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.
In January the IBRG attended the Irish in Britain Parliamentary Group meeting at the House of Commons on the Travellers Reform bill.
On 26th January IBRG members attended the Bloody Sunday Rally at the Camden Irish centre where Tony Benn was the main speaker.
On 15th February IBRG members attended the anti-war march against the USA/British war on Iraq with over one million people.
On 17th February the Miscarriages Of Justice Organisation had a meeting in the House of Commons with Paddy Joe Hill, John McDonnell MP and Don Hale speaking.
Lewisham IBRG and fight to keep Irish Centre open
Lewisham IBRG were involved in a major fight to keep the Lewisham Irish centre open in the early months of 2003 as the Labour Council sought means to close it. On 21st February Lewisham IBRG had the top letter in the Irish World entitled Will Lewisham Irish show Pride and detailed by fight necessary to keep funding for the Irish centre and for the Lewisham Irish festival.
Christy McGrath Campaign
On 16th March IBRG members helped out on the Christy McGrath stall at the St Patrick Day festival in London on the South Bank. The McGrath family came over for the Parade and Festival.
In 17th March St Patrick Day Pat Reynolds was speaking on Tipp FM radio on the Christy McGrath campaign.
On 29th March the IBRG held their Ard Fheis at Caxton House in North London.
Diarmuid Breatnach was elected Chair with Pat Reynolds as Vice chair and PRO Bernadette Hyland as Membership Secretary and Maurice Moore as Cisteoir.
Branches were represented from North London Lewisham and Manchester, and the following officers attended Bernadette Hyland, Diarmuid Breatnach and Pat Reynolds, with apologies from Maurice Moore (in Ireland), Michael Holden, Laoise de Paor, Danny Burke, and Myra Butler.
The outgoing Chair Pat Reynolds reported on activities during the year including two main campaigns, the Christy McGrath campaign and the campaign over deaths in custody. The campaign for votes for emigrants had got wide scale publicity in Ireland during the General Election there.
Joe Mullarkey had now retired home to Ireland after many years’ service to both Bolton IBRG and to the national IBRG. Manchester IBRG had taken part in a radical conference in Manchester, and Coventry IBRG had been involved in supporting Travellers’ rights, while Lewisham IBRG had worked on political status, and in defending the Lewisham Irish centre from closure. North London IBRG had worked on the Christy McGrath campaign, on deaths in custody, on Irish equalities group and the Irish in Britain Parliamentary group, as well as the vote for emigrants. The IBRG had got a few TV appearances and several radio interviews on votes for emigrants and deaths in custody along with Christy McGrath. Coverage in the Irish media in Britain had declined.
The returns on the 2001 census were disappointing in that few Irish from the second generation included themselves as Irish. The number of Irish in Britain had declined by about 30% since 1991, and the IBRG like other organisations would have suffered those one third loss of members and support. Many of the Irish, even in IBRG, were returning to Ireland and fewer Irish were coming to Britain. It was also more difficult for IBRG with the new alignment of politics in Britain and Ireland and the move to centrist politics, although the million strong anti-war demonstration showed there was room for progressive politics in Britain.
The following motions were passed;
This Ard Fheis congratulates the Lewisham Irish Community on their successful struggle to save their Irish community centre from closure by the local authority.
This Ard Fheis also commends the Lewisham branch of IBRG for their prominent role in that campaign.
This Ard Fheis calls for an end to the war on Iraq. We condemn the Anglo-American coalition flouting of international law and the direct contravention of the UN Charter. We call for an immediate withdrawal of Angle American forces and call for the UN to step in to negotiate an end to the military adventure. We further condemn the bombing of Iraqi civilians by British and American bombers.
This Ard Fheis welcomes the release of Frank Johnson after 26 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. This Ard Fheis condemns the police investigation into the murder of Irishman Jack Sheridan and the withholding of evidence from the trial which would have vindicated Frank Johnson. This Ard Fheis further condemn the length of time it took the British Home Office to release the withheld evidence and calls for a full inquiry into the whole episode.
