St Patrick’s Day: Irish Diaspora in the UK

Thursday 14th March 2024

(3 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Siobhain McDonagh Portrait Dame Siobhain McDonagh (in the Chair)
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I call Rebecca Long Bailey to move this highly appropriate and fantastic motion.

Rebecca Long Bailey Portrait Rebecca Long Bailey (Salford and Eccles) (Lab)
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I beg to move,

That this House has considered St Patrick’s Day and the contribution of the Irish diaspora to the UK.

Thank you, Dame Siobhain. I thank my co-sponsor, the right hon. Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Dame Karen Bradley), as well as all Members who supported the application for this very important debate and the Backbench Business Committee for granting it. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth), who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on Ireland and the Irish in Britain, for her support and her ongoing work championing the Irish diaspora in Britain.

As we know, the feast of St Patrick will be celebrated on Sunday. Here in the UK, we will be celebrating the strong cultural, political and business ties between Britain and Ireland, and the immense contribution of the Irish diaspora in Britain—and what a contribution it continues to be. Niall Gallagher, the chairman of Irish Heritage, has described the contribution of the Irish to cultural life in the UK as “incalculable”. The contribution of Irish labour to the British construction industry was described by Sir William McAlpine as “immeasurable”. As of June 2023, 13,700 members of NHS staff in England reported their nationality as Irish, including around 2,300 doctors and over 4,200 nurses. When President Higgins came to Manchester 10 years ago, he said that 55,000 directors who are Irish sit on the boards of British companies, and that number is even bigger today. The brightest and best who lay claim to an Irish heritage are smashing the glass ceiling in every aspect of working and public life, and I am proud to celebrate them today.

Karin Smyth Portrait Karin Smyth (Bristol South) (Lab)
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her kind words about the all-party group. At its meeting this week, we remembered our friend Sir Tony Lloyd and how proud he was to talk in these debates, as well as how we as a community recognise both the past and the future of the changing diaspora. Does my hon. Friend agree that, as well as recognising the diaspora’s contribution, it is important that we celebrate the generations coming forward and our continual travel across these islands as we plan for the future?

Rebecca Long Bailey Portrait Rebecca Long Bailey
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I completely agree with my hon. Friend. I also place on record my thanks to the late, great Tony Lloyd, who was my constituency MP when I was a child. He was a huge champion of the Irish community in Greater Manchester, and his legacy lives on today. My hon. Friend is right that it is important to remember that identities and links are changing year on year, with each passing generation, whether they come here to call Britain their home or have third, fourth or fifth-generation children and grandchildren who try to keep their cultural heritage and ties going.

The social and economic impact of the Irish diaspora in the UK and across the world has been duly recognised by the Irish Government in Ireland’s diaspora strategy, which aims to celebrate and strengthen the social, economic and cultural bonds between Britain, Ireland and other parts of the world. The strategy refers to the

“diverse and dynamic global community connected to Ireland through ties of citizenship, heritage and affinity, retaining a strong sense of Irish identity that has remained vibrant over the ages.”

At the time of the 2021 census, there were about 523,000 Irish-born people living in England and Wales alone, but those figures capture only a fraction of the second and third generations with Irish heritage. Bronwen Walter, emerita professor of Irish diaspora studies at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, estimated a few years ago that there are roughly 5 million people with at least one Irish parent or grandparent.

As visits to Irish cultural and community centres across Britain will show, the intergenerational community is thriving. Irish in Britain has stated:

“The numbers of people frequenting these centres, as well as the profiles of those actively involved in running activities at these cultural hubs confirm the increasing diversity of people who embrace their Irish heritage”.

Every first, second or even third-generation Irish diaspora member will know that when we hear a surname that sounds Irish, or have an inkling that someone has a bit of Irish in their background, we always set about finding out where their relatives—especially their parents or grandparents—are from, even down to the road that they lived on, in case anybody might know them. We want to check the pedigree. I will get that bit out of the way first by doing a little bit of a pedigree check on myself, for anyone who wants to know.

