History of Irish in Britain Representation Group, part twenty four, 2004

 

 

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.

On 17th January Pat Reynolds went to Gartree Prison in Leicestershire to see Christy McGrath to plan the year ahead in term of campaigning.

On 25th January IBRG members attended the Bloody Sunday Rally at Conway Hall and had a stall there.

In mid-February the Christy McGrath Campaign got a real boost with coverage in the Sunday World, a two-page spread, the Irish Independent, the Irish World, the Irish Post and Waterford Today.

On 25th February Pat Reynolds attended the Christy McGrath campaign meeting at Kings Cross

On 28th February the IBRG Ard Choiste met in Manchester with Bernadette Hyland and Pat Reynolds present.

The meeting heard of the work in the Christy McGrath campaign with 20 British MPs now backing the campaign. The campaign had met with Noel Lynch Greater London Assembly member for the Greens who gave the campaign his full support.

The meeting heard about the campaign on deaths in custody and the fight to get justice for the families. The IBRG had taken part in the silent march to Downing street on 25th October, to protest over the high number of Black and Irish deaths in custody.

The meeting thanked Diarmuid Breatnach for all his hard work for IBRG and the Irish community, and wished him every success in his new endeavours in Dublin in work and in activism.

The meeting heard that Pat Reynolds had resigned as Chair of the Irish Equalities Group in London. The meeting heard that elections in N. Ireland which had been delayed for months by Blair were held on 26th November with Sinn Fein and the DUP making gains. However, they were all elected to a non-sitting Assembly, which was an exercise in surreal democracy.

14 March The IBRG had a stall at the St Patricks Day Festival on the South Bank and also supported the Christy McGrath stall on the day. Despite the wet day there was a lot of interest in both the Christy McGrath campaign, and the IBRG literature mainly from students and London visitors.

30 Anniversary of Troops Out Movement

On 24th April TOM were celebrating their 30th anniversary at the Haringey Irish centre, set up in 1974 they had campaigned consistently for Troops out of Ireland and for a United Ireland. Their annual delegation to Ireland was planned for 12-15th August this year.

Launch of Jockey’s Petition for Christy McGrath

On 27th April Pat Reynolds spoke at the House of Commons on the launch of the Jockeys Petition for Christy McGrath. Labras O’Murchu Fianna Fail Senator from Tipperary, Seamus Healy Independent TD from Tipperary and John McDonnell MP all spoke. The meeting generated much publicity in the Irish media including the Irish World and the Irish Post.

On 11th May Pat Reynolds was speaking at a Civic Reception at the Town Hall in Clonmel on behalf of the Christy McGrath campaign and later interviewed by Mid Tipp radio. The event got good media coverage in Ireland and in the Irish weeklies in Britain. The Tipperary Association in London came over with the campaign to Clonmel this time. Over 40 British MPs were now supporting this campaign.

On 21st May the IBRG Ard Choiste met in Coventry. Maurice Moore, Tim Logan and Pat Reynolds attended with apologies from Bernadette Hyland and Sean Hone.

Pat Reynolds reported back on the successful trip to Clonmel on the Christy McGrath campaign where they had a civic reception on11th May. Over 40 MPs were now supporting the campaign and the Tipperary Association from London came over to Clonmel for the event. They had also launched a Jockeys Petition at the House of Commons with John McDonnell MP, Seamus Healy TD, and Lauras OMurchu Senator speaking.

The report back from the Deaths in Custody campaign noted that another Irishman had died in custody in Wormwoods Scrubs in West London. John Boyle from Donegal who was reported to have hung himself under stress. The Government had paid out large sums of money at that prison because of brutality from the warders.

The election for Mayor of London was coming up on 10th June and Livingstone was likely to win it again, there were also European elections on the same day and Sinn Fein were expecting their first seat in Europe.

