Keir Starmer reflects on UK-Irish relations at London Irish Centre

Keir Starmer reflects on UK-Irish relations at London Irish Centre

LEADER OF the Labour Party Keir Starmer has said the relationship between Ireland and the UK has a "long and rich history," from which something can be learned about the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking at the London Irish Centre in Camden at an event organised by the Labour Party Irish Society on Monday morning, Starmer said despite the "twists and turns" of Brexit, its fallout and the current issue of the Northern Ireland Protocol, the two countries maintain a close and important partnership.

He said the two governments must be co-guarantors to the Good Friday Agreement, and that that "relationship requires respect and understanding of what it means to be a country and to have that status."

"As we reflect on that relationship I think it tells us something about what is going on in the world, particularly in Ukraine," he continued. "At the heart of the conflict in Ukraine is a simple thing: the wish of a country to decide for itself its own future. To decide for itself what alliances it will have. It's about sovereignty of Ukraine."

"I remember what it felt like when the Berlin Wall came down and the hope and optimism that we were going into a better future. The images now I think touch us so hard because I didn't think in my lifetime I would see Russian tank rolling into a European country.

He also reflected on the five years he spent living and working in Northern Ireland, and said it was a privilege to implement parts of the GFA.

"They were some of the most uplifting years in my working life because there was so much progress and change going on. You could see it and feel it and sense it," he said.

Starmer also commended the work of the London Irish Centre, which is situated in his constituency of Holborn and St Pancras.

"This is a special place, and for me it feels very much like a second home," he said. "There's so many things that I have done and enjoyed here. This is a centre that is used for the community day in, day out.

"It was during Covid that although the centre wasn't opened in the ordinary way, it remained open and never closed even if that access was online. As soon as it was possible to do so the café was open to allow people to even just walk in and have a chat. I would like to shout out the staff here who did such a brilliant job."

Also present at the event, which had the theme of 'Celebrating & Strengthening relationships across these islands', was Irish Ambassador to the UK Adrian O'Neill, who recognised the work of the centre and the significance of Irish people's impact on UK and London society.

"The significance of this event is that we are all reconnecting after two years where we weren't able to meet in person, and we seem to be blessed at the moment that we have three Irish mayors in the city of London," he said, referencing Troy Gallagher from Donegal, the Mayor of Islington, Vincent Keaveny from Dublin, the Lord Mayor of the City of London, and Adam Jogee, the Mayor of Haringey whose grandmother hails from Co Down.

Ambassador O'Neill walked at the front of the St Patrick's Parade on Sunday, and paid tribute to Natalia Lesyuk, a Ukrainian woman who has been living in London or 30 years who was selected as a grand marshal.

Mike O'Connor, Vice Chair of the London Irish Centre, also spoke about how the centre wants Irish people and their descendants in the city to "understand and feel connected to Irish culture, identities and history."

"We want the London Irish and the wider community, not just Irish people, to have access to modern Irish culture and arts in all its diversity, not just older Irish culture," he said.

Other speakers included Conor McGinn from Armagh whoo has been a Member of Parliament for St Helens North since 2015, Noelette Hanley, the Chief Executive Officer of the Luton Irish Forum and Frances O'Grady, General Secretary of the British Trades Union Congress.

Guests present, among others, included Brian Dalton, CEO of Irish in Britain, Peter Power-Hynes, Chairman of Irish Cultural Centre, Catherine Hennessy, CEO Immigrant Counselling Services, and Dermot Skinnader, The Ireland Funds GB Young Leaders.

On Monday evening, the Labour Party Irish Society also held a reception in Angel which had the theme of 'Celebrating a new generation - London Irish leaders in local government'.