MEMBERS, friends and trustees of the Irish in Britain organisation gathered online for its 2021 Annual General Meeting.
The theme of Irish in Britain’s recently published Annual Report is ‘A year of community solidarity’ and the day’s programme highlighted the partnerships, collaborations and the new generation of volunteers mobilised over the last 18 months.
Irish in Britain’s CEO Brian Dalton paid tribute to the work of member organisations who supported the most vulnerable in the Irish community throughout the most difficult circumstances of the pandemic.
He highlighted the “breathtaking” pace of innovation to adapt and provide services “to ensure no one got left behind”.
In his last meeting as Chair of Trustees, Patrick Morrison talked of the resilience of the Irish community, and the “need to support and look after each other as a community and as individuals is why Irish in Britain was created by our founder members”.
Mr Morrison introduced a diverse roster of guest speakers, during the national forum event, which included contributions from the devolved nations and regional Consuls General.
Jane McCullough, from the Irish Consulate in Edinburgh, spoke of the deep roots and history of the Irish community in Scotland and highlighted the fact the GAA there was set to celebrate its 125th anniversary next year.
Denise Hanrahan from the Consulate in Cardiff talked about the deep connections between Ireland and Wales, both in the past and continuing today with many Irish students coming over to attend Welsh universities.
Sarah Mangan is the first Consul General for the North of England.
She explained the importance of opening the new consulate, which is based in Manchester but covers an area in which 137,000 people born on the island of Ireland live and which is filled with Irish community organisations and cultural centres.
Irish in Britain introduced a new Patron at the meeting, Professor Dame Elizabeth Anionwu. Ms Anionwu is a pioneering nursing specialist and campaigner for equality in the NHS with a remarkable career in care, education and public service.
She shared the powerful story of her Irish and Nigerian roots with attendees, including her experience of the isolation at being the only black child at school, and Irish dancing classes. Although she was keen to point out that was quite a “dab hand” and did win several medals.
Colin Parry, founder of the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Peace Foundation, which is a new member of Irish in Britain, was another guest speaker.
He and his wife Wendy set up the Foundation after the 1993 murders of their son Tim Parry and Jonathan Ball to promote peace and conflict resolution.
He recalled how he and Wendy were moved to tears at the support the received from the public, including from Ireland, after the death of their son and explained why the work was still very necessary today.
Irish in Britain members elected a new chair, Darren Murphy, and several Trustees as part of the AGM business on the day.
Mr Murphy said: “It is a privilege to be tasked with representing the interests, celebrating the contribution and leading the progressive voice of the Irish diaspora in Britain.”
The newly elected trustees were named as Baron Armah-Kwantreng, Padraig Belton, Fionuala Bonnar, Bébhinn Cronin and Gerard McHale.
Catherine Hennessey, CEO of icap, highlighted figures that show that Covid-19 vaccination rates among the Irish in Britain are lower than among white British groups.
She proposed a motion calling on Irish in Britain to join with other stakeholders “to encourage vaccine take up among the Irish community and especially those in vulnerable groups”.
The motion was overwhelmingly passed.
Ant Hanlon, the CEO Leeds Irish Health and Homes, and trustee Sara Coakley both paid tribute to Patrick Morrison as outgoing chair for his contribution to the organisation and the wider community after six years’ service.
While Brian Dalton pointed to importance of Irish in Britain’s role in building unity and solidarity within the Irish community and beyond, saying: “We are at our best when we are collaborative, progressive and adaptable, open to sharing expertise and understanding what it is to walk in other shoes, which is of course the definition of empathy.
“But also, there is an obligation of leadership – the recognition that our community’s interests have common cause with other migrant communities and are not a zero-sum game.
“One is not at the expense of the other.”
Mr Dalton summed up by pointing to an important milestone coming up for the organisation, saying: “There has also never been a better time to articulate our compelling story as a proud and diverse community.
“We are planning to profile and celebrate this history in the 50th anniversary of the Federation’s formation in 2023,” he told delegates.
“We see you all as key contributors in shaping this celebration – not only championing our history but the vitality and potential of Britain’s original migrant group to play its part in the future.”