakers included Michael McKinney a relative, John McDonnell MP and Gerry O’Hara of Sinn Fein, who was challenged over Sinn Fein’s position on Irish political prisoners, who were arrested since the Good Friday agreement.

The main leaflet for the Rally was one without any politics and just stated Bloody Sunday 1972-2002 30th anniversary One World Many Struggles which was a real betrayal of what people were marching for on Bloody Sunday, and the 30 years of struggle in between.

Not even a demand for justice. The leaflet sent out for support and sponsorship was the same devoid of any politics, a sort of amnesia like one reads in a thousand years of solitude, where the people had forgotten their past. The new No politics had been put upon the Irish community in Britain from Ireland. It was a shameful sell out of the politics of struggle, and marked new levels of depoliticization of the struggle. The Political Status for Prisoners Group attended the Rally and drew attention to post Good Friday prisoners and how they were denied political status. In Manchester Bernadette Hyland was featured in an article on Bloody Sunday in the Big Issue entitled Bloody Sunday Families just want Justice.

In Derry the people invited Joy Gardner’s mother over to speak linking up with the position of Black people in Britain.

In January Tom Hayden, American civil rights fighter, was going in the opposite direction and rediscovering his Irish roots, and had published Irish on the Inside in Search of the Soul of Irish America. He talked of whitewashed assimilation in an era of globalisation It was a welcome relief to whitewashing that had gone on this year over the London Bloody Sunday rally.

IBRG and other Irish Groups meet with CRE

On 28th January the IBRG joined other Irish groups for a meeting with the CRE Chair Gurbix Singh previously CEO of Haringey Council, Danny Silverstone CEO CRE and Seamus Taylor now Head of Public Policy at the CRE and Chris Myant press officer.

Pat Reynolds chaired and led the Irish community side in the discussions. Among the issues discussed were the recent deaths in Brixton prison, and how far the CRE were going addressing the needs of the Irish community within their expressed briefs in terms of employment, discrimination housing health and other area.

In reply the CRE stated that were conducting an inquiry into racism in prison, with Brixton and Feltham the youth detention centre included, they would do a stock take of the Irish community once the results of the 2001 census were known, and would commission a profile of the Irish community then.

It was announced at the meeting that the Department of Employment and Education had agreed to include the Irish as a specific ethnic category within their monitoring of school performance, and among teacher group classifications. This is something that the IBRG had fought hard for over the past year, including making direct representation into the consultation process and the Chair Pat Reynolds wrote to the Education Secretary David Blunkett on the matter, including using the recent Camden performance of Irish children to justify the need for such monitoring.

Death of Sr. Sarah Clarke

On 4th February the IBRG were saddened by the death of Sr Sarah Clarke a courageous Irish woman who stood up for the rights of Irish prisoners for over 25 years. On 11th February IBRG attended her removal service at our Lady of Halle Church in Camden at which Helena Kennedy gave the oration. Sr Sarah was always there for Irish prisoners, and when the IBRG delegation was on its way to Ireland, to meet the Irish government and opposition she rang Pat Reynolds to update him on prisoners’ issues, and when he came back wanted to know immediately how the meetings had gone with Haughey and other Irish politicians.

Sr. Sarah opened the London Irish Bookfair one year and her book No Faith in the System, was an honest account of her work for Irish prisoners, where she exposes the knowledge that the Catholic Church knew, that Gerry Conlon was at Quex Road the night of the Guildford bombing and could not have done it. She condemned this church silence. Cardinal Hume’s later efforts can be seen as damage limitation given this knowledge was hidden from the Irish community for over 14 years.

It was because of her pioneering work that the Irish government decided to fund the Irish Chaplaincy Prisons Officer  and a full-time worker with Irish prisoners in Britain, but still left it with Catholic Church. When the scandal emerged of Irish suicides in British prisoners the Catholic Church would stay silent and it took the IBRG to expose what was happening in the prisons around Irish prisoners.

On 12th February Pat Reynolds spoke at the School of Oriental and African Studies along with member of the Asian community, on the need to create broad based anti PTA movement in Britain to stop the criminalisation of minority ex colonial communities.

On 15th February IBRG members attended a presentation to Seamus Taylor Head of Public policy at the CRE, on the implementation of the new Race Amendment Act 2000 for the Irish community.

On 28th February Pat Reynolds chaired the Irish Equalities Group in Camden. North London and Southwark IBRG attended the meeting.

In Southwark Jodie Clark was fighting to have an Irish dimension in the educational plans. The Department of Health have agreed to include an Irish category in their ethnic groups for children in care. The Teachers Council have also agreed to include the Irish in their ethnic monitoring,

Coventry IBRG and TOM and meeting re-Holy Cross School and right to live free from harassment

On 7th March Coventry IBRG helped to organise a public meeting at the KOKO centre for the Holy Cross School speaker, to highlight conditions for the children and parents there. The meeting was hosted by Coventry Trades Union council and jointly sponsored by IBRG and Troops Out Movement.