The priorities for 2003-04 were;
Developing the website
The Christy McGrath campaign
“Ceart “Irish deaths in custody Campaign
Barry George Campaign
Free travel for Irish elders from Britain in Ireland
Votes for emigrants in Ireland.
Death of Eddie Loyden MP
On 5th April the death of Eddie Loyden former MP for Liverpool was announced. He had been a great friend of Ireland and of the Irish in Britain and of working-class communities in Britain He was of Irish descent and always supported a United Ireland. He was at Hillsborough on the day of the great tragedy there and supported the victim’s campaign fully.
Victory at Lewisham Irish Centre
On 12th April Lewisham IBRG had a letter in the Irish Post with a photo of a protest outside the Lewisham Irish centre to save the centre. The letter entitled Listening to the needs of Lewisham Irish stated that the Council had reconsidered their decision, and would now continue to fund Lewisham Irish centre, which was a notable victory given the cuts across London to Irish centres.
In Islington there was a very strong campaign with huge support but it was a right-wing Liberal Council in Islington which made the cuts.
On 15th April Channel Four showed a programme on Jill Dando which raised many questions about the conviction of Barry George. The IBRG were supporting Barry George in his campaign to prove his innocence.
On 17th April the Stevens Report on Collusion between the British state and the Loyalist deaths squads came out. It raised serious questions about the death of Patrick Finucane and others at the hands of these British deaths squads which were used as a Kitsonian tactic to intimidate the Nationalist community.
On 17th April IBRG members attended a Ceart meeting at the Camden Irish centre on Irish deaths in custody.
In April the Wolfe Tones Society in their newsletter stated ‘Over the last year Sinn Fein have made some ground breaking and important breakthroughs both on the reunification of Ireland and achieving equality and human rights for the Nationalists in the North of Ireland.’ No one in the Irish community knew what they were talking about. Later they stated ‘Unionism is dying like the apartheid regime died in South Africa it only needs a real push by people who support a United Ireland to see it topple.’
IBRG condemn Blair’s postponment of N.Ireland elections.
In early May the IBRG condemned the postponement of the N. Ireland elections which exposed the sham of the Good Friday Agreement, where Tony Blair can decide whether the people of the occupied territories can vote or not. British democracy in action, you can only vote when I decide you can vote.
On 5th May the IBRG issued a statement IBRG calls for Democratic Elections in Northern Ireland, condemning Tony Blair for postponing the elections, as symbolic of a colonial and military dictatorship. The Hypocrisy of the Labour government condemning other governments usually military rulers for postponing elections is now clear as they postponed the election without any reason. The people’s right to representation under international law has been broken by Blair. This Labour ruler in Britain had entered an unlawful war with Iraq on the made-up false pretence of there being weapons of mass destruction, when both he and Bush has all the weapons of mass destruction themselves. Democracy belongs to the people not Blair. Every rule in the constitutional rule book has been torn up by Blair without even a debate in Parliament.
Picket of Brixton Prison over number of Irish suicides
On 9th May IBRG members attended the Ceart picket of Brixton prison to protest over the number of Irish suicides there. Over 40 people attended the picket. Seven Irishmen had died there in the last few years. The Heavens report into the deaths in Brixton was a complete whitewash, and the IBRG demanded a public inquiry into the high death rate in Brixton.
On 10th May Pat Cullinane, former Harrow IBRG member, was featured in the Guardian Saturday money section on the front page. It detailed his long fight with the Inland Revenue and the article showed that the Inland Revenue had a case to answer. Pat lost his house and was made homeless because of a disputed tax bill and he was only an ordinary working-class man. The IBRG argued for a change in the law that no person should lose their home, and be made homeless because of a small tax dispute.