My mum, who was a Kelly before she married, is from Galway and my dad is a Long from Belfast. We have an interesting story about the Galway Kellys, if anyone knows the city: apparently my mum’s family had the shop and lived in the famous historical focal point there called the Spanish Arch—[Interruption.] Yes, I know! The Kellys have laid claim to that historical link for years. Anyone who was anyone was told of their claim to that important building. Then one day, while we were wandering about the Galway City Museum, we came across an old hand-written logbook, which stated the spooky fact that before the Kellys—hundreds of years before, in fact, because the Spanish Arch was built in the 1500s—a Bishop Long had lived there. That gave my dad cause to claim that the Spanish Arch was actually the ancestral home of the Longs, something he stated was further proven by the fact that the lane next to the arch, which runs along the harbour walls in Galway, is called The Long Walk. Suffice to say the Kelly relatives were not impressed at my dad’s protestations; they had always thought that The Long Walk was called that because it was a long road.

Further pedigree checks have been carried out on members of my family. My husband is a Bailey. He has no known Irish ancestry, but he still had to go through his own pedigree check when he was presented to the family many years ago. That escalated to the point that, during one family visit to Galway just before we married, everyone in the local pub that my aunt and uncle frequent had been furiously researching the Bailey family name, to check out my husband and make sure that he was all right for me to marry. Despite his having no known Irish links, they presented him with a genealogical history of the Irish surname Bailey, to prove to him that he actually had an Irish surname and therefore was Irish somewhere along the line, even if he did not know it yet. They also found him a castle allegedly owned by generations of the Bailey family, and presented him with a picture and details about it, so that he could check out whether he had any ancestral claim to it.

Joking aside, I was proud to grow up immersed in our thriving Greater Manchester Irish community. Every year, I was dispatched to the Irish centre, St Kentigern’s, Chorlton Irish Club and the Southern—you name it—to hear the music, arts and culture of my heritage. I read my mum’s copy of The Irish Post every week, which was the voice of the Irish in Britain, because it was important to know who we were and where we came from, and to foster that duty to keep our heritage alive for future generations.

John McDonnell Portrait John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab)
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My hon. Friend just mentioned The Irish Post. It is worth paying tribute to Breandán Mac Lua, who was the editor of The Irish Post and who held the Irish community together with information and community activities, even in the darkest of times. He linked up with Brendan Mulkere, the musician who taught different generations Irish dance, Irish fiddle and Irish whistle, particularly in London. That generation, in the toughest of times, held things together.

Rebecca Long Bailey Portrait Rebecca Long Bailey
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I completely agree with my right hon. Friend. The Irish Post was not only the voice of the Irish in Britain, but a lifeline to many people who had emigrated here, often in very difficult times, and acted as a support mechanism to bring communities together. They knew what was happening in the towns and cities across the UK and, despite the troubles that many people might have faced, they felt that they were not alone.

Indeed, the huge Irish diaspora across the north of England has been recognised by the Irish Government, who have opened the consulate general of Ireland for the north of England. Its establishment reflects a strong commitment to developing the British-Irish relationship and will strengthen the political, commercial, community and cultural ties between Ireland and the north of England.

Describing the contribution of the Irish community in Greater Manchester, Ireland’s President Michael Higgins has said that they had given the area countless talented footballers, vibrant cultural festivals, talented students, writers and businesspeople. For example, it was the Irish who made the greatest city on Earth—Salford, of course—a city in its own right. During the mid-19th century, there was an influx of Irish people into the Salford area, partly due to the great hunger in Ireland. In 1848, Salford Roman Catholic cathedral was consecrated, reflecting Salford’s large Irish-born community at the time. It was also the Irish who built the Manchester ship canal, which spurred on the industrial revolution in the north-west.

We have made our mark on culture and music too: from renowned playwright Shelagh Delaney to Shaun Ryder of the Happy Mondays, the list of successful Irish Salfordians who made their mark on the world is endless. It is also said that the famous song about Salford, “Dirty Old Town”, written by Salfordian Ewan MacColl, has all but taken out its own Irish citizenship.

The Irish community in Salford was at the heart of historical political theory and political activism. One example, Mary Burns, was a working-class woman with Irish parents, best known as the lifelong partner of Friedrich Engels. Sadly, we do not hear much about her, because they were living quite a bohemian lifestyle—living in sin was a big no-no in those days, and Engels got rid of all his personal letters to Karl Marx about Mary and himself after the latter’s death. We therefore know very little about Mary Burns, but it is said that Burns guided Engels through Salford, showing him the horrific poverty of Salford and Manchester, influencing his thinking and research, which later resulted in the well-known political work, “The Condition of the Working Class in England”.