Elizabeth Murphy, a mother of Holy Cross School Children, spoke at the meeting and the meeting was held under the Title The right to live free from Harassment which had been taken from the Good Friday Agreement.

Maurice Moore the MSF rep on Coventry Trades Council stated ‘Coventry’s Civic Leaders have a relationship with Belfast City Council and should express their concerns about the ongoing harassment of school children and their parents. Ms Murphy met with the Deputy Mayor, representatives the NUT, Irish community church representatives and city councillors during the visit.

Watch BBC documentary here

The Christy McGrath campaign got a two-page spread in the News of the World on 10th March. The Morning Star and the Racing Post also covered the story. The fact that Christy and his brother Larry were jockeys in Britain, and that Christy had the support of Richard Guest the Grand National winner was important.

On 12th March IBRG members attended the London Civic Forum for a meeting which focussed on the Arab and Irish communities in London, and were able to make solid contribution to the evening. The IBRG had affiliated to the London Civic Forum.

On St Patrick Day IBRG members helped out with the Christy McGrath campaign stall in Trafalgar Square which collected thousands of signatures and nearly £300 for the campaign. The family came over from Ireland with his father and mother there and got both Ken Livingstone and Shane McGowan to back the campaign for their son.

Lewisham IBRG were involved in the South London Irish Parade on 16th March and the St Patrick Day parade in central London on 17th March, where the Lewisham float was the best cultural float on parade. On 1st March the Irish World had Seventh St Patrick’s day Parade for south London by Donal Mooney, which gave a preview of the Parade and the Festival in March. It stated the Parade was coordinated by the Lewisham Irish Centre and Lewisham IBRG.

In March the IBRG heard of the death of Oliver de Brun, a lifelong Republican in London, and former member of IBRG and member of the Dessie Ellis campaign. The IBRG attended his funeral in Watford on 18th March. His ashes would be scattered in both Palestine and Ireland.

The IBRG website went public in March a wonderful addition to IBRG, it covers the history of IBRG, policies and issues affecting the Irish community. Read it here

The IBRG Ard Fheis took place on 6th April at the Friends Meeting Place in central London. The following officers were elected. Among those attending were Bernadette Hyland, Maurice Moore, Pat Reynolds, Michael Holden, Laoise de Paor, Danny Burke and Marie Casey.

Apologies from Sean Hone, Tim Logan, Tomas MacStiofan, Jackie Vance, Jodie Clark, Joe Mullarkey, and Diarmuid Breatnach.

Chair & PRO Pat Reynolds North London

Runai & Membership Bernadette Hyland Manchester

Cisteoir Maurice Moore Coventry

Vice Chair Donal de Burca North London

Prisoners Officers Tim Logan Coventry

The following motions were passed;

A motion condemning the occupation of Palestine. This Ard Fheis condemns the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands which has led to many civilian deaths. This Ard Fheis supports the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and calls for the full establishment of a Palestinian nation. This Ard Fheis calls for total Israeli withdrawal from all Palestinian lands.

A motion supporting MOJO plus £50 donation. This Ard Fheis recognises the important work undertaken by MOJO and offer our continuing support to the organisation.

A motion supporting the Christy McGrath campaign plus £50 donation. This Ard Fheis supports the campaign to secure justice for Christy McGrath who was the victim of the British judicial system. This Ard Fheis believes Christy to be an innocent man who was ambushed by the judicial system without a proper trial. This Ard Fheis calls on the Irish government to raise this case and the implications of this case, in how Irish people are treated by the judicial system with the British government.

A motion condemning Irish deaths in custody, This Ard Fheis condemns the high number of Irish deaths in prison and in police custody, and calls on the British government to protect the right to life of Irish prisoners and those in police custody in Britain. This Ard Fheis calls on the Irish government to protect the rights of Irish nationals in British prisons and in police custody, and that they demand that the British government safeguard these lives. This Ard Fheis pledges IBRG support to the current campaign to highlight Irish deaths in prison in police custody and in arrest situations.

A motion welcoming the new IBRG website. This Ard Fheis welcomed the setting up of the IBRG website now available and thanks Bernadette and Manchester IBRG for the hard work put in while setting up site, which also contains a history of IBRG.

A motion congratulating Manchester IBRG on publication of the Wearing of the Green

A motion calling once again for votes for emigrants. This Ard Fheis condemns the Irish government for denying the vote to Irish emigrants, the only EU country to deny its citizens the right to vote in home elections. This Ard Fheis pledges to continue the fight for the vote for Irish emigrants, and to seek legal clarification on the position under Irish constitution law and European law particularly Art 39 of the movement of workers, with a view to bringing a test case.

Pat Reynolds as Chair addressed  the meeting, outlined many of the issues IBRG had been involved in within the past year.  The IBRG had been involved in and chaired the Christy McGrath campaign which had a good year in advancing his case, with a monster meeting held in Carrick and a Benefit at the Galtymore plus getting the support of the Tipperary Association.

