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Comhar Policy Bulletin July 2022
This edition covers Irish in Britain’s work with:
All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ireland and the Irish in Britain (APPG)
Karin Smyth MP new chair of the APPG
Recent Bills/Policy Announcements in Parliament
Work on Northern Ireland Protocol
NI Protocol Explainer and Letter
Northern Ireland Protocol Bill
Statement on Good Friday Agreement and NI Protocol
Irish in Britain’s Letter to the Prime Minister and Liz Truss
Update on Census 2021
Cost of Living
Blog for Centre for Ageing
The Irish in Britain policy team has had a busy spring/early-summer. The current policy environment is rapidly evolving and we are therefore pleased to share updates covering our recent policy and public affairs work. We welcome updates from our members on policy, research and/or public affairs. If you have any further questions, feel free to contact us via e-mail below.
All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ireland and the Irish in Britain
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ireland and the Irish in Britain (APPG) met on 18 May 2022. This meeting was the Annual General Meeting where we heard updates from various organisations and the group facilitated the election of the new chair and vice-chairs for the APPG.
Conor McGinn MP has stepped down as chair and is succeeded by Karin Smyth MP for Bristol South. Martin Docherty-Hughes MP, James Daly MP, and Stephen Farry MP will all serve as vice-chairs, while Lord Dubs and Sir Peter Bottomley MP will serve as Honorary Secretaries. We are particularly excited to see what new opportunities this will bring through the APPG and thank Conor McGinn for his hard work as chair.
Christian also shared our findings on the cost-of-living crisis survey with MPs, this research was undertaken with our network earlier in the year. Survey results headline that many member organisations were financially struggling, and by extension, the wider Irish community – reiterating to MPs the challenge of the ongoing cost-of living-crisis.
We received an update from Rosaleen Blair, Chairperson at the London Irish Centre. She highlighted the impact the centre maintained during COVID, including delivering online services and events and providing support to 250,000 people.
In addition to this was a closing statement from Ireland’s Ambassador to the UK, Adrian O’Neill. He expressed his thanks to Irish in Britain and other organisations in attendance. Within this he highlighted the deepening of the Irish footprint in Britain, and the continued strength of the APPG.
Members of Parliament and peers from across the UK came together to discuss issues regarding the Irish community in Britain, community events and plans for supporting the growth and wellbeing of our community.
This group is an important link between the Irish community, the Irish Embassy and our work in parliament.
During the meeting, the APPG members voted in their new officers. See below:
Chair & Registered Contact Karin Smyth MP
Vice Chair Martin Docherty-Hughes MP
Vice Chair James Daly MP
Vice Chair Stephen Farry MP
Honorary Treasurer Conor McGinn MP
Honorary Secretary Lord Dubs
Honorary Secretary Sir Peter Bottomley MP
Introduction to Karin Smyth MP
We would like to welcome to Karin Smyth to the APPG in her new capacity as Chair. This is an important time for the APPG and we are keen to work with Karin and her staff to ensure community views are represented and that our dynamic community network is recognised for its value and potential.
Karin was elected as Labour MP for Bristol South in 2015. She has previously served as Shadow Minister on Northern Ireland and a member of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. Before becoming an MP, Karin was a manager within the NHS, most recently the NHS Bristol Clinical Commissioning Group
“I am delighted to have been elected Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ireland and the Irish in Britain. Growing up in an Irish family in Britain (London), I learned my formative politics watching and listening to Irish women. I am enormously proud of the opportunities Irish people have had in this country, and what the Irish in Britain have achieved. I look forward to chairing the APPG at this time as we navigate the post-Brexit landscape together.”
Karin Smyth, MP for Bristol South
RECENT BILLS/POLICY ANNOUNCEMENTS IN PARLIAMENT
Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill
The Bill establishes the formation of a new body, the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery. The UK Government intends this to be the primary authority when investigating reviews of Troubles-related deaths and cases of specified serious injury.
This panel is led by five commissioners including a Chief Commissioner and Commissioner for Investigations. Its intention is to function independently of the Government to ensure its impartiality. The bill currently sits at the second reading in the House of Lords, and as such is subject to change.
We understand the shared concerns around the bill that have been raised by victim groups and political parties in Northern Ireland. Further to any potential changes the bill may go through, we encourage you to contact your local MP voicing your concerns surrounding this potential legislation.
On the 28 April 2022, The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill received Royal Assent and became law.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act has raised concerns because of its impact on Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. The final iteration of the Bill also contains new restrictions and guidelines on peaceful protesting.
We ask any members affected by this new legislation to contact us regarding its local impact to better inform our policy and research and the how the act is interpreted more widely.
During Brexit negotiations in October 2019, the European Union (EU) and UK agreed to the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The protocol aimed to:
Support the 1998 Good Friday Agreement in all its dimensions
Avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland
Maintain the integrity of the EU’s single market for goods
Facilitate unfettered access for goods from Northern Ireland to Britain's markets, and the inclusion of goods from Northern Ireland in free trade agreements between the UK and third countries.
Recognise the constitutional position of Northern Ireland.
The Northern Ireland Protocol Bill was introduced on the 13 June 2022.
