London is welcoming a new generation of Irish emigrants in desperate need of help – many of them fleeing unemployment or drug addiction back home.
That was the message drummed out to Presidential election hopeful Michael D Higgins when he visited the English capital on a fact finding mission as the recession bites.
Higgins, a former emigrant to London himself, spent time with the Irish volunteer groups working to help those newly arrived in the wake of the Celtic Tiger’s collapse.
The Labor Party candidate, who famously campaigned for the Irish in Britain alongside MP Bernie Grant in the 80s, spent time at the London Irish Centre in Camden.
There he met with Bridie McGowan and Margaret Burke from the Irish Elderly Advice Network, established after three Irishmen were found dead by council workers in their London flats. One body had lain there unnoticed and unmissed for nine months; one for six, the other for three.
Today, according to a report in the Irish Times, the Network’s three staff maintains links with 4,000 elderly Irish throughout London.
Kerry native McGowan told Higgins: “Things have improved. I have not heard of similar cases since. People for the most part are a bit more careful to ensure that they don’t end up in a very bad situation.”London Irish Centre officials have reported a busy summer with a wave of new emigrants arriving each week.
Staff member Jeff Moore told Higgins that the number seeking their help is rising, particularly amongst young, single males who came to London to escape a drug debt or who have an alcohol problem.
“We are also seeing middle-aged men who were here during the 1980s,” Moore told the paper.
“They stay in BBs for a month and try to find work in the way that they would have done then, by visiting the sites, or going down the pub. But everything has moved on.
“Following the worst summer for years, the centre is now dealing with five or 10 cases a week where some cannot pay rent.”
The London Irish centre has also helped two Limerick lads who had fled because they owed money at home for drugs according to Moore.
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“Some are told to go home but not all of them will take the advice,” he added. “We had two other lads who sat outside all night under a windowsill in the rain before coming in to us, who took a long time to persuade to go back.”
Having met with a number of Irish agencies in Camden, Higgins then addressed a meeting of Irish residents.
“A new generation is sadly leaving Ireland and I have seen many of my own nieces and nephews begin new lives and careers in the UK, Australia and Canada,” he told them.
“I believe that if Irish people are again finding themselves travelling abroad, it is best that they try to do so with as full a heart as possible and high expectations of the world.
“Despite the wrench that emigration can represent for families across Ireland, those who leave must not be allowed to go in defeat, with feelings of regret or loneliness but should instead be equipped with hope, connections and practical supports.”