The IBRG had played a key role in setting up and supporting the new Irish deaths in custody campaign, and had chaired the Irish Equalities Group in London in its meetings with the CRE.  The IBRG has only issued six press releases last year probably the lowest in many years, and these were about the General Election, deaths in custody, Labour Party recognition, Irish children’s performance in school and racism against Travellers.

The IBRG had spoken at a number of public meetings from Carrick on Suir to the House of Commons. The IBRG had also put in submission to the British government on the Race Amendment act and to the Deaths in Custody Tribunal. We had held meetings over school children being racially abused by Loyalists in Ardoyne and held pickets in London on the issue. The IBRG had done TV and Radio interview on Christy McGrath, the British General Election, deaths in custody and attended meetings of the Irish in Britain Parliamentary Group.

Last year the Irish, were presented with their own category in the British National Census due largely to the battle fought by the IBRG, and our strategy of winning over the vast majority of local authorities to our cause. For the first time ever , a second-generation Irish community have had the opportunity, to identify as being Irish, despite the almighty pressure on them to assimilate in Britain.

The General Election was held last year with a Labour landslide, despite 40% of the public not voting at all. Following 9/11 Britain had moved to the right and it was now more difficult to organise on issues affecting the Irish community. The Irish Post had been dumbed down and lost its community grassroots support.

Sinn Fein too had moved to the centre and were trying to stifle any political protest in Britain from cancelling the Bloody Sunday march, to closing down Saoirse, to closing down the Diarmuid O Neill campaign, dropping all demands for Irish self-determination and dropping any demand from the Bloody Sunday rally.

London was still the centre of much activity form the Irish in Britain Parliamentary Group, the Irish Equalities Group, deaths in custody, Irish political status, and the Christy McGrath campaign.

Manchester IBRG had done the IBRG proud with its publication of the Wearing of the Green the history of the Irish in Manchester.

Maurice Moore was returning to Ireland soon after a lifetime of work promoting the Irish language and culture in Coventry, standing up for the rights of Irish people and standing up for Irish self-determination, and of standing up for worker rights in Britain. He will be sorely missed.

Maurice Moore

Joe Mullarkey is 60 this year and has given a lifetime of dedication to Irish culture and community activities in Bolton ably assisted by his partner Margaret. They have together put-on Irish festivals, concerts, Irish language, Irish exhibitions and have always stood up for the rights of Irish people in Bolton.

Joe and Margaret Mullarkey

Last year we saw the sad passing away of Sr. Sarah Clark who was fearless in her campaigns for justice and fair play for Irish prisoners, whether political or the framed hostages 18 stolen from our community in 1974. The IBRG salute her bravely and her example which we will try and follow. We also lost Mary Crofton in Cardiff and Oliver de Brun in Watford both lifelong republican and fighters for justice.

Both the 9/11 kickback and the Good Friday agreement had made it much harder to fight for human and civil rights in Britain.  The new status quo in Britain and Ireland wanted to control everything from the centre and to control grassroots movements. The Dion funding operating along similar lines, politically funding right of centre and Embassy supported groups. The voluntary sector was controlled now with vetting going on and only those politically approved would now be funded.

There was still an urgent need for organisations like IBRG to speak truth to power, to speak out about wrongly convicted prisoners, to continue to seek political status for Irish prisoners, to speak out about deaths in custody, to speak out against racism in the media and racism against Travellers.

There will be a General Election in the Irish Republic coming up in May and we will be speaking up again for the right of Irish emigrants to vote in all elections in Ireland. Likewise, our campaign to get the TUC and other trade unions to recognise the Irish. We will continue our fight for these basic rights as long as the IBRG exists.

Irish Deaths in Police Custody

IBRG members attended the inquest into the death of Kieron O’Donnell at St Pancras Coroners Court where the jury went for lawful killing. The IBRG condemned the killing by police and the use of lethal force. When it came to the Irish in London the police were trigger happy with the unnecessary deaths of Kieron O’Donnell, Diarmuid O’Neill, Harry Stanley and another Irish man in north London. Why did the Irish make up 50% of all killings by police when they only make up 10% of the population? There were in all these case alternatives to lethal force and this matter was not properly explored with the juries.

The IBRG had become aware of another Irish death in custody Martin Ward a 23-year-old Roscommon man at Woodhill Prison. The jury verdict in his case was ‘death by natural causes contributed to by neglect’. This was another avoidable death. No doctor was called to see Martin Ward before he died despite his deteriorating condition.

The IBRG stated how many more deaths do we need. The community needs to mobilise on this issue and stop these deaths. We have a clear duty to insist that the state protect the lives of these men and their right to life. We condone their deaths if we remain quiet about them like the Catholic Church.

On 18th April Pat Reynolds spoke at public meeting on Christy McGrath at the Camden Irish Centre with Jeremy Corbyn MP, John McDonnell MP, and Billy Power. The Irish World gave their front-page story to Pat’s exposure of the police investigation, where the police were still looking for witnesses even after charging Christy.

On 22nd April Pat Reynolds joined Billy Power and others for a meeting with the Irish Embassy organised by the Irish deaths in Custody campaign.