Maurice Moore raised a case in Coventry where the Dion funded worker had been treated poorly by their management committee, and Pat reported he had dealt with a few similar cases in London. He identified a lack of training of many management committee members, who had little material experience outside their voluntary role. It was up to the Dion committee to set up training and a good complaints system for their workers.

On 26th May the IBRG attended the Christy McGrath campaign meeting at Kings Cross.

On 30 the May the IBRG had a stall at Woking Irish Festival bringing Irish literature to the community. The IBRG also supported the Christy McGrath staff on the day as both stalls were set up beside each other.

On 10th June Ken Livingstone won his second term as Major of London and Sinn Fein won their first two seats in Europe.

Exclusion of Irish at conference  Creating Confident Communities 

On 17th June there was a conference entitled Creating Confident Communities put on by the London Criminal Justice Board Building Trust & Confidence with London’s Black and Minority Ethnic Communities. It did not have single Irish speaker despite the huge numbers of Irish deaths in custody, the large number of innocent Irish prisoners, the high number of Irish stop and searches and the operation of the PTA.

It was a case NO Irish need Apply again where the Irish were excluded deliberately again and again.

On 20th June the IBRG had a literature staff at the Finsbury Park Fleadh where we also campaigned for Christy McGrath.

On 4th July the IBRG had a stall at the Southwark Irish Festival along with a stall for Christy McGrath.

Concern over verdicts in Irish Cases

In early August the IBRG took up the case of a Monaghan man kicked to death at Christmas 2003. The issue was s covered by the Irish World and later Shannonside Radio interviewed Pat Reynolds on the issue, The IBRG highlighted the fact that even in death Irish people did not get any kind of justice in Britain for the families left behind. Irish life in Britain was always cheap and went unnoticed.

On 8th August the IBRG put out a statement entitled Concern over verdicts in Irish cases. The case was local to Pat Reynolds where the Irishman was homeless and begging in Wood Green. His flatmate in a squat had beat him to death, and he had 17 different injuries to his body and facial wounds to indicate he had been stamped on, and the perpetrator waited hours before calling an ambulance. Yet he was only convicted of manslaughter and given seven years when it was clearly murder. There were now several cases in Britain where even in death the Irish person and his family will not get any kind of justice from the system.

Pat Reynolds stated ‘His death is one too many at the edges of the Irish community, and one in which parts of our community in its smugness wants to ignore and forget, without asking why? Sean would have come to Britain with the same high hopes of every emigrant to better himself and make a living, but he fell by the wayside. When he needed help and support it was not there. The question needs to be asked and answered, as to why there are so many homeless Irish on the street of Britain, without any kind of support or services to get them off the streets. There was a clear need for a specialist outreach service to reach them. The Irish World had on 13th August IBRG concerned over killer’s sentences.

On 5th September the IBRG attended the St Bridget’s Festival in Greenford in West London which John McDonnell was hoping to develop into a bigger Irish festival.

Exclusion of Irish Sports

On 17th September James Gillespie a Labour Councillor in Southwark and part of the Southwark United Irish community Group, which included Jodie Clark ,wrote to Tessa Jowell Minister for Sports to try, and set up a meeting with her, the London GAA and the wide Irish community including IBRG. Tessa Jowell went on to support the London bid for the 2012 Olympics and win it. Ironically both Tony Banks and Kate Hoey Unionist had Irish connections but did nothing to bring sport to the Irish community. Irish sports were excluded in Britain because it was Irish for over 120 years since the GAA was set up.

On 23rd September there was a Conference on Britain Irish Travellers in central London to launch their report Room to Roam at which John McDonnell spoke

Memorial for Jack Kennedy

On 24th September Pat Reynolds was speaking at a Memorial meeting for Jack Kennedy held at the Camden Irish centre where Jeremy Corbyn MP and Billy Power also spoke. Jack was a member of the Labour Party, the Birmingham Six campaign and the Frank Johnson campaign and was a republican socialist from Tipperary, who had spent years in Australia. He  was a leading member of the Construction Safety campaign along with Andy Higgins who gave the Oration to Jack on the night. Andy was also a fine singer. Mick Gilgun, an IBRG member, also spoke as did Mick Dooley from UCATT. There was a benefit later with music by Sean Brady.

