Being London Irish taught me strength is in unity - that's truer today than ever
Life & Style

Being London Irish taught me strength is in unity - that's truer today than ever

I lived in London for almost 15 years before moving to St Helens when I was elected as a Member of Parliament.

I moved here when I was little more than a boy at just 18 years old.

I studied here, worked here, met my wife here and our son was born here. I still have many friends and family here, and I work in the same shadow of Big Ben where PC Keith Palmer lost his life.

I will always feel part of a special community of Irish Londoners and London Irish, which taught me that ‘ní neart go cur le chéile’ - our strength is in our unity.

That’s truer today that it ever has been. It applies to us and our neighbours, our community and all communities. I stick by it, especially in tough times, and I know the Irish in Britain will too.

Conor McGinn MP

This year’s St Patrick’s Festival in Trafalgar Square was the biggest and best yet.

Tens of thousands of Londoners of all colours, classes and creeds came together to celebrate Ireland’s national day and the contribution of Irish people to a great city.

They were joined by visitors from across the world, all of them enjoying the Irish music, dancing, literature, food, drink, culture and people that have given so much to Britain.

The Mayor of London, Saqid Khan – the Muslim son of a Pakistani bus driver from Tooting – spoke from the stage of the enormous role Irish people had played in enhancing the fullness of London life in so many ways, and how proud he was to be their Mayor and a Mayor for everyone in London.

It was a life-affirming day of fun, pride and togetherness, and I was delighted to be a part of it.

What a contrast to how it felt to be in London just 72 hours later, as the very things we had celebrated at the weekend came under attack.

In 82 seconds, a man motivated by hate murdered five people, injured dozens of others and was himself killed.

As well as British citizens, victims on Westminster Bridge were American, Australian, Chinese, French, Greek, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, South Korean and, of course, Irish – some who lived in London and some who were visiting.

Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons and Jonathan Osborne, Senior Chaplain to the Metropolitan Police Service wait as the coffin of PC Keith Palmer, arrives to lie in rest at the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft, within the Palace of Westminster ahead of his funeral on April 10 (Picture: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images)

And a policeman - Keith Palmer, a 48-year-old member of the parliamentary protection force - was stabbed to death as he guarded the Houses of Parliament.

It is right to say that this was an attack on democracy, and indeed Parliament is the institutional and iconic manifestation of our democratic system. But this was also an attack on people – an indiscriminate attack on ordinary, innocent people.

The same sort of people who were celebrating St Patrick’s Day just a half a mile away at the top of Whitehall a few days before.

It was an act of terrorism designed to murder or maim as many people as possible, and to cause fear and create division.

It’s true that it did kill and injure. And many people in the area or even watching the coverage on television were afraid and uncertain about what was happening. But on that afternoon, and since then, the attempt to cause division failed.

Like the inhabitants of London, there are people of all faiths and ethnicities working in Westminster. The lockdown of Parliament saw politicians and cleaners, catering staff and civil servants, researchers and visitors come together as one, co-operating with each other and follow instructions from the police and security services.

And the next day, those people all returned to work – as did the rest of London - getting on with their lives in the best tribute to those who’d lost theirs.

That evening Sadiq Khan spoke at a very different gathering in Trafalgar Square.

One to remember the victims and show that London was not cowed and still united. He said: “London is a truly incredible city full of amazing people.

When it is faced with adversity, when we are tested on who we are and what we stand for, we always pull together. We stand together stronger than ever. We stand up for our values and our way of life.

"We show the world what it means to be a Londoner. We always have, and we always will.”

Conor McGinn was elected as Labour MP for the St Helens North constituency in 2015 and is originally from Co. Armagh in Northern Ireland. He is also chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Irish in Britain.