On 25th April Pat Reynolds was interviewed at 7AM outside Brixton prison by BBC Radio London on the Irish deaths at Brixton. At 6.45PM on the same day Pat had another head-to-head with Toby Harris Chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority on the question of Irish deaths in custody, and the lack of representation for Irish families at inquests.

In April the IBRG undertook a major campaign to highlight Irish deaths in custody with a press release and background information going out to 50 new signatures including TV Radio and newspapers.

In April the IBRG made representation to the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racism, the European Convention committee for the Prevention of Torture and Degrading Treatment, Amnesty International, the Prison Service, The Home Secretary David Blunkett, Tory Shadow Home secretary Oliver Letwin, Liberal Shadow Simon Hughes, Bishop Cormac Murphy, Cardinal Sean Brady Armagh, Brian Cowan Irish Foreign Minister and to John McDonnell Secretary of the Irish in Britain Parliamentary Group.  John McDonell MP put down an early day motion on the issue and asked a question in Parliament on Irish deaths in custody. The IBRG were mentioned in Hansard as having made representations to the British government on the issue.

Six of the last nine suicides at Brixton were Irish. Irish lives needed protection in the British prison system and the IBRG were campaigning to have system within Brixton improved for all prisoners in terms of medical care for vulnerable young men, many with mental health issues often on remand away from their families.

On 29th April IBRG members attended a meeting with the CRE as part of the Irish Equalities group where the issue of Irish deaths in custody was pursued. The CRE were doing their own investigations into racism in Brixton, Feltham and Park prison. IBRG members also attended a Conference on the Irish and Policing held by AGIY in London during April.

Pat Reynolds had a letter in the Irish Times on 29th April regarding the vote for Irish emigrants drawing attention to the fact that Pakistani residents in Ireland could vote in the Pakistan general election, while Irish emigrants in Britain could not vote in the Irish General election.

 

On 2nd May in the local elections Brian Miller an IBRG member got elected as a Labour Councillor in Haringey while Tomas MacStiofan standing as an independent lost in Brent.

 

On 11th May Bernadette Hyland and Pat Reynolds were both speaking at the Conference on the Roots of Radicalism at Manchester University. Over 120 people attended the conference which Manchester IBRG supported. Other speakers included Lawrence McKeown and Sheila Rowbotham

On 15th May the IBRG put out a statement British Government and British media cover up Six Irish deaths in Brixton prisons. Six Irishmen had died in Brixton prison in the last two years.

The IBRG condemned the conspiracy of silence by the British authorities and the British media on the matter. Could you image if six British citizens had died in one foreign prison within two years, what the outcry in Britain would be. The Irish make up only 5% of the prisoners in Brixton yet make up six out nine deaths or 66% in the last two years. Thus, an Irish man was 13 times more likely to die in a British prison than any other prisoner.

Brixton prison the scene of the Hunger Strike of Terence MacSwiney has now become the most dangerous place in Britain for an Irishman, and the IBRG called for no Irish person be sent there, until these deaths are investigated. John McDonnell had put down an early day motion on the issue, and the IBRG had met with Harriet Harman MP on the issue.

The only conclusion the IBRG reached is that Irish lives were cheap in Britain, and had little value the Irish are not part of Britain despite the Labour government talking of an inclusive Britain. The IBRG calls for a public inquiry into these deaths. The Irish Right to Life appears to be much lower than that of an English person at home or abroad.

On 16th May Pat Reynolds was interviewed by BBC TV South east over Irish deaths in Brixton prison and over the recent death of Terry Doyle there. On the same day Jodie Clark and Pat Reynolds attended the Irish Deaths in Custody Meeting at the Camden Irish centre where relatives of three families attended, Fegans, Sheridans and O’Grady families to talk about their cases.

The Irish General Election was held on 17th May with Fianna Fail and the progressive Democrats again forming a Coalition government. Fine Gael had their worst performance in history. Sinn Fein made progress winning five seats, a gain of four seats. The Greens also did well.

The IBRG had put out a statement before the election entitled Votes for Irish Born citizens living abroad demanded stating ‘On May 17th the Irish government will once again discriminate against its Irish born citizens living abroad in the Irish General Election. In denying its citizens abroad the vote the Irish government are breaching its own constitution and European law, and the UN Declaration on Human Rights. Mary Robinson President of Ireland stated in 1990 ‘There is no impediment in the Constitution to extending voting rights to emigrants’ while   the Irish Council of Civil Liberties stated ‘In its treatment of its own emigrants, this country is out of line with international democratic practices in Europe’ The Universal declaration of human rights Article 21 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Art 25 guarantees all Irish citizens the right to vote. Dr Joseph Ryan of Freedom House New York stated ‘Ireland is one of the least advanced democracies on the question of absentee voting rights. And it is compared unfavourably with countries it might consider itself far advanced of politically’.