On 27th September Pat Reynolds was speaking at the Labour Party Irish Society fringe meeting at the Charterhouse in Brighton along with the Leader of the SDLP Mark Durkan, Liz McManus of the Irish Labour Party and John McDonnell MP. Pat spoke on behalf of the Christy McGrath campaign and got a good response from the mixed audience. Billy Bragg started the evening by singing Raglan Road the great Paddy Kavanagh song first sung by the Dubliners.

 

On 9th October IBRG members in London attended the Innocence meeting at Conway Hall on miscarriages of justice which showed a huge number of families seeking justice.

The European Social Forum met in London from 15-17 October to discuss issues around racism, discrimination, equality and diversity at the Ally Pally in North London to try and link up struggles across European on social issues. It had its first meeting in Florence in 2002 and Paris in 2003 and now London.

On 19th October The Irish in Britain Parliamentary Group had a meeting in the House of Commons after John McDonnell the Secretary had put out a proposal to have an annual Conference of the Irish in Britain.

In his letter of invitation to the IBRG, The Irish Counties Association, the Irish Embassy AGIY, and the Federation he stated ‘I raised the idea of the need for the Irish Community to come together at least once a year to discuss the issues facing our community, and how we can work together to tackle these issues’ So far I have received nothing but positive comments. Hence, I would like to try and progress this initiative’. It was hoped to launch the event in February 2005.

On 24th October IBRG members attended the Terence McSwiney mass at Southwark cathedral.

On 27th October Jim Gillespie had a letter back from Harriet Harman on getting Tessa Jowell to meet with the GAA. As usual the task was put down to some employee in the department to look at the idea. In terms of supporting Christy McGrath, she stated that as Solicitor General she could not get involved in the campaign as she had to supervise the Crown Prosecution Service.

On 10th November AGIY put forward a proposal for an Irish Criminal Justice Forum in London to address issues on how the criminal justice system affects the Irish community in London. They were inviting Irish organisations in London to become part of this Forum. The concept while good raised some questions, why not a National organisation, and would it leave the Irish working in a parallel way to the mainstream, whereas the recent London Conference about BAME and the Criminal Justice completely left the Irish out.

IBRG challenge over voting rights for Irish in Britain

On 12th November the Irish World had an article entitled FG seeks voting rights for British Passports holders. It involved Fine Gael Senate Leader Brian Hayes asking the Irish government to grant voting right to British passport holders in Ireland, some 36,000 who were already on the electoral lists in Ireland, but could not vote in referenda.

He was arguing that Irish citizens in Britain could vote in all elections in Britain and in any referendum. Pat Reynolds wrote to Senator Hayes on 22nd November challenging him, that he had sidestepped the issue of Irish citizens in Britain, not having the right to vote at home, while British citizens in Ireland retain the vote in Britain for 20 years. The Irish in Britain would dearly love to have the same voting rights as the British in Ireland. The letter also drew attention to the Good Friday agreement, which the Irish government had signed up to, and yet were not prepared to give their own citizens the same rights, as those guaranteed under the Good Friday agreement, in that emigrants from N. Ireland retained their votes at home for 20 years. Ireland remains the odd one out in Europe, in how it treats its citizens abroad.

On 14th December Brain Hayes replied to say he supported extending the franchise to the Irish abroad.  His only proposal however was ridiculous, in that he suggested that a number of Senators be elected by the Irish abroad. Clearly a man more interested in the well represented British citizens living in Ireland with full voting rights than his own emigrants, and him the Leader of the Irish Senate. British citizens could vote in local and European elections in Ireland.

On 13th November the IBRG Ard Choiste took place in Coventry with Bernadette Hyland, Pat Reynolds, Maurice Moore, and Tim Logan present.

