The Irish community in Britain is a community in its widest sense. It’s Irish immigrants, their children, their friends and anyone with an interest in Ireland whether it’s the country’s literature, music, dancing or politics.
Today, St. Patrick’s Day, is a great day for the community to come together.
Irish people have been moving to Britain for centuries. Mass migration began with the Irish Famine in the 1840s and has continued since. One million people moved from Ireland to Britain in second half of the twentieth century alone. They lived, they worked, they had families and contributed to all aspects of British society.
The great building programmes of the post war years relied on Irish labourers. Just take the reconstruction of Coventry. The already large Irish comminity doubled in the 1950s as it helped rebuild the city from the ashes of the Second World War.
For decades the wards of the NHS, one Labour’s greatest achievements, have been home to the familiar sound of the accents of Irish nurses.
That Irish people worked as builders and nurses was so typical it became a stereotype. But Irish people contributed, and continue to contribute, to all aspects of British public life. The image of Irish immigrants began to change in the 1980s as a new wave of skilled immigrants crossed the Irish Sea.
For many Irish people the journey to becoming settled in Britain may have been tough at times and the story of the Irish in Britain can’t be separated from the story of the labour movement or the Labour Party.
Given the struggle many Irish faced when they moved to Britain it’s not a surprise that many found a natural political home in the Labour Party.
This wasn’t lost on the Tories. In the 1950’s Consevative Central Office discussed restricting Irish immigration, one of the reasons being that the ‘Southern Irish element was automatically an almost fanatical addition to the socialist following’.
From the 1960s onwards there has been a strong Irish presence among Labour activists and trade unionists. The causes the Labour movement fights for and the causes of the Irish community have been deeply intertwined for decades and will be into the future. This is especially worth remembering as this August we commemorate the centenary of the Dublin Lock-out, the most significant fight for workers’ rights in Irish history.
Not only has the Labour Party helped the Irish community in Britain it was also the party that helped deliver peace in Northern Ireland. Tony Blair and Labour’s contribution to peace cannot be understated. While tensions still exist, Northern Ireland is a far better place now than it was when Labour came to power in 1997.
But we also need to remember that many of the problems facing the Irish community in Britain today are the ones that impact the many communities that Labour represents across the UK. Low pay, lack of quality housing, high unemployment and cuts to public services damage all of us.
If you’re from the Irish community or just interested in Ireland and the issues affecting Irish communities in Britain you are welcome to join the Labour Party Irish Society.
The Irish community in Britain is large and we need to ensure that it remains strongly connected to the Labour Party. You can play your part, even if its just by attending events and having some fun.
It’s only £10 (£6 concessions) to join. Among the events we hold are a great St Patrick’s Day party in Parliament. It’s on Monday 18 March this year so please do join and come along.
Beannachtaí Lá Fhéile Phádraig daoibh go léir and you can join us at LPIS.org.uk.
John Clarke is on the Labour Party Irish Society Executive and blogs at johnmichaelclarke.wordpress.org.