Christy McGrath Campaign delegation to Ireland
On 15th May Pat Reynolds and Andy Parr led a large delegation from Britain and from Tipperary to Dail Eireann to raise the case of Christy McGrath. The delegation met 18 TD’s including Minister Eamon O’Cuiv and Brendan Smith Chair of the British Irish Parliamentary Group. The delegation spent all day in the Dail meeting TDs in political groupings. Many TD’s signed up to Christy’s campaign and Lauras O Muirchu and Fintan McGrath raised the case in the Dail and in the Seanad. Delegation met Eamon O’Cuiv Minister of State, Willie O’Dea, Senator Lauras O Muirchu also head of Celotas, Tony Gregory, Seamus Healy, Marion Harkin, Joe Costello Labour person for Justice, Kathleen Lynch, Dan Neville, Brendan Smith, John Deasy Fine Gael person for justice, Paudge Connolly, Tom Hayes, Michael Collins, Caoimhin O’Caolain of Sinn Fein, James Breen, Joe Higgins, Fintan McGrath and Paddy McHugh.
Pat Reynolds spoke on Tipp FM on the case, and it was covered in most of the Irish papers including the Irish Times, Irish Post, Irish World, Nationalist and the Star. The delegation was successful in putting Christy’s campaign on the political map in Ireland and raising the profile of the campaign. Seamus Healy, the socialist TD from Tipp, organised most of the Dail schedule for the campaign.
On 16th May Pat Reynolds attended the Irish Equalities Group meeting with the CRE. Pat chaired the productive meeting which dealt with Travellers, deaths in custody, Census results, new CRE policy strategies on health, education, and criminal justice. The CRE investigation into prisons would be out later in the year.
Report on Irish families and Social Services
On 17th May IBRG members attended the House of Commons launch of Irish children and Social Services Report about how Irish children and families are treated by British Social Services. This was the launch of Paul Garrett’s study of Irish children and social services which he later published. Pat Reynolds had met with him and Pat’s observations on how social services don’t meet the needs of Irish children were included in the book.
On 21st May IBRG members attended a public meeting at the Red Rose Club in Islington organised by the local Labour Party to highlight the Bloody Sunday inquiry. Pat Reynolds was asked to speak around the history of Bloody Sunday and relatives gave details of the public inquiry at Westminster. Jeremy Corbyn was the local MP.
Bobby Sands/James Connolly Rally
On 24th May Pat Reynolds was speaking at the Bobby Sands/ James Connolly Rally at Conway Hall on the Christy McGrath campaign.
The IBRG had two banners at the rally and their banners were on the front page of the Irish World in a photo. IBRG members from London and Coventry attended the rally in good numbers. Speakers included John McDonnell MP who praised the struggle. Martin Ferris of Sinn Fein, Paul O’Connor from the Pat Finucane campaign, Terry Stewart from Ceart, and the Palestinian Solidarity campaign.
On 31 May the IBRG Ard Choiste met in Manchester with delegates from Manchester, Lewisham, Coventry and London attending. Diarmuid Bratnach, Bernadette Hyland, Maurice Moore and Pat Reynolds attended.
The issues discussed included political status and prisoners at Belmarsh, Christy McGrath campaign and its successful delegation to Dail Eireann, deaths in custody, PTA now used against Muslims, defending John McDonell against the press, and the Working-Class Movement library in Salford were happy to include IBRG material in their Irish collection.
On the case of Christy McGrath, the IBRG drew attention to the case of the two McGraths, where one was a victim in Coventry where his killer only got 18 months, while Christy got life with a tariff of 16 year minimum. It showed the difference between the Irish as victim and as alleged perpetrator as Christy disputes killing the man in his case with evidence. On Construction Safety it was noted that there were 14 construction deaths in the last six weeks, and the IBRG would be raising this with the British Government and at local level with their MPs.
At the end of May IBRG members in London and Coventry defended John McDonnell MP in the press, after he was attacked in the Sun, after his speech at Conway Hall praising the IRA volunteers in their fight for Irish freedom.