We also lay claim to another fierce political activist in Salford: Eva Gore-Booth, the famous Salford suffragette and trade unionist, and the younger sister of Constance Markievicz. The two sisters spent their early years in Sligo, with Constance ultimately doing her thing in Ireland and Eva making her way to Salford, where she campaigned for women’s suffrage and trade unionism, and helped to set up the Manchester and Salford Women’s Trade Union Council, a precursor to the TUC we know today.

It is, however, often the less famous people who have the most evocative stories to tell. Irish in Britain has recently launched its “Look Back to Look Forward” exhibition—I urge anyone who does not get a chance to see it in person to check it out on the Irish in Britain website. The exhibition looks at the community’s journey over the last 50 years, sharing personal stories and the struggles and triumphs that have shaped each family’s history. The project was launched because many Irish immigrants who have settled in Britain since 1973 are now elderly, risking the loss of their migration memories. The project has shared those important voices to ensure that their legacies endure.

Some of those voices came to Britain to escape cultural conservatism, conflict or discrimination; others left Ireland for economic reasons. Each generation who came faced their own challenges and opportunities, from those who left home in search of a hopeful future but endured the horrific racism of the “No blacks, no Irish, no dogs” era in the late ’60s and early ’70s to those who faced less direct forms of racism during the Troubles. Many found greater freedoms and opportunities, and worked hard to build a life, businesses and a bright future for their families. Others saw the growing community and sought to build a network of support and shared cultural heritage that endures in cities and towns across the UK today. The exhibition highlights the multifaceted journey of Irish immigrants and their enduring impact on Britain. No two stories are the same, and the stories exhibited celebrate the shared heritage and contributions of the Irish diaspora.

On the issue of embracing Irish heritage, those who have it will know, as the Irish Times pointed out many years ago when finding out about Tony Blair’s Irish ancestry, that no sooner does a major world figure emerge than the Irish have him or her pegged down to their roots. Tony Blair’s grandparents were from Ballyshannon in County Donegal, and I will lay claim to a few more leading figures. Our lovely Chair today, Dame Siobhan McDonagh, has a proud Irish heritage. Two British Prime Ministers were born in Ireland: William Petty, the second Earl of Shelburne, and Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington. Denis Healey and Jim Callaghan were both of Irish origin. The late, great Tony Lloyd and countless parliamentarians across the House have laid claim to Irish heritage, and—who knew this?—Margaret Thatcher’s great-grandmother hailed from Bonane in County Kerry.

Also in the world of politics, I was reading in Jacobin magazine that, interestingly, a disproportionate number of Britain’s trade union leaders are the sons and daughters of Irish immigrants. They include Mick Lynch of the RMT, his deputy Eddie Dempsey, Mick Whelan, general secretary of ASLEF, Sharon Graham, general secretary of Unite, and Baroness Frances O’Grady, former general secretary of the TUC. Additionally, Christina McAnea, general secretary of Unison, is the daughter of Irish immigrants to Glasgow, and Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union, is the granddaughter of Irish immigrants.

The impact of the Irish diaspora on science and civil service is profound. Some of the recent winners of the Irish Government’s presidential distinguished service awards for the Irish abroad include Dr Patricia Mary Lewis, the research director for international security at Chatham House, Jocelyn Bell Burnell, the astrophysicist whose work won the Nobel prize, and Professor Teresa Lambe, one of the co-creators of the AstraZeneca vaccine. They are all from Irish backgrounds, and so too is Dr Susan Hopkins, who we saw on our TV screens during the pandemic as the chief medical adviser at the UK Health Security Agency.

In the arts we have a list of inspirational people, too. There are too many of them to mention them all today, sadly, but they include Danny Boyle, Caroline Aherne, Dusty Springfield, Elvis Costello, Boy George, the Beatles, Kate Bush, David Bowie, Cilla Black, the Sex Pistols, the Smiths, Oasis, Robbie Williams, Ed Sheeran, the Pogues, the Spice Girls, the Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Primal Scream and Radiohead—the list is quite simply endless.

The success and impact of the diaspora on every aspect of life in the UK is profound. All that aside, it is the everyday actions of my community and communities across the UK that I am so proud of—all the achievements that the Irish and Irish diaspora have had here in the UK, and the ever-strengthening connections between Ireland and UK that are being built.

