13 June 1997 Edition

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Liverpool Irish Centre faces closure

Sheila Coleman of the Liverpool Irish Centre is accusing receivers and the Liverpool police of engaging in a racist campaign to have the city's only Irish Centre closed down.

The centre on Mount Pleasant has been the target of a number of aggressive police raids, including incidents when armed police surrounded the premises and threatened to shoot a member of staff on 27 March this year. In a previous raid on 8 February the police were called to the centre after Sheila Coleman was attacked. When armed police arrived they behaved aggressively towards Coleman, arrested the centre coordinator who called them in the first place and beat up and CS gassed a man who was attending a separate function, then arrested him. The police refused to take any actions against the family who were originally fighting.

``The Liverpool Irish centre effectively operates under a state of siege,'' Coleman said. ``There has been a direct correlation between political events and the policing of the Irish community. From the time that Canary Wharf was bombed we have been subject to intense and differential policing''.

However, the Centre has now been targeted by the receivers who are determined to sell it into private ownership. At present the Centre is run on a co-operative basis which has made it accessible to the Irish living in Liverpool and to other minority groups who use the Centre on a regular basis.

On Saturday 31 May the receiver forced the centre to cancel one of its most lucrative nights, the Totem Night, which is extremely popular with Irish students and claimed they were acting on police advice.

The co-op has attempted to nurture an environment in which debate can flourish and in the past Sinn Féin representatives Francie Molloy and Joe Austin have visited the centre as has Gerard Rice. ``This centre has been an asset to the Irish of Liverpool and to young Irish people travelling over here to study or to work. It has also been a valuable resource to other groups,'' Coleman said, ``it'll be a shame to lose, but we're determined to keep it going despite the police and the receivers''.

A number of Irish students who used the Irish Centre when they travelled to England to study told An Phoblacht that without the centre they would have been stranded in England.

Said one, ``the people in the Centre gave us advice, helped us to get digs and without their help we would have been lost''. They told us that the Centre is much more than an Irish drinking club, ``it is an important cultural and social centre for the Irish community in the city. Before the club was run by people who were content to go with the flow and not raise any contentious issues, but that's changing. The Irish in Liverpool are now prepared to stand up for their rights as Irish people and it's because of that that the Irish Centre is being targeted''.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1