The meeting noted the Diarmuid Breatnach had returned home to work in Dublin, he had been a very active member, and officer of IBRG for several years and held the Lewisham branch of IBRG together, and was involved in several other Irish organisations including prisoners support groups, Irish worker group and the Lewisham Irish centre. He was chair of the Lewisham Irish centre and of the Irish Political status group, and held many officer posts in IBRG and in the Irish workers group. He was particularly strong on the Irish language Irish music and Irish culture along with Irish politics and history.

There was a discussion on the Travellers Bill going through Parliament, which had been meant to replace the old Travellers Sites Act that the Tories had abolished in 1994.  The IBRG gave £200 to the Working-Class movement Library film project. £50 to the Ruan O’Donnell conference, and £75 to the Irish Prisoners support group.

Maurice Moore was thanked for his hard work for IBRG over the years and in keeping the books. He was Cisteoir for so many years, but also kept Coventry IBRG  active. He was soon returning to his native Kerry. Maurice had made a huge contribution to IBRG and to the Coventry Irish community and to the labour movement

Their meeting welcomes the second Harry Stanley inquest verdict of unlawful killing and called for the police involved to be prosecuted for their actions.

The meeting condemned the recent hold up and recent arrest of the famous Irish folk singer Christy Moore, and condemned the racism behind his arrest and detention by the police at the port.

In 2021, Joe Mullarkey of Bolton IBRG and P.R.O. of the Birmingham 6 Northwest Campaign comments   “I remember when the B6 campaign was short of funds, Christy came over to London, did the concert with a bad dose of flue and  took no fee or expenses”.

The meeting also called on the British and Irish governments to grant political status to all Irish political prisoners held by both governments.

The meeting condemned the British Government for holding prisoners without trial at Belmarsh prison, and called for their release. The meeting also called on the government to protect the rights of Travellers in Britain, including access to planning law. Sean Hone was prepared to take over as Cisteoir when Maurice left.

Conference for the Irish Community excludes IBRG

On 16th November IBRG members attended the House of Commons meeting for the Irish in Britain Parliamentary group to discuss setting up a conference for the Irish community. John McDonnell proposals for the conference left out completely Employment and Training, and while he included Criminal Justice with AGIY/Bias Women by the London Irish Women’s centre, Education by Professor Mary Hickman, Culture by the Counties Associations who had no experience in this area, Travellers by AGIY/ITM, Housing by Cara/Innisfree and Health by the Federation clearly leaving out IBRG completely, part of the ongoing marginalisation.

Yet the IBRG had enormous experience in many areas Like Gearoid MacGealrailt, Steve Brennan, Pat Reynolds with a Masters in Social Policy, Bernadette Hyland, Maude Casey on Literature, and many more. Both in terms of Education and Welfare the IBRG had put on several conferences and a number on health conferences including the first ever mental health conference.

On 30th November the IBRG attended the Christy McGrath campaign meeting at Kings Cross.

In November Pat Reynolds had a letter published in the Irish World on vote for emigrants

In December Pat Reynolds circulated the British media with details of the Christy McGrath campaign and the British Times and Private Eye expressed interest in his case.

Health Needs of Irish ignored again

In December the IBRG put out a statement entitled Health Needs of Irish ignored again, in which the Irish challenged the General Practise Assessment Questionnaire which only included, white, Black, Asian, and Chinese but No Irish. Yet the health needs of the Irish in Britain were many and ignored.

The IBRG stated that it was very ironic given the contribution the Irish had made in building the hospitals in Britain, and in staffing them, that the NHS should disrespect our community and ignore our needs. It was another example of deliberate and targeted discrimination by the NHS who were even going against CRE recommendations and  the National census ethnic groupings to exclude the Irish. Yet one of the key indications around health in the Irish community had been the reluctance of Irish people, to seek help at an early stage from a GP. This survey gives another clear indication as to why the Irish have low confidence in the health system in Britain addressing their needs.

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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