Remarks at a Reception at the Haringey Irish Community and Cultural Centre
London, 17th July 2013
A dhaoine uaisle, a chairde. Tá an-áthas orm bheith anseo libh inniú.
I am delighted to join you this morning for my first visit to Haringey as President of Ireland. Thank you for that warm and generous welcome.
Is í seo an cheathrú cuairt ar an mBreatain agam is mé i m’Uachtarán. B’é castáil le comhaltaí dár bPobal Gaelach mór-éagsúil, ba chroí-lár de gach cuairt acu sin agam. Is pléisiúr faoi leith dom mé bheith anseo inniu mar go dtugann sé deis dom seanchairdis a athnuachan, agus aithne a chur ar chairde nua.
[This is my fourth visit to Britain as President. Meeting members of our hugely diverse Irish Community has been at the heart of each of my visits. Being here today is a particular pleasure as it allows me to renew past friendships and to meet new friends].
I am also delighted to learn more about the activities of the organisations that you represent and the valuable work that you do.
I would like to wish Patrick Kelly, Tony Brennan and everyone else associated with the Centre all the best as you take forward its work. Like so many Irish organisations throughout Britain, that work is as vital as ever.
I would also like to thank the Mayor, Sheila Peacock, a member of the management committee here, for all the work she and her colleagues have done to support this Centre. During my visits to Britain, I have been struck by the excellent relations that exist between many Councils and Local Authorities and the Irish communities throughout the country.
I am also very appreciative of the presence and kind remarks of your Member of Parliament, David Lammy and am delighted that Mrs Sharon Grant, the widow of the late Bernie Grant, is also with us today. It is truly heartening to see that the huge contribution that the Irish community has made, and continues to make, to British society is rightly recognised at official level.
It is very encouraging to see how the Irish community in Britain has evolved over recent years and, as a direct consequence, how far the relationship between our countries has changed for the better. One person who has made a very valuable contribution to the welfare of the Irish community in Britain is Councillor Sally Mulready. Sally – who is here today – was a very worthy recipient last year of the President’s Award for Distinguished Service Abroad.
Centres like Haringey have been at the core of the Irish Community in Britain. They have offered a base from which other Irish organisations can work and have provided a place to meet, to make friends and to celebrate Irish culture. They manifest that particular virtue of so many Irish people who try to ensure that, when faced with challenges, nobody should ever walk alone.
The Centre, through its information and advice service, its day centre and lunch club and the thriving Haringey Irish Pensioners, provides a comprehensive service to the local Irish community and to the wider community which surrounds it. Like so many Irish centres around the country, it is a home-from-home, a place where a warm welcome and an empathetic ear is cheerfully available.
I am particularly pleased that this home-from-home reaches out to the wider community here in Haringey and builds such close relationships with other local communities by providing an inclusive, multicultural community space, where everyone is welcomed.
I’m delighted that friends from the Polish and Eastern European Christian Family Centre, based here at the Centre, are with us today as well as all the other groups that use the Centre for community events, including the St Vincent and Grenadines Association, the Barbados Association, the Eritrean Community Group and the Trinidad & Guyana Music Connection.
Of course, the Centre has developed a particularly close relationship with the local Montserrat community, who make such a valuable contribution to the Centre. I’m told that your joint participation in the London St. Patrick’s Day Parade is a wonderful celebration of colour, music and dance – long may this excellent collaboration, which represents the best of both our cultures, continue! I would also like to thank the Montserrat community for the very warm welcome I received from the steel band as I arrived here today.
I wish to take this opportunity to congratulate Causeway Irish Housing and Feith an Cheoil for their vital and essential work. Both organisations in my view provide a service that goes to the very heart of what a community is: the physical housing that is so essential to successful and independent living, as well as the promotion of culture, heritage and identity, the spiritual glue of any community.
Last night I enjoyed a performance of Conor McPherson’s new play, The Night Alive. It reminded me again of the remarkable success of Irish culture in Britain, and also of the fact that many Irish artists (like Conor and Martin McDonagh before him) have had their talents first recognised in Britain. A quick glance through any listings magazine confirms that the Irish have contributed to every branch of cultural life here.
But that success is not just limited to the cultural sphere; the Irish community in Britain has made an amazing journey over the last few decades. When we think of the circumstances in which earlier generations moved to Britain and established themselves, it is very encouraging 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.
From building and nursing to teaching and media, from politics and community work to music and sport and also in the world of business, Irish people have made their indelible mark and continue to do so. They have helped to shape modern Britain, as well as providing vital support to their Irish communities of origin.
I have spoken before of the profound debt we owe the Irish community for their invaluable contribution to the excellent relationship that Ireland and Britain enjoys today but I think it is a point worth repeating.
When Queen Elizabeth made her historic State Visit to Ireland, she paid her respects at the Garden of Remembrance to those who fought against Britain for Irish independence. And the next day she and former President McAleese led a moving ceremony at Islandbridge commemorating the thousands of Irishmen who gave their lives in British uniform in World War I.
