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    President visits Irish in England

    Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

    President Mary McAleese visited with the Irish community in Britain  over the past two days. Her visit included a tour of the 20120 Olympic site in East London, which afforded her an opportunity to talk to the Irish construction workers employed there.

    Out of the 9,000 workers on the site, 10% are Irish, according to an RTE report. The president said:

    ‘This very exciting project is proving very beneficial to Ireland on many levels, first of all, as you know, the construction industry in Ireland has come to a bit of a stand still and there are a lot of people looking for opportunities outside Ireland. Many of them have found those opportunities here, builders, surveyors, project managers, architects and anybody involved in the construction business hoping to get work here.

    ‘Evidence of the Irish contribution here is all around, the names on many of the hoardings are very very familiar, all associated with the Irish construction sector, I am very proud that 10% of the work force here is Irish. They are involved in everything from lifting the blocks to major architectural projects. That’s very good news. That’s at the construction phase, and then there is the fit out phase.

    ‘That’s a very important element for us in terms of supplying goods and services. I was talking to one contractor this morning who bringing in cladding from north of Dublin. A good example of work being generated and opportunities being generated back in Ireland thanks to the Oympic site.’

    During her visit, Ms McAleese also visited the Irish Centre in Reading. In London, she met the Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas and the Irish Chaplaincy in Britain, as well as the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith.

    Related websites:

    Emigrants subject to taxation on Irish homes

    Thursday, February 11th, 2010

    Irish emigrants who keep a home in Ireland are subject to the taxation on non-principal homes. The tax of €200 is levied on most houses that are not occupied by their owners, although there are a number of exemptions. The charge does apply to overseas owners.

    The fact that emigrants must pay the tax was raised in the Dail today by Frank Feighan, Fine Gael’s TD from Roscommon South-Leitrim. In a debate over the Finance Bill, he said,

    I agree the non-principal residence tax is a good idea for raising moneys for local authorities. However, having visited the Roscommon Associations in Manchester, Birmingham and London, I know many emigrants feel let down that the little house they have back in Ireland, some without even electricity or running water, will be charged this tax. They want to be good citizens but the local authorities are insisting they pay the €200 tax. That is an insult to the Irish diaspora which actually helped rebuild this country by sending money back from abroad.

    The Government must apologise to those emigrants in the United States and the United Kingdom who have tried to keep a link with this country by keeping a small house, sometimes just a pile of stones, for not considering them when introducing this tax. It must be amended because the local authorities have not considered all factors involved.

    This, clearly, is a case of taxation without representation. Is it right to levy taxes on citizens who are entitled to no representation in this State? Two centuries of post-Enlightenment thinking would say no. Is this democratic?

    Related websites:

    Irish Theatrical Diaspora: Manchester, April 2010

    Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

    The Irish Theatrical Diaspora Conference 2010

    Ireland’s Drama in British Cities,
    Manchester Metropolitan University, April 15-16, 2010.

    The 2010 Irish Theatrical Diaspora Conference will consider the history and context of performing Irish plays and characters on British stages, as well as the more general performance of Irish diasporic identity in an urban British context. Some of the areas that the conference will address are:

    • the role of festivals in performing Irish identity,
    • the role of British theatres in performing Irish plays,
    • the significance of geographical variations,
    • and the impact of globalisation on the position of Irish theatre in Britain

    Keynote speakers:

    • Mary Hickman, Professor of Irish Studies and Sociology, London Metropolitan University
    • Patrick Mason, Director, Adjunct Professor, University College Dublin, and Visiting Professor, Liverpool Hope University

    Confirmed speakers:

    • Claire Connolly
    • Mike Cronin
    • Karen Fricker
    • Nicholas Grene
    • Patrick Lonergan
    • Holly Maples
    • Victor Merriman
    • Aoife Monks
    • Jim Moran
    • Catherine Rees
    • Shaun Richards

    This conference will examine performances of Irish identity in the urban
    centres of Britain since the beginning of the 19th century. The idea of
    performance is intended to include events staged in the theatres and on the streets, for example parades, musical performances and political
    demonstrations.

    By discussing such performances and their reception by various audiences, speakers and delegates will examine the ways that ‘Irishness’ has changed in meaning and association in Britain, pressurised by contexts such as colonialism and nationalism, modernisation and economic change in Ireland, the Troubles and the Peace Process, and many others.