On 1st June the IBRG issued a statement IBRG Deplores attacks on John McDonnell MP. The IBRG condemns the Sun and the Guardian with the Guardian calling Martin Ferris a convicted IRA gun runner. The Guardian like the Sun tried to link John McDonnell with the mortar attacks at Heathrow airport which was despicable. John McDonnell’s speech was warmly applauded for several minutes with not one single objection to his speech The IBRG upheld John McDonnell right to free speech on Ireland, and his right to oppose British imperialism in Ireland. Irish people have always honoured those who resisted British terrorism in Ireland. The British media had no problem supporting the Blair Bush war and the bombing without warnings of hotels with civilians. The morality of the British press is to paraphrase Brendan Behan that big bombs are great but little bombs are bad. The Guardian above all papers should know that the war in the six Counties was due to a clear lack of democracy there, and the lack of free speech on Ireland.
Both Maurice Moore and Tim Logan of Coventry IBRG wrote in to the Sun, but they refused to publish any letter in support of McDonnell, thus showing total censorship. As Maurice Moore put it ‘the truth is that the IRA came into being to defend homes and communities in nationalist areas against Loyalist atrocity and attacks, aided by sectarian police (RUC), and bolstered by the presence of the British army. Wherever there is injustice those who fight will be heroes, and deserve to be honoured’.
On 9th June Pat Reynolds went on BBC Radio London about the Irish deaths in Brixton prison.
Relaunch of Malcolm Kennedy Campaign
On 12th June Pat Reynolds was speaking at Polish Centre in Hammersmith to relaunch the campaign for Malcolm Kennedy, who had been wrongly convicted of the manslaughter of Patrick Quinn in Hammersmith Police station. The meeting got front page story in the local Hammersmith newspaper. John McDonnell MP also spoke at the meeting along with Graham Smith author of Who killed Patrick Quinn, the framing of Malcolm Kennedy, Mark Metcalf and Malcom Kennedy. Patrick Quinn was an Irish republican who was murdered in Hammersmith police station but not by Malcolm Kennedy. There had been complete cover up as to how Patrick Quinn had been murdered while in police custody and Malcom Kennedy was framed to cover up the truth.
Read article by Mark Metcalf and links between undercover cops and Kennedy case here
On 24th June Pat Reynolds was speaking for the Christy McGrath campaign at the launch of the Jockeys Petition at the House of Commons. The Telegraph and the Press Association sent photographers. John McDonnell MP chaired the meeting.
A number of leading jockeys attended including Grand National winner Richard Guest. Pat Reynolds went on Dublin radio with Christy’ s mother to speak about the campaign.
On 27th June Pat Reynolds met with Niall Quinn of Ireland and Arsenal fame with Gareth Pierce to discuss the case. Niall had been in to see Christy in prison. Niall was to help with press coverage.
On 6th July IBRG members helped with the Christy McGrath stall at Southwark Irish Festival. This contrasted with the London Irish Festival who refused to allow the Birmingham Six a stall. Here at Southwark, you had the Tipperary Association and others like the Meath Association helping us on the day and providing free tea and food for the stall volunteers.
Death of Jack Kennedy
Jack Kennedy of UCATT and the Birmingham Six Campaign sadly passed away in August. He had also supported the Frank Johnson campaign. Some years later a wall plaque was put up on a gable end wall opposite the Arsenal stadium to commemorate Jacks’ life after he won a local vote on which local person should be so honoured in Islington. Winning from beyond the grave.
On 24th August IBRG helped with the Christy McGrath stall at Crawley Irish festival in Sussex.
On 3rd September IBRG members attended a by election meeting in Brent to launch the campaign for the McBride family to stand in Brent. The IBRG mailed out various Irish organisations and individuals with leaflets on the by election.