We have huge numbers of brilliant and dedicated Irish-diaspora politicians and councillors across the UK who are transforming lives within their communities. We have amazing businesses and charitable and social organisations such as Irish in Britain, Irish Community Care, Irish Heritage and the Irish World Heritage Centre in Manchester. We have Irish societies and clubs right across the UK, sports clubs, radio stations, dance and music groups, festivals and even welfare advice services. Special mention goes to The Irish Post and The Irish World, which have been keeping the Irish community in Britain connected for decades.

To everybody watching this debate, whether you are first, second or third-generation Irish or a friend of the Irish community: thank you for what you have done and for what you continue to do. As the former Irish President Higgins has said:

“The closeness and warmth that we laud today was founded to a large extent upon the lives and sacrifices of generations of Irish emigrants who settled in this country—generations of Irish people who came here and contributed so positively to nearly every aspect of British society, who did so much to make Britain what it is today while at the same time fostering understanding, tolerance and cooperation between our two countries.”

That bond goes from strength to strength today, thanks to those who continue to ensure that it endures. On Sunday, wherever you are and whoever you are celebrating with: Lá fhéile Pádraig sona daoibh—happy St Patrick’s day.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Siobhain McDonagh Portrait Siobhain McDonagh (in the Chair)
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Order. This may be redundant, but I remind hon. Members that they should bob if they wish to be called to speak.

Karen Bradley Portrait Dame Karen Bradley (Staffordshire Moorlands) (Con)
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I think that this is probably the first time that I have served under your chairmanship, Dame Siobhain; it is an absolute honour to do so. I pay tribute to my co-sponsor, the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey), for her excellent opening speech and for setting out so eloquently the contribution of the Irish community in her community and in the wider United Kingdom. She is such an advocate for the Irish community in the UK.

I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allocating time for this debate on 14 March, the closest we could get to St Patrick’s day. When we applied to the Backbench Business Committee, we said that we were keen to have the debate as close to St Patrick’s day as possible. That has meant that we could not be in the Chamber, for obvious reasons—it is estimates day—but we have a full three-hour debate, and we have the chance to talk, as close to St Patrick’s day as possible, about our views and our love for the Irish diaspora and all things Irish in our communities.

I confess that I fail the family test, because I am a Mancunian Howarth. The Howarths do not seem to have a great deal of Irish heritage in us; we tend to just be from Manchester. I can pick out lots of bits of Manchester that I have heritage from, but I cannot pick out anywhere in Ireland. I can claim a marriage link, however, because the Bradleys, who I married into, were originally the Bradleys of County Tyrone. I am proud that my children have that Irish link, even though I do not, and that they can proudly say they have Irish heritage. Irish heritage matters: people value being able to identify with Ireland and the Irish community. My mother told me that when she was growing up in Manchester, the Irish community played an important role in Gorton, where she lived. Her father worked in construction, and he knew many Irish colleagues.

The hon. Member for Salford and Eccles mentioned the football clubs. I confess that I support the team that has had fewer Irish players in its history, City, but United has always had a significant number of Irish players and a very big Irish support contingent. Getting a plane from Dublin or Belfast to Manchester on the day of a United match is nigh-on impossible.

My links to Ireland were really cemented when I was appointed Secretary of State for Northern Ireland—SoSNI, as they say in the Northern Ireland Office. I will not pretend that it was not a shock. The late, great James Brokenshire had been doing the role, and he had done a really excellent job. I do not think it is possible to find anyone who would ever say that James Brokenshire ever did anything that was not utterly brilliant, and he was brilliant at that job, but he had just been diagnosed with lung cancer, and for his health and his family’s sake he needed to step away from the role.

At that point, I was Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. I walked into the Department in the morning planning what we were going to do for the rest of the year. It was the first day back—it was actually James’s 50th birthday, so I had been wishing him a happy birthday, and then the news came through that he was resigning and we did not know why. It suddenly dawned on me that someone was going to have to go to Northern Ireland. It never occurred to me that I would be given that role, but the then Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), invited me into the Cabinet room and—because I had been a Whip and, more importantly, had served with her in the Home Office and understood the sensitivities around the security issues—asked me if I would take on the role. It was a shock to the system, but I have to say that it was the greatest honour.