The conduct of those two events vividly illustrates just how far our two nations have come in terms of mutual understanding and esteem. As recent events on the streets in Belfast show, the toxins of a divisive past have not entirely abated; there is still much work to be done in promoting reconciliation between communities and ending sectarianism. Nevertheless, despite these challenges, I firmly believe that Ireland and Britain now much better understand, respect and honour the history we share and encounter with our different narratives, and we are now working together as confident equal partners on the world stage.
The last line of the Aisling inscribed on the walls of the memorial in the Garden of Remembrance perhaps best sums what I wish to say:
“O generations of freedom remember us, the generations of the vision”.
Those who have gone before made sacrifices of many types so that those who came later could have a better life. The Irish who came to Britain knew too the importance of maintaining and nurturing our culture, our sports, our strong sense of community, our belief in supporting and reaching out to one another. We are the beneficiaries of their vision, and we do remember and honour them. Your work honours their vision and, in turn, your vision inspires others and deserves acknowledgement.
Just as the Irish community here plays its role in the political and civic life of this country, Irish communities abroad have an important role to play in the political and civic life of Ireland. Communities abroad are the keepers of our international reputation and we in Ireland can learn much from your sense of commitment and national pride.
I was very proud last year to be the first President of Ireland to visit the GAA Headquarters in Britain and was inspired by the spirit of solidarity and community that I experienced in Ruislip. That same spirit has now earned London a deserved place in the Connacht Football Final. This is a fantastic and deserved achievement and is a testament to the GAA in Britain and the fine work they have been doing over the years to promote our national games and to support Irish individuals within their adopted communities. I had an opportunity earlier to meet some of those directly involved in this fantastic sporting journey – including Team Manager Paul Coggins and Captain Seamus Hannon – and to congratulate them on their wonderful success.
I was also very pleased to meet representatives of St. Anthony’s GAA Club in Reading who this year are celebrating the golden jubilee of the club’s establishment. It is the “on the ground” work of clubs, like St. Anthony’s, that makes the GAA such a vibrant sporting and community organisation.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Donna-Maria Cullen, Executive Director with Tottenham Hotspur for joining us here today and reminding us of the huge Irish contribution to another of Britain’s most beloved games. Donna is accompanied by Tony Galvin, who was not only a wonderful player for Spurs but also made a great contribution to the Irish international team, and by Kenneth McEvoy one of Tottenham’s most promising academy players who has played for the U-19 Irish team.
Aithníonn muintir na hÉireann an méid éachtach atá déanta ar mhaithe le hÉirinn ag na glúnta imirceach Gaelach le céad bliain anuas; aithnítear a gcuid seoltán agus a gcuid saothair chun chultúr agus oidhreacht na nGael a chothú, fiú amháin le linn na tréimhsí sin nárbh éasca é bheith i do Ghael sa Bhreatain; agus tugtar aitheantas don chúnamh mothúchánach agus don chúnamh praiticiúil a thug siad dá chéile agus dá dtír dhúchais.
[The people of Ireland recognise the huge contribution generations of Irish emigrants made to Ireland over the last century; their remittances, their work to nurture Irish culture and heritage, even during times when being Irish in Britain was not easy; the emotional and practical support they provided to each other and to their homeland].
The establishment in 2004 of the Irish Government’s Emigrant Support Programme was and remains an important initiative. I am very happy that, despite the many conflicting demands currently on Ireland’s budgetary resources, funding for the Emigrant Support Programme has continued and that Centres and organisations such as those here in Haringey continue to be supported. I know that it will continue to be a high priority of the Embassy to work with you and I thank Ambassador McDonagh and his team for their efforts.
When any Ambassador is on his final week of duty prior to a new diplomatic assignment, the news of his or her President’s arrival is perhaps not received with the usual sense of joy. Yet despite the timing, Ambassador McDonagh and his wife Mary have again welcomed me with their customary courtesy, professionalism and grace.
I wish to sincerely thank Bobby for the years of exceptional service that he has provided here in London, on behalf of Ireland and the Irish community, and to wish him and Mary every success and happiness in their next posting in Rome. It will be quite a wrench for Bobby to be separated from London, the wonderful Irish community here and his beloved White Hart Lane. Bobby asserts that Spurs’ renaissance over recent years had nothing to do with Gareth Bale but is directly attributable to his diplomatic presence in London. So I look forward in confidence to Roma FC (or perhaps Lazio?) doing great things in the Champions League.
In conclusion, the work that organisations like the Centre, Causeway and Feith an Cheoil do, and the services you provide, will continue to be of the greatest importance. We are all indebted to those in our community in Britain who give freely of their time and talents in order to provide support to those in need, to ensure that our rich culture is maintained and handed on to the next generation, and that there continues to be Centres up and down the country where the best versions of our shared Irishness are rightly and proudly celebrated.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh agus rath Dé oraibh go léir.