6 January 2000 Edition

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Scotland's neglected Irish community


At the end of the Tan War, Eamon de Valera stated that the exiled Irish community of one country had been THE vital logistical base for the War against British rule in Ireland. In fact, this country, he said, had made a bigger financial contribution to the Irish republican war effort than all the other countries put together.

Was it the USA? No. England? No.

It was Scotland.

When the current phase of Ireland's Westminster problem became armed again, the Irish community in Scotland responded instinctively with money, marching bands and young men and women making the trip across to Belfast to offer their services.

As they say, ``them that know don't talk and those that talk don't know''. There will come a time for that story to be fully told - and quite a story it is. Suffice to say that the working class communities in and around Glasgow who considered themselves Irish did not stand idly by.

It is an important sub-plot to the revisionist game plan in Ireland that says the immigration of millions of our people over the decades of colonial rule was, in fact, a positive experience for them. Only nationalist mythmakers sought to see it as a direct result of Ireland's position as an imperialist possession. People broadened their horizons by going to Britain and America. Bottom line - immigration was A Good Thing. It saved Irish people from the three `P's: Priests, Poverty & Potatoes.

You can see their West Brit D'Olier Street sneer as they say it. They deal with colonialism in Ireland by denying that it exists or that they are an integral part of it.

Attempting to portray the Irish Diaspora as one big success story, free from being regimented by Rome, is a vital part of the game plan. Therefore, any news which indicates that all might not be well with the Diaspora experiment is not for publication.

Two recent studies on my birthplace, Glasgow, indicate that the luvvies who wish to portray immigration as an absolutely fabulous experience for Irish people are well off the mark.

The first study to look at is the recent one by the Townsend Centre for International Poverty Research at Bristol University in England.

The six worst places to live in Britain are all in my native city. There, in the 1990s, is clear evidence of a crippling poverty which ensures an early death. At least four of them, including Baillieston, where I was born and raised, could easily have the description of being a little Ireland.

The faces, the football shirts, the writing on the walls are more redolent of Belfast's Andytown than anything distinctly Caledonian. Those are my people - they're your's too.

Last summer, researchers at Glasgow University found that men with Irish surnames in West Central Scotland are 26 per cent more likely that other males in the West of Scotland to die prematurely. The same group were a massive 51 per cent more likely to die of heart disease.

The researchers concluded that the key difference affecting second generation Irish men on Clydeside was they are poorer. However, even when compared with similar profiles of poor Scottish men, those with Irish surnames were more likely to die early, and 35 per cent were more likely to die from heart disease.

The senior researcher in the team, Dr.Rory Williams of Glasgow University, stated: ``Lifestyle didn't do much to explain the differences that remain.''

This research, like almost all social science research that is worth looking at, is a longitudinal study. The work began nearly 30 years ago when academics assessed the health of nearly 6,000 men from workplaces in Glasgow, Clydebank and a few from Grangemouth in Central Scotland. 887 of the subjects had Irish names.

The study concluded: ``Discrimination in the workplace plays a significant role in the current disadvantage of those of Irish origin in Britain.'' This study is now to move on to address the issue of mental health among the second generation Irish in Scotland.

The most recent research available in England on this subject showed that migrants from this country had an admission rate to psychiatric hospitals of more than twice the English average. Some positive experience!!

These communities in the West of Scotland were steadfast in their support of this movement during the armed phase of this conflict. The solidarity they showed with the nationalist people of the Six Counties came from an instinctive understanding that they came from similarly oppressive historical circumstances. They too lived under the dour glare of respectable provincial Brits who despised the Taigs.

This peace process is about broadening the battlefield and widening the horizons of the struggle. The Anglo-Irish Agreement gave the Dáil a ``say'' in how the British treated nationalists in the Six Counties. The British Irish Council gives this movement - now in permanent government on this island - the potential to advocate for the Irish communities in Britain.

The position of the Irish community in Scotland can no longer be ducked by Scottish politicians. Scotland now has its own parliament, which controls health and social services and education.

There is no excuse.

The Irish community in Scotland suffers from a lack of esteem from the wider society. A Parity of Esteem for Irishness is starkly absent from the public agenda. The discrimination is cued á là Sammy's `Oul Stormont.

This crushing of the spirit and lack of job opportunities has a real effect on people's health.

Bertie Ahern gave the Lothian Lecture in Edinburgh a year ago and it was all sweetness in light about relations between the Celtic Tiger and newly democratic corporate Scotland. The social realities of the Irish in Scotland didn't even get a mention.

John Cooney in the Irish Times mused: ``Over time, economic change has dimmed this mixture of racial, religion and class bias against the Irish in Scotland.'' This, in the face of the recent social science research, is patent nonsense.

However, it is the nonsense that D'Olier Street wants from him.

Don't expect Mary Harney to be asking hard questions of Blair's Scottish branch managers about how come it's a health hazard to have an Irish name in their Wee Scotland.

There are currently no GFA checks and balances to stop the Edinburgh parliament becoming a real Stormont. Now that republicans are central players in the governance of this island, these issues must not be neglected any longer.

It would be fitting if Irish republicans, by utilising the structures of the GFA which were UUP inspired to maintain the link to their ``Britishness'', could be a catalyst for the liberation of Irish communities in Britain.

When the Clonard burned and the Bogside breathed CS gas, the people of my community reacted honestly and honourably - they saw the situation for what it was and then acted.

Many on this island did not.

Now it's time for the support to go the other way.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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