    In particular, the conference is concerned to examine the changing status of Irish, and Irish-descended, people in Britain.  Since 1995, the diaspora has arguably become more recognised in Ireland, after President Mary Robinson urged the Irish nation to the ‘moral act’ of remembering and commemorating their sacrifices.  In Britain, the Irish arguably became more visible after recognition of their ‘ethnic minority’ status in the 2001 UK census; and, more recently, interest in Britain’s oldest and largest ethnic minority has been renewed amidst a more general concern with immigration and the ways in which the case of the Irish in Britain might be seen to foreshadow and intersect with the experience of many other immigrant groups.

    Delegates will be able to reflect on questions including:

    • What different versions of Irishness have been suggested by theatrical and other performances in Britain, and how have these been received and understood by their audiences?
    • In what ways have Irish cultural festivals affected perceptions?
    • How have notions of second-generation Irishness changed?
    • What significance do performances of Irishness abroad have for the Irish nation ‘at home’?
    • Have visible assertions and performances of Irish identity impacted on ideas of Britishness?
    • How have the Irish enacted and interacted with ideas of nation and identity in a British context, and how has this been affected by changes in Ireland and key events in Irish-British relations?
    • To what extent are the Irish in Britain an ‘acceptable’ ethnic minority?
    • To what extent are the Irish in Britain ‘post-nationalist’ now?

    More information:

    Irish Theatrical Diaspora website

    “Irish in Britain” event debates diaspora role

    Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

    I did up this report for the Irish Emigrant newsletter at Emigrant.ie

    UCD’s John Hume Institute brought its third annual Irish Diaspora Forum to London this week, bringing together politicians, historians, writers, business executives and others from the Irish community.  UCD president Hugh Brady joked that the “Irish in Britain” event allowed London to become “Connemara East” for the day. He called the forum series “a rolling conversation exploring the nature of the relationship between Ireland and Irish people and people who identify with Ireland.” The first two  forums, which were co-organised by Irish America magazine and The Ireland Funds along with UCD, were held in 2007 in New York and in 2008 in Dublin.

    The speakers at this year’s event, which drew about 100 people, included academics Mary Daly, Diarmaid Ferriter, Declan Kiberd, Mary Hickman and Cormac O’Grada; writer Frank McGuinness; Olympian John Treacy; legendary sports broadcaster Micheal O Muircheartaigh;  former Taoiseach Garrett Fitzgerald, and many more. The panel sessions explored three themes: the Irish Diaspora as agents of political change, Diaspora as creative impulse, and cultural branding in the Diaspora. The final session asked the question “What does the future hold for Ireland and its Diaspora?” It was a day of lively debate, with contrasting views of the Diaspora and the future role of emigrants emerging.

    One of the highlights was the awarding of the UCD John Hume Medal to former president Mary Robinson. While the award recognised the work Ms Robinson had done on raising the profile of the Irish abroad during her presidency in the 1990s, she made it clear that there were many in Ireland who had not appreciated the importance of the diaspora at the time. She described the response in the Oireachtas as she gave her ground-breaking speech, “Cherishing the Diaspora”: “it was going down like a lead balloon… there was no doubt in my mind that members of the Oireachtas did not want to hear [about the diaspora]“. She said she left the speech, deeply depressed, but then “messages started to come in from all over the world,” and Ms Robinson realised her speech had meant a great deal to the Irish abroad. Ted Kennedy even entered the speech into the US Congressional record. The contrast between the response of the Irish in Ireland and the global Irish response “reinforced my sense that we underestimated our diaspora”, she said.

    Much has changed since then, and the Irish Diaspora, of course, is enjoying a high profile in Ireland these days; the recent Farmleigh Conference in particular has raised questions about what role the Irish Diaspora might play in Ireland’s future and its economic development. But the crisis that served as the impetus for this new outreach to the Diaspora has also sparked a renewed uptick in emigration by the young unemployed. It was this dual reality that was at the heart of one of the differences that emerged in the day: whether the dominant image of the Irish worldwide was more accurately portrayed as that of a global professional, entrepreneurial class or that of a sometimes vulnerable, potentially marginalized, migratory workforce at the mercy of the global economy.

    Most of the attendees and speakers were at the professional end of the spectrum: this was an event that was pitched at UCD alumni living in London, and with a 55-euro fee and a setting in the Royal Society, the event would probably have seemed inaccessible to less affluent members of the Irish community.