Diarmuid Breatnach went back to Dublin in September to start a new job after spending over 30 years as an activist in Britain on socialist and Irish issues. The IBRG wished him well in his new venture and to activism in Dublin.
On 4th October the Coventry Evening Telegraph front page story had Sinn Fein anger over Soldier’s Posting. It involved a young 17-year soldier who was found guilty of using an imitation firearm to steal a motorbike had been allowed by the Judge to walk free. Coventry IBRG highlighted the story and called into question the absurd light sentence, and to the fact that this soldier could be on duty in N. Ireland soon.
On 25th October IBRG members attended the annual Deaths in Police Custody rally and silent march to Downing St over the number of Black and Irish deaths.
On 20th November IBRG members attended the Christy McGrath Race meeting at Mabel’s tavern at Euston to raise funds for the campaign.
On 26th November the IBRG attended the CRE Irish Equalities meeting in London. Pat Reynolds stood down as chair due to work commitments in London.
On 26th November the Assembly elections were held in the Six Counties where Sinn Fein improved their position and became the leading social democratic party there.
On 2nd December the IBRG attended the Irish in Britain Parliamentary Group meeting at the House of Commons on sports, arts and culture. The IBRG made a submission to the group on the issue and later circulated the submission around the community. The IBRG divided their submission into Sports, Language Music, Dance, Literature Film and Video Theatre and in each area made recommendations.
The general recommendations included that funding bodies consider their approach to funding Irish arts and culture. That all arts centres consider rather approach to the Irish community in terms of content put on, and in terms of access by the community. That the Irish be included in all ethnic monitoring of staff employed, and users of all arts and cultural centres. That local authorities support local Irish festivals in the summer, and the St Patricks day festival. That a review of funding takes place to identify, what funding if any goes to the Irish community, that lottery funding be made available to fund an Irish arts centre /Irish museum /Irish History archives along with European funding., that consideration given to an Irish TV/radio station in Britain. Over 22,000 people signed the Irish media campaign petition for this that Sean Sexton organised. That the Irish Government reconsider their welfare only approach to funding, and recognise that culture is also part of our community.
On 6th December Pat Reynolds had a letter published in the Guardian on Gaelic sports being ignored by the British media. The Guardian carried a story Gaelic footballers fans try to topple Jonny Wilkinson by rigging sport poll.
Pat Reynolds in his reply pointed out that Peter Canavan, captain of the Tyrone team which won the All Ireland, had far more supporters than Wilkinson’s Newcastle rugby team, and that the GAA had far more supporters and match attendance than rugby. The All Ireland had 80,000 at the match with millions watching it worldwide, and Gaelic football in Nt Ireland had far more players and supporters than rugby. The BBC in N. Ireland ,by not broadcasting the All-Ireland final, were indeed rigging the poll towards Wilkinson in its discrimination against Gaelic games.
On 9th December the IBRG attended a meeting with Noel Lynch, a GLA member, to discuss the case of Christy McGrath.
On 11th December IBRG members attended the Ceart meeting at the Camden Irish centre on Irish deaths in custody.
Irish Language and Europe
On 15th December Conradh and IBRG member Tomas Macstiofan wrote to a number of Irish organisations on the question of the Irish language in Europe He noted that in May 2004 10 other countries were to join an enlarged EU with the extension of 10 new community languages, and yet the Irish language was not included, mainly because the shameless Irish government failed to ask to have it included. Tomas drew attention to the fact that Maltese was included which had the same number of native speakers as native Irish speakers. Tomas set out a number of recommendations for organisations to write to the Irish government and to other bodies on the matter.
During 2003 the IBRG made a major contribution to the Christy McGrath campaign and the Irish deaths in custody campaign. The IBRG also took up the case of Barry George and Malcolm Kennedy. The IBRG took part in the Irish Equalities Group and the Irish in Britain Parliamentary Group. The IBRG supported the Travellers Reform Bill and Lewisham IBRG defended the local Irish centre from closure.
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