The IBRG believe that the Irish government denial of the vote to emigrants in Europe contravenes European Law, Art 39 of the Free Movement of workers in that the restriction of the vote, can be interpreted as an impediment to the free movement of workers, in that all other European workers can move abroad and retain the vote except the Irish.

Dick Spring TD stated ‘We in the Labour Party see no reason Irish citizens should be deprived of one of the most basic rights of any citizen, because they have been forced to live abroad.

The IBRG drew attention to the Irish World Cup team the only team playing in the World Cup, who were denied a vote in their home country, a question now asked in pub quizzes. Liam Kavanagh TD stated ‘the least we can do is to say to them, if we cannot give them a job, is that we can give you a vote, if they cannot come home, which will allow them to pass judgement on the administration who may be the cause of their being emigrants’.

IBRG Votes for Emigrants Leaflet.

Why is Ireland so far behind the democratic world, the whole of Europe, the USA, Australia, Pakistan, Brazil, South Africa Estonia and many more. Yet in the Good Friday agreement the Irish government agreed to create no impediment to equal rights for anybody within the Republic. If N. Ireland were to join the republic final All Ireland structure they would lose the vote too once they moved abroad.

The Irish World on 17th May had No votes for soccer heroes and the Longford Leader on 17th May had Vote demanded for immigrants, with a photo of the Irish soccer team with the IBRG Votes for Emigrants across it.

The IBRG had sent out a statement of votes for emigrants to over 40 different news agencies including TV Radio and newspaper. On the day of the election in Ireland Pat Reynolds had an interview with the BBC World Service at Bush House in the Strand, drawing attention to the fact that Ireland was the only EU country which denied its citizens aboard the vote. The Longford Leader, the Irish World and other papers covered the story and reprinted the IBRG collage of the Irish soccer team, the only team playing the World Cup who were not allowed to vote for their country of origin. They could bring honour and glory to Ireland but could not vote in the country. Later Highland radio in Donegal, Kerry radio, and Radio Anan Livia interviewed Pat on the subject.

In May the IBRG welcomed the settlement out of court by the Metropolitan Police to Richard O’Brien family his widow Alison and children. Richard was unlawfully killed when police officers held him down despite Richard saying time and again ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, let me up, you win’. He died whilst being held down by several officers in front of his wife and children outside a Catholic club minding his own business waiting for a cab to take his family home.

Jodie Clark in Southwark IBRG had supported the family, while both Jodie and Pat Reynolds helped the family early on in making contacts with Inquest and good solicitors. The family and the Traveller community had picketed the police station over his death.

On 14th May the IBRG put out a statement O’Brien Family win six-year Battle on compensation. The pay out of £324,000 did not bring any apology from the Met police for the behaviour of their officers, which led to the unlawful killing of Richard O’Brien, who was brutally killed in front of his wife and children, suffering numerous injuries in the process which led to his death.

The IBRG saluted the courage of Alison O’Brien and her family in fighting for justice. For generations the police had been allowed to kill Irish people at random and never be held accountable for their actions.

The IBRG believed that had Southwark Council and Southwark police taken on board the finding of the report on Policing and the Irish in Southwark, the death could have been avoided. The Labour Leader at the time stated that the report would be published and actioned. In the end they suppressed the report and the issues around policing of the Irish was hidden. The IBRG leaked the report to the Irish Times who published it. Ten years later the Met Police are now beginning to look at the Irish community in other ways than their PTA tainted racist vision. The O’Brien have set an example for other Irish families fighting for justice over deaths in custody

The IBRG had drawn attention to the high numbers of Irish deaths both in police custody and in prisons cells on remand, where Irish prisoners were likely to be neglected and their mental and mental conditions ignored. The point of arrest was in some case like Richard O’Brien and Leo O’Reilly a death experience.

The Irish Government need to take on board this issue and stop acting like a colonial province of Britain.  When there was a Nigerian death in custody the Nigerian High Commission went out on Christmas day to see that grieving family. No Irish Ambassador has been to visit a single family of any Irish death in custody. The Irish government bury their head in the colonial sands.

The IBRG bring to mind the murder of Patrick Quinn within a police station in Hammersmith and how the Irish government kept silent. The IBRG believe there is a racist attitudinal problem with how the police and prisons officer view Irish people, which has been a factor in all these cases. Irish lives are not valued. The Irish in such case are denied any respect dignity or humanity and that extends to the relatives of the dead men. At a recent conference the police stated they did not really know the Irish community, somewhat strange given the workings of the PTA. They know the community well going back to Fenian days, but are not prepared to change the canteen culture which view Irish lives as being of lessor value.

The five Irish deaths in Brixton Prison points to a huge problem but the Irish government and the British media stay silent even the Liberal Guardian will not mention the Irish. An Phoblacht covered the story on 16th May. They noted that Richard O’Brien had suffered injuries in 31 areas of his body including 12 cuts to his head. He was put on the ground with officers holding him in a position which can only be described as dangerous and after 15 minutes of so on the ground with officers applying their weight to his body he died’. Despite the unlawful killing verdict from the inquest jury the Met Police refused to apologise to the family.