Serving in the Northern Ireland Office, as the Minister knows, is truly one of the greatest honours that one can have in this place, because of the warmth of welcome and the depth of hope and expectation that are put on the politician. There are very few roles that have that as much as Secretary of State or Minister of State for Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is a place where politics genuinely changed lives. There are very few places where politics and politicians managed to do something as incredible as the Belfast/Good Friday agreement 26 years ago, which got the weapons laid down and ended the violence.

We all agree that there are still many problems, and some people who have never accepted the peaceful solution to the constitutional status of Northern Ireland, but the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland, Ireland and the United Kingdom accepted that that political settlement and the compromises involved in it were worth making because of the change that could happen. The two architects—the late Lord Trimble and John Hume—should be admired for their ability to put aside sectarian differences, come together and show true leadership to solve what had seemed an intractable problem. I wish there were more leaders like them around the world who could do the same thing and make that difference.

The other person I want to mention from my time in the Northern Ireland Office is Tony Lloyd, my shadow. He was a wonderful person to have shadowing me. We would occasionally have ding-dongs across the Dispatch Box; that is what politics is about, but I can assure everybody that when we got behind closed doors we got on like a house on fire. We supported different football teams—again, that Manchester difference—but we always had great conversations. If we were in Belfast at the same time and we could make it work, we would make a point of getting together with the hon. Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth)—I will call her my hon. Friend —who was part of his team too.

We had great conversations. We wanted the same thing: we wanted the restoration of devolved government, and we wanted to work together to achieve it. We had different ways in, and different people we could influence, but we were all trying to get to the same thing. I am so relieved that we currently have devolved government in Northern Ireland, because it is vital for the people of Northern Ireland that they are properly represented by the people they elect to do so.

My constituency does not have a large Irish diaspora, but it has two great Irish employers. Advanced Proteins owns a plant that does animal rendering—it is not a terribly attractive thing to do, but it does it very well. The Irish dairy company Ornua, which brings Irish cheese and butter across the Irish sea to Leek in Staffordshire, also has a plant; Kerrygold is packaged in Leek, and all the cheese from Ireland is processed, grated, put into blocks and sold to consumers across Great Britain. I have a great need for the Irish to be successful, because they employ so many of my constituents. It is incredibly important that Ornua and Advanced Proteins know that we welcome them in the United Kingdom and we want them to continue to invest.

I have the great honour of being co-chair of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, following on from my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell), who did a fantastic job for so many years—he has been missed at our meetings. For those who do not know, the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly began with the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Back in the early 1990s, there was a recognition that we had inter-parliamentary groups and there were conversations at Government level, but conversations at parliamentarian level are incredibly important in allowing people to recognise that we all face the same problems and all want the same solutions.

Before what was the British-Irish parliamentary group, there may have been a lack of trust and understanding and a lack of ability to empathise with parliamentarians on the other side of the Irish sea. The two Inter-Parliamentary Union groups—the British one, which I am honoured to chair in our Parliament, and the one from the Oireachtas—were therefore asked if they could form a grouping of parliamentarians to find a way to open up that dialogue. That was six years before the Belfast/Good Friday agreement; it was a very important part of the dialogue that created an atmosphere in which the agreement could happen.

I pay tribute to the late Lord Temple-Morris, who was one of the people who led the initiative from Westminster, and to Dick Spring from the Oireachtas. We were honoured that at a recent assembly Dick was able to address our dinner: it was lovely to hear from somebody who had not only been an architect of the agreement, but been there beforehand laying the groundwork for it.

I also pay tribute to the wonderful Amanda Healy, who has been the administrator of BIPA for 30 years. Without Amanda, the whole thing would collapse. She is utterly amazing. It would be wrong of me to say anything other than that she is absolutely fantastic—thank you, Amanda. I also thank the brilliant clerk, Martyn Atkins, who makes sure that I know what I am saying as co-chair, keeps me on track and ensures that I entirely deliver the message that needs to be delivered.

Andrew Rosindell Portrait Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con)
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I thank my right hon. Friend for her kind remarks. I was proud to be the co-chair of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly from 2016 to 2022. I commend her work, and the work of BIPA over so many years in promoting relations between not just Britain and Ireland, but the devolved legislatures of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the Crown dependencies of the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey. Sunday is an important day for me because it is my birthday on St Patrick’s Day. My great- grandparents were Dempseys and O’Learys.

