|Police officers outside the Houses of Parliament, London |
House of Commons, London: The Irish in Britain are different. The scars of The Troubles
weighed heavily on the relationship between the two countries in a way that is only now apparent.
A leader in the Irish community in Brighton explained to me how after the unsuccessful attempt to kill Margaret Thatcher
happened in 1984 the British tabloids urged anyone with Irish neighbors to watch them closely and report them for anything suspicious.
There were some dreadful miscarriages of justice, the Birmingham Six, Guildford Four
to mention two. Often it seemed ordinary Irish were just convenient targets.
He said it got so bad he knew some Irish who took elocution lessons to change their accent.
Unlike in America where being Irish was a badge to wear proudly, in Britain it was often a scarlet letter, especially during IRA bombing campaigns.
But the community has come bouncing back from those bad old days in amazing fashion.
On Wednesday I had the honor of addressing the parliamentary committee on Ireland at the House of Commons chaired by a very proud Welsh Irishman named Chris Ruane, who is an MP for the Rhyll district in Wales. The Irish go-to man in British politics is Martin Collins a ball of energy when it comes to Irish issues.
Along with Irish Post publisher
Elgin Loane we explained what the potential of the Irish Diaspora worldwide is in the new era.
Loane himself is a case in point. A young Irishman who emigrated at age 18 to Birmingham, he remembers hanging his head after the 1993 Warrington bombings, where two young children were killed by a misplaced IRA bomb.
Such experiences were very common for the Irish in Britain, but now they are over. There were 40 or so community leaders present at the hearing, one more impressive than the other, indicating the potential for growth in the Irish community across Britain.
There is a man building an Irish Diaspora center in Manchester. The Irish in Britain group forced a question on Irish ethnicity onto the British census form. The GAA is booming as young Irish stream in. The young business organizations have thousands of members, all intensely proud of their heritage where a generation earlier they avoided the topic.
Sure, there are problems as the emigrant centers will tell you. Emigrants are flooding in, not all successful and many fleeing poor prospects in Ireland. There is an aging Irish population, former construction workers who saved little and were often exploited sorely, in need of assistance.
The Irish Post itself is leading the charge for the community. On Thursday night they hosted a dinner at the swish Dorchester Hotel for business and community leaders. A few years back you would have been lucky to find an Irish doorman employed. All changed.
The Post is emblematic. The flagship for a generation of Irish which hit hard times, as newspapers these days do. It was delivered into bankruptcy and all seemed doomed.
But the Irish community, with the help of MP Ruane, who held hearings, and others, rallied round and found a buyer, the same Elgin Loane. He was once a fresh faced immigrant himself, unsure of his path, now a hugely successful businessman but most importantly, a proud Irishman.
He has turned the paper’s fortunes around dramatically, as the sell-out Dorchester crowd made clear.
I am just happy to witness the revolution. Outside the House of Commons hearing room where the Irish were gathered was a massive portrait of Margaret Thatcher. I’m sure her ghost was covering her ears as the Irish talked so proudly inside.
It was a good feeling.