In May the IBRG condemned the verdict in the James Hanratty Appeal which upheld the verdict against him, a judgement based mainly on contaminated DNA. This evidence had gone missing for 30 years and had mysteriously reappeared.

Hanratty had 14 witnesses who placed him over 250 away at the time of the murder. The IBRG believe Hanratty to be a totally innocent Irishman and like John Lennon believed he was murdered by the British state.  The British government have never once accepted that they ever hung an innocent man, and even with Bentley only regretted the sentence.

 

During May the IBRG mailed out over 70 trade unions in Britain demanding that they recognise the Irish community as the CRE had recommended. The TUC came back with its usual ignorant No Irish Need Apply response. 

However, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and the Fire Brigade Union (FBU) and a number of other unions did agree to recognise the Irish. Later, Unison stated that they recognised the Irish. The following unions also agreed to recognise and monitor the Irish, AEP, TSSA, AUT, and the T&G already recognised the Irish. Unison and T&G were the two largest unions in Britain.

On 20th May Jodie Clark attended a meeting with members of Ceart (Irish deaths in Custody campaign) with Harriet Harman Solicitor General; on the issue of inquests and Irish deaths in custody.

Sands/Connolly March

On 25th May IBRG members took part with banners in the Bobby Sands/James Connolly march through Tottenham to the Irish Centre there where Pat Reynolds spoke at the rally on behalf of the Christy McGrath campaign.

IBRG members from North London, Lewisham and Coventry attended and marched under the political status banner. There was no band on the march which was poorly attended. The march had support from the local Kurdish community, the Palestinian community and the Turkish community. The days of big Irish marches in London were gone and had been silenced after the Bloody Sunday march was cancelled.

On 8th June Diarmuid Breatnach had a letter in the Irish World headed Noble and Painful sacrifices, on the lessons to be taken from the Hunger Strikes.

On 24th May Diarmuid Breatnach had a letter in the Irish World from the Irish Political Status Committee setting out the aims of Bobby Sands for political status and why both Connolly and Sands gave their lives for Ireland.

On 8th June the IBRG had a stall at the Fleadh in Finsbury Park in North London which gave out leaflets on Christy McGrath and other campaigns and displayed their banners.

On 13th June the Justice for Harry Stanley Campaign had a public meeting in Bethnal Green in east London with speakers Irene Stanley, Marian Fegan from Ceart, Brian Sedgemore MP and chaired by Terry Stewart. The inquest on Harry Stanley was opening on 17th June at St Pancras Coroners court at Kings Cross.

The Ard Choiste took place in Manchester on 15th June to plan priorities for the year. Bernadette Hyland, Maurice Moore, Diarmuid Breatnach and Pat Reynolds attended.

On Deaths in Custody the meeting heard that Cardinal Sean Brady had replied. He had circulated it to his bishops and had put it on agenda for the next Bishops meeting in Maynooth.

The Frank Johnson appeal is on 25-27th at the Royal Courts of Justice. He was very likely to be released after spending over 26 years in prison nearly as long as Mandela. Ken Livingstone and Shane McGowan are now backing Christy McGrath.

The meeting heard that 34% of Trade Unions now recognise the Irish after IBRG lobbying. The GMB the MU and the CWU said no to recognition of the Irish. Only 12 Unions had replied to IBRG with the T&G, TSSA, NUJ, AEP, AUT, FBU and unison now recognising the Irish but the TUC still refuse to recognise the Irish.

The programme for 2002-2003 was, Christy McGrath campaign, Deaths in Custody campaign, Trade union recognition, Travellers, Political Status, Votes for emigrants, Irish Equalities group and IPPG plus website and membership. The meeting heard that the IBRG had raised the issue of votes for the Irish abroad, during the Irish General election linking it in with the Irish soccer team none of whom had a vote. This issue got both radio and god press coverage in Ireland and Britain and even the BBC World Service. The meeting heard that the Met Police had settled the Richard O’Brien case. In the Hanratty case the British judiciary continued their perverse decision in the case.

On 15th June there was on day conference on Equalities and Discrimination and the North of Ireland at the Irish Club in Birmingham organised by TOM which had Una Gillespie and Brid Keenan former member of Haringey IBRG as main speakers.

It was a pity that this conference did not link up with issues such as discrimination against the Irish community in Britain, and that they failed to invite the Fair Employment Trust to the conference. The IBRG had for years taken up this matter inviting Oliver Kearney from the Fair Employment Trust to the Unison AGM in Bournemouth, where Southwark Unison had a motion at the conference on the McBride Principles. The IBRG had also challenged Abbey National at their AGM on the matter and had taken Securicor to task over discrimination against a Catholic woman in Belfast. TOM in their newsletter reported that they were still organising their annual delegation to N. Ireland and had a recent AGM with a five-person elected committee. Their newsletter still had the banner Self Determination for the Irish People as a Whole.