If my right. hon Friend will indulge me for a moment, I would like to pay tribute to the schools and churches in my constituency—St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church and St Mary’s Roman Catholic Primary School in Hornchurch, St Peter’s Catholic School and St Edward’s Roman Catholic Church in Romford, St Patrick’s Catholic Primary School in Collier Row and Corpus Christi. I also pay tribute to the Iona club, which is somewhere people of Irish ancestry can go to socialise and meet people in the local community. I am proud of my Irish links and the Irish connections within Romford. I look forward to continuing to work with my right hon. Friend and all Members of the House to ensure that we promote strong British-Irish relations going forward.

Karen Bradley Portrait Dame Karen Bradley
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right to pay tribute to all the schools and churches that help to promote the Irish identity in his constituency. I also thank him for his work on BIPA, which he was so devoted and dedicated to for so many years.

When the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body was in place, it was just the Oireachtas and Westminster, and then the ’98 agreement happened. The agreement itself envisaged a body to shadow the new British-Irish Council, perhaps along the lines of the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body. The body took the hint, and by 2005 it had become the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly and, as my hon. Friend said, was not just the Oireachtas and Westminster. It was expanded to include all the legislatures in the British Isles—all the devolved Parliaments and the Parliaments in Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man—exactly mirroring the British-Irish Council. I must say to the Minister that we would be delighted if BIPA could have more of a role in scrutinising the British-Irish Council, because we feel that we would be the perfect body, able to discuss what the BIC is debating and bring a parliamentary aspect to that work.

One thing that BIPA has been able to do, unlike any other body, is give a voice to the Members of the Legislative Assembly who have been members during the times we have not had a Government in Stormont. Because of the way it is constituted and the history, members of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly remain members even if their Parliament is not sitting. That has meant that MLAs have had a voice on BIPA throughout all the periods when the Stormont Assembly has been suspended. I pay tribute to Steve Aiken, who serves on the steering committee. He is now the Deputy Speaker in Stormont, but he has been able to attend every one of our assemblies and steering committees, despite the fact that Stormont was not sitting. He and other MLAs have been able to bring the voice of Northern Ireland to the debate, which is incredibly important.

I want to quickly touch on a plenary that we held in March 2023 to mark the 25th anniversary of the 1998 agreement. It was just before St Patrick’s day because, as everybody knows, if any event is going to happen around St Patrick’s day, we can forget anybody from Ireland being there because they will all be enjoying the celebrations in Washington, Dublin, London, Chicago, Boston or all the other places that put on the most magnificent St Patrick’s day events. We had a wonderful meeting, and with the kind permission of the then Speaker, Alex Maskey, we were able to use the Stormont Assembly Chamber. It was very special because it was using a building that had not been used for many months at that point.

We were grateful to be addressed by Bertie Ahern, who was the Taoiseach at the time of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, Sir John Holmes, who had been principal private secretary to John Major and Tony Blair, and Kate Fearon, Bronagh Hinds, Dr Avila Kilmurray and Jane Morrice, who were all members of the Women’s Coalition. That was an incredible session, because the voice of the women who had been instrumental in bringing about the agreement was so powerful and resonated with everyone who was there. Finally, Jonny Byrne from Ulster University reflected on the achievements of policing under the agreement, and the work still left to do.

In BIPA we discuss policy issues. We discuss those areas that are relevant to all of us, such as housing, tourism, sovereign matters, defence and energy provision. Reports are issued by our committees on a regular basis, which are in-depth and technical policy discussions. They are well worth reading because they touch on many aspects of our shared policy concerns, and make suggestions and recommendations for how things can be different.

I commend the work of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. It is a fantastic body. I have been honoured to co-chair it for the last 18 months or so. I am looking forward to our next plenary in Wicklow, which is coming up in a few weeks’ time, just after Easter. I finish by wishing everybody a happy St Patrick’s day. It is always a great opportunity to enjoy oneself; the Irish give us a real chance to have such fun with our friends.