The stated aim of the Bill is to “make provision about the effect in domestic law of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland in the EU withdrawal agreement, about other domestic law in subject areas dealt with by the Protocol and for connected purposes”. The UK Government intends to create multiple “trade lanes” with different checks to expedite certain imports. The EU argues that this breaches international law.
The Bill represents a unilateral divergence form the principles of the protocol, and potentially destabilises relationships between Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, the UK and the EU. We continue to reiterate the importance of avoiding any kind of hard border on the island of Ireland, protecting the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) and highlighting the concerns of the Irish community living in Britain.
The current government’s stated intention is to progress with this bill, however current ministerial vacancies may change this. Irish in Britain has written to several MPs during the committee stage to voice our opposition. We will continue to advocate for its dismissal as it enters the House of Lords.
Northern Ireland Protocol Explainer and Campaign Letter
We recently published a full explainer and resources for our members in response to the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill to ensure community views are heard. This includes a letter template, which you can access here. We encourage you and your community to voice your concerns around this bill and write to your member of parliament.
Message from Irish in Britain on the Good Friday Agreement
Following the government’s announcement that it was going to override parts of the Brexit agreement; Irish in Britain published a statement stressing the importance of co-operation and the GFA. You can read our published statement here.
Irish in Britain continues to advocate across Westminster for the UK government to enter into ‘good faith’ negotiations with the EU and for the continued commitment to upholding all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement.
Letter to Prime Minister and Secretary of State Liz Truss on the Northern Ireland Protocol
Irish in Britain has written to both the Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Secretary of State Liz Truss in response to the government’s decisions surrounding the Northern Ireland Protocol and the status of the Good Friday Agreement. We expressed our concern for the status of the GFA and implored the UK government to seek negotiated policy solutions that will uphold the agreement in its entirety, return a functioning Northern Ireland Executive and support sustained peace in Northern Ireland.
Secretary Truss’s department responded stating they are “acutely aware of the issues caused by the Northern Ireland Protocol” but state they “will continue to talk with the EU, while in parallel moving forward with our legislation”.
Read our message on the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill here.
Irish in Britain will monitor these developments; we recognise that the GFA is a cut through issue for our community and all those who support the gains of the last 24 years.
Irish in Britain serves on the Office of National Statistics (ONS) Census Advisory Group and has attended three meetings since January to provide feedback about their planned release schedule, data design and future proposals. The Census is one of the most important administrative undertakings of any government, as it helps inform political representation, funding for constituencies, and gathers useful data that will be used to shape policy positions for the next decade. The Census ran for England and Wales in 2021, with Scotland’s set for 2022. The first results of the 2021 Census were released on 28 June 2022.
Irish in Britain has commissioned research on this data, looking at publishing reports on the Irish community in England, Wales, Scotland and metro areas of Britain. This data will include in-depth reports on health disparities, demographics of the community, and regional breakdowns to understand patterns and changes from 2011. We plan to release headline data in conjunction with the ONS’s staged release schedule over the next year and publish full reports in Spring of 2023.
We are fortunate to working with a small team of researchers working across multiple universities:
Irish in Britain created a member survey following the rise in the cost of living in the UK and the announcement of the Chancellor’s 2022 Spring Budget. Its intent was to inform changes to the non-profit environment in which most of our members operate and to better understand the financial burden they face over the coming years. The cost-of-living crisis has hit hard, with inflation at its highest level in three decades, petrol prices spiralling and retail price increases rising to their highest levels in ten years. The burden is also having an impact on the charity sector.
Through a series of nine questions, our members were able to respond with a combination of quantitative and qualitative data.
Irish in Britain shared our results with MPs at the most recent APPG meeting. Based on the data – it was apparent how some member organisations were financially struggling, and by extension, communities nationwide. APPG MPs found this information very useful, and it will help inform understanding of Irish community sector during this economic challenge.
Irish in Britain has since conducted semi-structured interviews across our membership to further support data from the previous report. This important information has been collated into a report for funders and the Irish Embassy. A version of this research will be shared with members in the following weeks.
Blog for Centre for Ageing Better
In May 2022, Irish in Britain wrote to the Centre for Ageing Better requesting more inclusivity when covering minority ethnic demographics, as its current labels render much of the Irish community invisible. We wanted to highlight the importance and timeliness of addressing this issue within the recommendations of its Race and Inequalities report and the actions relating to Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME)groups. Just as the data for many individual minority ethnic groups is combined under the ‘BAME’ moniker, erasing their unique experiences and characteristics, so too, that of Irish people is often combined with that of their White British counterparts. This likewise renders them indistinguishable from the White majority and hence they become ‘invisible’ in the available data.
With experiences of discrimination common for all minority ethnic groups, there are benefits to inclusion in a larger ‘BAME’ group that recognise that commonality and contrast it with that of the White majority. But at the same time, a failure to identify individual minority ethnic groups in data collection and a tendency to group any and all ethnic minorities as BAME has obstructed understanding of the needs of these groups and stymied our ability to deliver appropriate, targeted health interventions.
This letter prompted a deeper dialogue, and the Centre recognised that these deficits in the research need to be addressed. Irish in Britain will continue to develop this relationship and has published a commissioned article through the Centre’s blog. The article can be read here.