Release of Frank Johnson

Billy Power and Frank Johnson

During June the IBRG welcomes the release of Frank Johnson who spent over 26 years in English jails for a crime he did not commit. His Appeal hearing started on 25th June. Pat Reynolds who chaired Frank’s Justice campaign for eight years called for an inquiry into the whole case, which had Jack Tierney a highly paid police agent provocateur as its main player and crown witness.

On 26th June the IBRG put out a press statement entitled Frank Johnson Free at last. Frank Johnson the last of the 1974-76 Irish political hostages had been released after 26-years in prison.

Nineteen innocent Irish people had been taken from their community by the British state and framed up. These were the Maguire seven, the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four Judith Ward and Frank Johnson. The Gillespie sisters were also framed up by the British state.

The Irish community always believes that the fire bomb attack on Irish shop keeper Sheridan from Co Mayo was part of a Special Branch dirty tricks campaign, to discredit the IRA, when it went wrong and Sheridan died in hospital. Notorious Special Branch agent Jack Tierney and ex British soldier Smart were involved in the attack. The stories in the local and national  press were IRA Bomb Shop a story line from police sources. The story was that the IRA had bombed Sheridan because he refused to give money to the IRA.

Jack Tierney had previously been involved in trying to sell arms to the Angry Brigade, on behalf of the Special Branch, and he went wired up to tape their conversation when he offered them guns. He was also involved in a similar case in Co Waterford in Ireland.

Why was Frank Johnson kept in prison when the police and the state knew he was innocent from day one? Frank Johnson always wanted the truth to come out to vindicate himself and Mr Sheridan, but the State refused to give any details of the conspiracy to discredit the IRA in the Irish community. Frank Johnson and the other Irish political hostages paid the price of Britain dirty war in Ireland, when they extended this to Britain. Again, the Irish government stood idly by as they did in all the Irish cases. Not one single judge, not one single government scientist, not one single police officer had spent a single day in prison as a result for what they did to 19 innocent Irish political hostages in the 1970’s.

On 25th June Pat Reynolds was speaking the speaking House of Commons at a meeting for Christy McGrath which John McDonnell MP chaired.

During July the IBRG took up the case of Aiden Hume an Irish political prisoner held at Belmarsh Prison in South London and his right to receive proper medical treatment. The IBRG had contacted Hilary Benn Prisons Minister (He was the son of Tony Benn ) on the issue and David Blunkett the Home secretary.. The IBRG also got Kevin McNamara involved.

Christy McGrath Campaign

On 7th July the IBRG helped with a stall at Southwark Irish Festival for Christy McGrath. The Tipperary Association also gave their support including providing tea and sandwiches.

On 17th July the Tipperary Association in London held a benefit dance at the Galtymore ballroom in Cricklewood for Christy McGrath and raised over £1000 for the campaign. Pat Reynolds spoke from the platform to thank the Tipperary Association for their support and being the first county association to take up the case of an innocent Irish prisoner.  The plight of prisoners is always a welfare issue which Irish county associations need to consider and in this the Tipp association were giving the lead.

On 20th July the IBRG had a stall at the respect Festival in Victoria Park in east London where they collected signatures for Christy McGrath campaign.

Barry George another innocent Irishman wrongfully accused of killing Jill Dando lost his appeal in July.

On 25th August IBRG members helped out on a stall at the Crawley Irish festival for Christy McGrath.

Irish and higher death rates

On 17th September Dr Gabriel Scally gave a lecture entitled the Very Pests of Society the Irish and 150 years of public health in Britain at the Royal College of Physicians.

During the lecture he called for a nationally funded research programme to explore why Irish people suffer higher death rates than the resident English population, and why thus continued into the second and third generation. There was he stated a clear need for a public health programme  specially addressing the need of the Irish community.

He also detailed how the Irish took action in the past to improve their own conditions in Britain and spoke of Kitty Wilkinson from Derry who played a leading role in fighting cholera when it reached Liverpool in 1832. Her insistence of fresh air and cleanliness including washing bedding and clothing of the sick was crucial, and she was appointed the first superintendent of Liverpool’s first purpose build wash house.  Dr Scally was the regional Director of Public Health for the South West.

On 23rd September IBRG members attended reception meeting at the Camden Irish centre for Bloody Sunday relatives who had come to London to push their case.

On 28th September IBRG members attended the anti-war march in London against the proposed American/British war against Iraq. The march was by the Stop the war Coalition under the heading Stop Bush and Blair’s War Tell new Labour Don’t Attack Iraq.

 

On 12th October the Ard Choiste was held in Coventry at Tigh Muiris. Maurice Moore Diarmuid Breatnach and Pat Reynolds attended.

The meeting heard that the Magill magazine in Dublin had covered an article on Christy McGrath and the deaths in custody at Brixton prison. The meeting discussed Irish deaths in custody, political status for Irish prisoners Christy McGrath campaign, Travellers, Bloody Sunday inquiry which had now moved to London, Irish equalities group and Trade unions.

The IBRG had now written to all 166 TD’s in the  Dail on Christy McGrath’s case and had got great support with the majority of TD supporting Christy’s case.

