I popped up to Camden on Saturday for the Sinn Fein conference on Irish Unity, which it appears is a prelude to the creation of a new solidarity group in Britain.
The most interesting speaker was Coleraine Councillor Billy Leonard, who talked about the implications of Scottish and Welsh devolution for Ireland, the decline of Britishness and the contrasting growth of the all-Ireland dynamic.
This was an important theme, but there was no great sense from any of the speakers that the Irish in Britain could play a role in shaping that wider dynamic. The planned solidarity group sounds as if it will be mainly focussed on supporting domestic election campaigns.
One exception was John McDonnell who suggested that supporters of Irish unity need to rebuild their position in the Labour Party, following it's decision to organise in Northern Ireland.
In my view, one of the the most effective things the Irish in Britain can do for a united Ireland is to bring their perspective to bear on the constitutional debate here.
If Irish nationalists are currently missing that opportunity, the same may be true for unionists, according to Mick Fealty:
It could be interesting if it gives an insight into how Sinn Féin will go about dealing with the various challenges that have emerged in the past year or so: regaining momentum in the Republic, dealing with the possible emergence of Fianna Fáil in the north, and the reality of sharing power with the DUP.
A couple of events in London next week worth noting. Firstly, The Connolly Association brings us details of a talk by historian Ruan O'Donnell at Hammersmith Irish Centre on Wednesday:
Date: 14 November (Wednesday)
Time: 7pm, Irish Centre, Hammersmith, London
Speaker: Ruan O'Donnell; chair: Peter Berresford Ellis.
Further details tel. 0044 (0)207 8333022
A LEADING authority on the United Irish movement and the Irish rebellions against British rule of 1798 and 1803, the radical Irish historian Ruan O'Donnell has been turning his attention to more recent times - in particular the IRA's Border Campaign of the late 1950s and early 1960s. The meeting at the Hammersmith Irish Centre on 14 November will provide a fascinating foretaste of his forthcoming book on the subject
Meeting organised by the Four Provinces Bookshop.
The Irish Democrat's John Murphy has an intriguing description of O'Donnell's thesis:
when De Valera and Fianna Fail returned to power in 1951, they fell
totally silent on the northern injustices they had previously been so
vocal on, and Britain's responsibility for their continuance. The Fine
Gael-led coalition which also held office in the 1950s said nothing
about them either. The reason was the Cold War. If Ireland had sought
to raise the misdeeds of the northern unionist regime at the United
Nations or in other international forums at the time, the Russians
would have supported it. America and Ireland's vocal Cold Warriors
would in turn have been furious.
There's also a piece on the second-generation Irish by Professor Mary Hickman, the leading academic authority on the Irish in Britain. It considers the question of how people born in Britain of Irish descent should define themselves.
The concept of ‘Britishness’ was always meant to be an umbrella
identity, which effectively masked its close relationship to
Englishness. Part of the problem lies in the hierarchical basis of
Britishness, which the terms ‘the Celtic fringe’ and ‘ethnic minority’
amply demonstrate. There has never been a way to be Irish-British or
British-Irish in England, Wales or Scotland, which is remotely
comparable with the way in which it is perfectly acceptable to be
Irish-American. One might expect to find ready recognition of the
potential for British and Irish identities to be entwined – in the
children and grandchildren of Irish migrants to Britain. But this is
not the case. (Hybrid and hyphenated)
In spite of these criticisms, Professor Hickman sees a British-Irish identity as more viable than an English-Irish one:
I popped up to Islington on Wednesday for the meeting on the peace process organised by Jeremy Corbyn's (right) Constituency Labour Party.
Perhaps Mick Fealty's injunction over at Slugger was heeded, because unusually for this kind of public meeting in London there was a full complement of speakers from the main parties in the North: Sammy Wilson for the DUP, Martina Anderson for Sinn Fein, Paul Callaghan of the SDLP and Rodney McCune of the UUP.
The audience was staunchly nationalist, which ironically is a bit more typical of London. Indeed Callaghan felt obliged to emphasise as one point that "the unionist community is moving forward. We should be a bit more cautious about being judgemental."
Overall though, while its fair to say that Sinn Fein and the SDLP got an easier ride, there was a good constructive atmosphere, and the presence of all four parties helped to acquaint people with the more business-like politics of the new era in the North.
This looks like an excellent opportunity to hear from the parties in the newly restored Stormont.The meeting starts at 7.30 pm at the Red Rose Club. Travel details are available from the club's website.
The Connolly Association brings us news of a Bloody Sunday commemoration meeting in London on Sunday. The collusion theme looks very timely. It will be interesting to hear from Alan Brecknell (who I interviewed last year) in the wake of the recent Ombudsman's report. The fact an election has just been announced might also bring a spark to the SDLP and SF contributions.
Remembering Bloody Sunday January 30, 1972 Public Meeting: 2.30pm Sunday 4th February 2007 London Irish Centre, 50 - 52 Camden Square, NW1 9XB
Speakers: JOHN KELLY - Bloody Sunday Relative JOHN McDONNELL MP ALAN BRECKNELL Pat Finucane Centre RAYMOND McCARTNEY - Sinn Fein COLUM EASTWOOD - SDLP
Anyone looking for somewhere to watch the hurling in London on Sunday could do worse than check out the Big Shindig at the Hammersmith Palais. Live music after the match includes Aslan and Damian Dempsey.
Many people in the Irish community in London will be familiar with photographer Louise Jefferson, who has a new book out next month, the Irish World reports:
Louise is snapped here celebrating the publication of her book “Dublin Then and Now” a collection of photographs that capture the modern city and contrast them with images of Dublin between the Easter Rising 1916 and the Civil War of 1921 and 1922.
Louise visited many of the sites associated with Dublin’s rebellious past including the GPO, Kilmainham Gaol and Liberty Hall to name a few and then captured those sites as they are today. (Irish World)
Louise's book is already available for pre-order from amazon.co.uk