    It was a consideration of the most vulnerable Irish emigrants, however, that provoked the most passionate contribution of the day, from writer Frank McGuinness. He discussed Children of the Dead End, the classic emigration novel written by Patrick MacGill, describing MacGill as “one man who spoke out to give voice to the voiceless”. McGuinness outlined MacGill’s depiction of the Irish dispossessed, who had been failed by their families and their society: “their bodies are their own only insofar as they can be rented out for other’s benefits”, and their “contact with home would eventually be reduced to letters that said ‘Send money home’.”

    McGuinness said, “May we be forgiven for what we did – and continue to do – to our poorest”. Adding that the vast majority of the new class of emigrants are construction workers who left school young, he suggested that he would “give everyone emigrating a copy of this book”. It would serve as a warning: “You’re up for a fight – and be prepared for it.”

    One contributor, former Esat Digiphone CEO Barry Moloney, bridged the gap between the two visions of the diaspora when he envisioned that global Irish professionals had a role to play in preventing emigration in the future. Describing the diaspora as “the single most important thing that can help” in developing Ireland’s economy in the future, he said, “I take that responsibility very seriously”. He said that in forums such as this and the Farmleigh conference, economic strategising by the diaspora was “the number one agenda item if we’re going to help so our kids don’t have to go abroad again.”

    The issue of emigrant voting arose during several of the speaker’s contributions. Diarmaid Ferriter was the first to bring it up, noting how Polish politicians had courted the vote of the Poles living in Ireland. He asked, “Would the Irish political situation have been different had the Irish of the 1950s had the vote?”

    Mary Hickman noted that the issue of emigrant voting rights was “more taboo” than in the past, even though 115 nations allow emigrant voting rights. She also suggested that the diaspora, Northern Ireland and new immigrants presented a three-prong challenge to Ireland, noting that despite the reform of Article Two of the Constitution, “the national territory and its governance remain ring-fenced”.

    This issue provoked the most heated discussion of the day, as former Taoiseach Garrett Fitzgerald suggested that the American Revolution’s famous rallying cry for democracy, “No taxation without representation” needed to be inverted in an Irish context into “No representation without taxation”. He also expressed fears about the candidates that the Irish in America, in particular, might vote for.

    Dermot Gallagher, the former secretary-general of the Department of Foreign Affairs, also voiced opposition to the idea of emigrant voting, citing a potential example of a woman in California with one Irish grandparent being eligible to vote (although Mary Hickman had explicitly stated that she was not proposing voting rights for second or later generations). Mr Gallagher did welcome an exploration of the idea of political participation by emigrants through representation in the Seanad, however.  Judging from the emotional response to the debate, the role of emigrants in Ireland’s political structures in the future is an issue likely to arise in the future.

    Mary Robinson, in one of the closing comments of the conference noted that the Irish diaspora doesn’t just want a connection with Ireland; there is “a notion of being able to reimagine Ireland because we’re making more of a link?. She pointed to the diaspora’s ability to bring greater understanding of our history, to act as a bridge on climate change, and to unite to create huge numbers of jobs as potential benefits of making and remaking connections within the diaspora.

    Related web pages:

    Let Irish in UK subscribe to RTE, suggests letter writer

    Monday, June 22nd, 2009

    Irish people in the UK should be allowed to subscribe to RTE, according to a letter writer in today’s Irish Independent.

    R Mullins points out that the possible demise of Setanta Sports looming, Irish GAA fans in the UK are worried. He suggests that people who live abroad should be allowed to subscribe to RTE.

    The Irish government had pledged to have RTE International on air in the UK by this past St Patrick’s Day, but RTE nixed the move in November, blaming budget constraints. The 2007 Broadcasting Act required RTE to set up a channel for broadcasting to Irish communities outside the island of Ireland;  the legislation authorised for license fees to be used to do so.

    Related websites:

    Irish Independent letters section

    More Irish students seeking places at British universities

    Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

    Irish students are applying to British colleges and universities at an accelerating pace this year. The Irish Post is reporting that the nmber of applications from Ireland for British places is up more than 13%, with 5,425, or  nearly 14% of students who sat their Leaving Cert exam this year, making such an application.

    The newspaper reports that the major factor in the shift is the student fears over the possibility of the reintroduction of fees, and also notes the heavy promotion efforts British universities are aiming at Irish students.

    Related web page:
    Irish Post: Young Irish on course for Britain

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