 

On 17th October IBRG members attended a picket of Brixton prison over the deaths of six Irish prisoners who died there in the last few years. Brixton was the prison where Terence MacSwiney died after his hunger strike there. It was also the prison used for many Irish republican prisoners over the last 30 years. Both Pat Reynolds and Jodie Clark attended the picket.

On 26th November IBRG took part in the 4th annual Remembrance march from Trafalgar Square to 10 Downing St over the number of Black Irish deaths in custody. Diarmuid Breatnach and Pat Reynolds attended the event while Terry Stewart of Ceart spoke at it.

On 19th November Coventry IBRG supported a meeting entitled Communities under Attack with a video and a speaker from the Short Strand area of Belfast over conditions for local residents under attack from Loyalists. TOM and IBRG organised the meeting plus other meeting with the Lord Mayor of Coventry, the religious leaders and Irish community in Coventry. The meeting was under Communities under attack and the right to live free from harassment a line taken from the Good Friday agreement.

On 23rd November Pat Reynolds went to visit Christy McGrath in Gartree Prison in Leicestershire. Christy was in fine spirits and was able to talk clearly about his case which led to his conviction and sentence.

On 26th November IBRG members attended the launch of Sean Sexton’s book Ireland in Old Photographs. This is Sean’s second book of old photographs on Ireland. Sean is a great supporter of IBRG and ran the Campaign for Irish Representation in the Media in the 1980’s.

Sean Sexton’s book “Ireland in Old Photographs”

On 27th November Pat Reynolds was speaking in the House of Commons on a meeting on deaths in custody chaired by John McDonnell MP with Fiona Murphy solicitor some of the families including Richard O’Brien spoke, Gerry McFlynn of ICPO, Yvonne McNamara of Bias on Travellers and Terry Stewart of Ceart.

On 7th December the IBRG Ard Choiste met at the Lewisham Irish centre in South London.  Diarmuid Bretanach, Maurice Moore and Pat Reynolds attended with apologies from Bernadette Hyland.

John McDonnell’s Early Day Motion had been ruled subjudice on Irish deaths in custody as some cases were ongoing. The inquiry into Brixton Prison was seen as a sham with the Governor of Wandsworth prison asked to do a review. Wandsworth itself had been found guilty of discrimination there against an Irish officer, at the time, the IBRG asked if this is how they treat Irish officers, how do they treat Irish prisoners.  The Board of Visitors at Brixton had stated that suicides had gone up 25% at Brixton and the IBRG called for better medical provision, and the screening of all new prisoners re their mental health.

29 MPs had signed an EDM on Christy McGrath. Pat Reynolds had visited him at Gartree on 23rd November with Andy Parr. The IBRG had written to 166 Irish TDs on Christy’s case with many coming out in support of Christy. The campaign was going to take his case to Dail Eireann and hold a meeting there.

Pat Reynolds had also met with relatives of Barry George including his mother in West London. Barry had been wrongly convicted of the murder of Jill Dando. Barry had severe learning difficulties and could not have caried out the murder.  The IBRG pledged to give the family what support they could.

The Bloody Sunday Inquiry is ongoing at Westminster Central hall with former PM Ted Heath due to give evidence in the new year.  The meeting expressed grave concern about the level of abuse of children in the Catholic Church, and the cover up of this abuse by the Bishops. N. London felt that the IBRG should condemn Cardinal Cormac Murphy over his failure to take action to protect children from abuse from known abusers over several years.  The Meeting stated IBRG clear opposition to the war against Iraq, and urged members to join anti-war activities in Britain. It was agreed to send solidarity greeting to the Fire Brigade Union during their strike and to ask members to support the workers.

 

29 British MPs had signed an early day motion (EDM) on Christy McGrath by the end of the year.

2002 summary

During 2002 the IBRG had played a key role in pushing forward the case of Christy McGrath with an IBRG lobby of 166 Irish TD’s on the case.

The IBRG had played a key role in pushing forward a campaign to address the deaths of Irishmen in custody in Britain and particularly in Brixton prison. The IBRG welcomed the setting up of an umbrella group called Ceart to fight on the issue a for many years IBRG had to fight it all on its own. The IBRG had in the last year raised the issue with public bodies, got the matter raised in the Commons and in the media from the Examiner to an Phoblacht and on several radio interviews.

The IBRG had again raised the issue of votes for emigrants and had got great publicity in the Irish papers and on Irish radio. The IBRG had lobbied over 70 British trade unions to get them recognise the Irish and had some success including getting the NUJ and the FBU to recognise the Irish.

 

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

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About lipstick socialist

I am an activist and writer. My interests include women, class, culture and history. From an Irish in Britain background I am a republican and socialist. All my life I have been involved in community and trade union politics and I believe it is only through grass roots politics that we will get a better society. This is reflected in my writing, in my book Northern ReSisters Conversations with Radical Women and my involvement in the Mary Quaile Club. .If you want to contact me please use my gmail which is lipsticksocialist636
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