Claire Hanna Portrait Claire Hanna (Belfast South) (SDLP)
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Go raibh maith agat, Cathaoirleach. Seo seachtain Lá Fhéile Pádraig agus fosta Seachtain na Gaeilge, coicís go deimhin, agus tá imeachtái ar fud an tír, agus ar fud an domhain a thugann faillí dúinn cultúr, teanga agus oidhreacht na hÉireann a cheiliúradh. Maith sibh, gach baill as an chúpla focal a úsáid. As well as being St Patrick’s week, it is Seachtain na Gaeilge, an opportunity everywhere to use the Irish language, and to celebrate Irish language and culture. Well done to all the Members who have used their Focail Gaeilge in the Chamber today.

It is a pleasure to follow Members from across the House who have done so much to honour and deepen the contribution of the Irish to Britain. They have represented the Irish in Britain for years with inclusivity, confidence and brilliant stories. I am proudly a Belfast woman and a Belfast MP, but I am a native of Galway. I was born there, so next time I am down I will look for the ancestors of the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey).

It was not always an easy landing for people who arrived in Britain from Ireland, including my own parents, who came to this city in their younger years. Many faced isolation and discrimination when they got here, but many also found refuge, acceptance and opportunities that they had not found in Ireland. It is a fact that, to our shame in many cases, Ireland pushed people out because they were pregnant, because they were gay, because there was no work for them or because they otherwise did not fit. Many of those unwanted people found opportunities and acceptance here—they often found social democracy here—and for that we are grateful.

Those people found a good home, but they have also done so much to make it a good home for many other people. Across all classes of work, vocation and talent, Irish people are succeeding in construction, as has been traditional, but also in sectors as diverse as the health service, the arts and sports. So successful are they that many times commentators in the media claim them as British. However, I am happy to confirm that Cillian Murphy is definitively ours this week after his Oscar win. We are many things, but the island of Ireland is a global cultural superpower, and we are very happy to share that—although we are a bit possessive of it as well.

The Irish in Britain, and the Irish-British relationship, are also a critical part of the ethos of the Good Friday agreement. Nurturing that strand 3 architecture is a really important part of our role here in Westminster, and something that we take very seriously. It is not a secret that my party and I aspire to a new agreed and reconciled Ireland. Through our New Ireland Commission we have published a set of six principles that we hope will guide that conversation over the years and decades to come. Those principles are around reconciliation and empathy, embracing diversity, and being outward-looking, hopeful and honest. The deep integration of Irish people here, and the way they cherish and entwine their Irish and their British identity, is a model, and a level of maturity, that Irish nationalism should aspire to and emulate. The Northern Irish in particular are moving on from traditional binaries and embracing the “or both” provisions of the Good Friday agreement. They feel that they do not have to choose between their Irishness and their Britishness, and I say more power to their elbow for that.

The violent years before the Good Friday agreement did drive a wedge between people in communities in Northern Ireland, obviously, but here as well and between Britain and Ireland. We are all still working hard to bridge that. But it is precisely because of those painful parts of our shared past that we really have to work to deepen and embed our friendship and neighbourliness and put that cycle of mistrust into the past. Wherever we may go in the years and decades to come, it is very clear that a confident, strong and pluralist Britain is in Ireland’s interests and vice versa.

We live in the shadow and the shelter of each other. Michael D. Higgins has rightly been quoted this afternoon. He said that through our improved relationship as equals and friends, the Irish and British can

“embrace the best versions of each other”.

The Irish in Britain do that every day, and I am really pleased to pay tribute to them, particularly because of the turbulence of the past. Go raibh maith agat, agus lá fhéile Pádraig sona daoibh go léir. Thank you, and happy St Patrick’s day everybody.

Mark Logan Portrait Mark Logan (Bolton North East) (Con)
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I have not actually prepared a speech; I was just assuming that I would be the only Irish accent in today’s debate, but then the good hon. Member for Belfast South (Claire Hanna) chipped in. I cannot do any Irish except for: conas atá tú?

Claire Hanna Portrait Claire Hanna
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You could do Ulster Scots.

Mark Logan Portrait Mark Logan
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I could do Ulster Scots, but—[Interruption.] Same thing! I am glad to see my hon. Friend the Minister here. A year ago I tried to put him on the spot by asking him to speak a bit of Ulster Scots, and he went a bit red during that APPG event on Northern Ireland. I also asked his very good civil servants—not to put them on the spot—who the most famous Irish people in Britain right now are. I was thinking of people from the past, like Terry Wogan, Graham Norton, or Dara Ó Briain, but they said two or three names that I had never heard of before, so I must be getting old—they were for the younger, more fashionable people these days. It is obvious that the contribution the Irish have made to Great Britain has been absolutely massive.

