The impact of Covid–19 on so many aspects of our lives was a thread through the meeting as speakers paid tribute to the response of our members and wider Irish community to the challenges the pandemic has created. Our membership network is bigger than it has ever been and we are also fortunate to have the support of so many Friends.
Chair of Irish in Britain Patrick Morrison opened proceedings, by telling the 90 attendees, “I have been heartened by the actions of individuals and the whole community in dealing with the ongoing challenge presented by Covid–19 and seen first–hand how the community has continued with its passion to support each other.” He went on to stress that Irish in Britain “must show our strength in continuing to be open, inclusive, representative and in celebrating our diversity.”
Ambassador Adrian O’Neill continued the theme in his address referring to the “tough year” we have all faced. He praised the spirit of collaboration shown by Irish community and cultural organisations in their response to the crisis and said, “The challenge now is to sustain this collaborative effort and response during the winter and into spring.” He concluded by assuring attendees that although the Embassy was closed to visitors due to the recent lockdown, “metaphorically our door remains open”.
Among the attendees at the AGM were two daughters of Margaret Keane who have been forced to launch a legal case for the right to have an Irish–only inscription on their mother’s gravestone. We were lucky to have as a guest speaker Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC, who is representing the Keane family pro bono with legal colleagues Mary–Rachel McCabe and Caroline Brogan to help overturn the ruling.
Caoilfhionn made a powerful speech about the campaign and why she committed to challenging the decision. She also talked movingly about how important it was for her to learn from Margaret’s family about “what an amazing woman she was” as, unlike in many of her legal cases, the most central person is someone she will never meet. If you would like to find out more about the campaign and what you can do to support the Keane family, you can find their Facebook page HERE.
Our final guest speaker was Colum Eastwood MP and leader of the SDLP. He talked about welcoming a Joe Biden presidency, the impact of Brexit and the vital importance of upholding the Good Friday Agreement.
It was poignant to learn that architect of the agreement and former SDLP leader John Hume inspired him to enter politics. John Hume once spoke at a congress of Irish in Britain’s forerunner The Federation of Irish Societies in 1983.
We also heard from Win Lawlor of Irish Community Care who spoke to a motion proposed jointly with Irish Community Care Manchester and Leeds Irish Health and Homes on the importance of championing our rich and diverse cultural heritage and developing relations with allies across BAME communities.
Irish in Britain CEO Brian Dalton summed up the thoughts of many when he referred to how painful the past period of eight months had been yet pointed to the fact that “It has also been characterised by hope, by community activism, by volunteerism and resilience – the mission of ensuring no one gets left behind.”
He talked about what Irish in Britain had been doing to support its member organisations through a range of projects including the Mental Health Charter, Cuimhne Carers project and the New Leaders Programme and said the value of local community groups and their work “is no longer a debating point. The crisis has reminded many, if they needed reminding, that grassroots organisations are best placed to respond and adapt quickly – our job is to now ensure that the goodwill and sense of community endures and is properly resourced.”
He celebrated the contribution of Irish in Britain’s member organisations saying:
“Day in day out, in every corner of the country the response has been incredible – we are hugely proud to represent this network of compassion and of creativity.”
Brian finished with “a message of hope for the future” saying “We are, and always have been, a community that understands the culture of renewal and rebuilding. We will do that again over the years ahead.”
Watch film clips of our guest speakers HERE.
Would you like to join Irish in Britain? Find out more HERE.