Message from President Michael D. Higgins For the ‘Irish in the UK’ TV Programme
25th March 2021
On the occasion of their 200th show, may I send my warmest congratulations to all those who work on the television programme Irish in The UK and, in particular, Martin and Annette Logan, the producers of the programme.
Traoslaím libh agus gabhaim buíochas libh as gach atá deánta agaibh are son ár munitir san Breatain.
The viewers of Irish in the UK include first-generation Irish who have lived in Britain for many years, but this show is a lifeline for so many members of our Irish diaspora of all generations in the United Kingdom, helping to keep them connected with relatives and friends at home and, of course, with all the other Irish communities around the UK. The programme plays an important role in highlighting, too, the contributions and experiences of the Irish community in Britain, and the stories of so many Irish people who have made their home there and who have made such positive contributions to British society, culture and its economy.
I have had a very long personal association with Britain, and have been crossing the Irish Sea for almost sixty years. I first came as a university student seeking work during the summer term holidays. However, my two sisters emigrated to England at the age of twenty, and the families of both were born in Manchester.
When I came as a postgraduate student to Manchester University in 1968, I regularly moved between the two worlds of an Irish construction worker’s family in Corby Street, Manchester, and the realms of British academia in Dover Street. My field of research in those years was apt – migration.
Over the intervening years, I have travelled regularly to Britain – to stay in touch with my siblings and their families, but also to visit Irish community centres, to maintain fraternal contacts in the labour movement, and, as a parliamentarian, to advance inter-parliamentary links with my colleagues in Westminster. During all this time, including the decades of the 1970s and 1980s when the conflict in Northern Ireland cast a dark shadow over British-Irish relations, I was then, and remain, always impressed by the resilience of the Irish community in Britain. In the 1908’s I was involved with Action Group for Irish Youth and the Green and Black Alliance in London, at a difficult time for Irish young people.
During the 1950s, around half a million Irish men and women made the journey to Britain, my sisters among them. When we think of the circumstances in which these earlier generations of Irish emigrants moved to Britain, it is so uplifting to note that there is virtually no aspect of British civic or political life that has not been enriched by contributions from the Irish community. That success is due in no small part to the determination and character of those who settled here in what were so often difficult times, and who undoubtedly constitute a very special and appreciated part of your programme’s viewership.
The Irish in the UK television programme has played an important role in the fabric of the lives of the Irish community in the UK, but perhaps just as importantly it has helped to dispel some of the negative stereotypes that existed, particularly in the past, regarding Ireland and Irish people. This was achieved during difficult times when the Irish in the UK were not perhaps as well received as they are today thanks to improved Anglo-Irish relations.
When I think back I recall that first letter to a newspaper was in the early 1960s to the London Evening Standard which had produced one of it’s, then quite regular, anti-Irish diatribes. My employer asked me not to use the hotel’s address in any correspondence I might have with newspapers in the future!
My thoughts now, in a special way are with our elderly Irish at home and abroad at this time of COVID-19. I am so conscious of the suffering and tragedy that has impacted so many lives over the past 12 months since the onset of the pandemic. Please be assured that I, and all of us in Ireland, stand in solidarity with all those in the UK affected by the personal, social and economic impacts of the pandemic. With solidarity, care, compassion and kindness we will all get past this pandemic, Irish, British and those of all nations together.
Tá sibh i gcónaí in ár gcroíthe.
So, may I conclude then by wishing the Irish in the UK programme continued success and may I take the opportunity of sending my very best wishes to all the members of the Irish community in the United Kingdom, whether by birth or by association and to all of their neighbours and friends.