Andrew Rosindell Portrait Andrew Rosindell
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My hon. Friend mentioned the incredible contribution that Irish people have made to Great Britain and the United Kingdom and all of the islands that we share. Would he agree that the Irish people have contributed an enormous amount of support to the Commonwealth? The Irish ancestry is all around the Commonwealth. St Patrick’s day, which we celebrate, will also be celebrated on Sunday in Montserrat—a British overseas territory—as he is their patron saint. Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be wonderful to see Ireland become the next member of the Commonwealth of Nations?

Mark Logan Portrait Mark Logan
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I thank my hon. Friend for his contribution. Indeed, he has been hiding his Irish ancestry over the last four-and-a-half years; I had no idea that there were Dempseys in the family going back. I know he is very passionate when it comes to the issue of the Commonwealth, but I might get slippery shoulders on this and divert that question to the Minister, if he fancies taking it up, although it is an incredibly interesting idea.

We can see the Irish influence across the whole of these islands, the Commonwealth and the world. We see it especially when it comes to the United States, with the number of US presidents who have Irish or Ulster Scots heritage. I think of my own neck of the woods in north Antrim. I was born in the townland of Moneydollog, halfway between Ahoghill and Cullybackey. President Chester A. Arthur was the first “birther” President—that is, people at the time did not think he was born in the United States. His parents were both born approximately three fields across from where I grew up. Then there were other presidents, such as Andrew Jackson and Buchanan from over in the Donegal direction. The impact and influence have been massive.

I was also drawn to what the former Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Dame Karen Bradley), said. I am not sure about the impact of the Irish diaspora in her constituency, but Irish in Britain has a wonderful website where people can hover over every constituency in the UK and find out the number of Irish passport holders or those who identify as Irish. In my constituency of Bolton North East—next door to Salford and Eccles, give or take a constituency—there are roughly a thousand constituents with an Irish passport. One might not think that to be significant, but my majority is 378—that could make a big difference for me in the election, come November-time or later in the year. Obviously, I am not doing this for votes at the ballot box; that is not why we are here. Their contribution has been massive.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands mentioned the construction industry. There is a gentleman by the name of Dr John Kennedy who lives just outside Greater Manchester in Cheshire. He was born in Mayo.

When he told me this story, it felt a bit like “Angela’s Ashes”. He spoke about how he, one of his siblings and his mother travelled to the United States, but his sibling sadly passed away during that time of hardship. He said that when he returned to Mayo in the 1950s and 1960s, there were no jobs, so he had to make his way to London. When he got there, he had no skills but, on day one, he got up and said, “I’m going to work harder than every single person around me. I’m going to put my head down and make something of myself.”

He started off cleaning and, after a year or two, he set up his own cleaning company. It all snowballed, and he eventually ended up with a construction company that he sold around 20 years ago for roughly £100 million—give or take £20 million; I might be a bit off there, but it was a colossal sum. He was involved in the Good Friday/Belfast agreement in 1998, because his construction company produced a commemorative article for it. I pay testament to him and the hundreds of thousands of others who have contributed so much to British society. For full disclosure, I declare a financial interest: he gave me a couple of hundred pounds for my political campaign, either last year or the year before.

I thought it was interesting that the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey) referred to the discrimination of the past. I was just reading through The Bolton News, which mentioned how, when a plague or disease of sorts hit the town of Bolton in the mid- 19th century, the Irish community were blamed for bringing it across. There was a lot of taboo and scare about the “other” at the time.

I came to my constituency to represent Bolton North East as MP in 2019, and I am very proud, as the Minister of State is, also to represent one of the largest Muslim communities—predominantly Gujarati Indian Muslims—of any Conservative MP in the country. To this day, nearly every time I go to my mosques in Bolton North East, they will tell me about how, when their fathers or grandfathers first came to this country, they felt a deep affinity with the Irish because they also suffered from those feelings of discrimination. During Ramadan, I pay tribute to that community in Bolton North East.

On UK-Ireland relations, a great point was made about how the Irish consulate in Manchester has opened up in the past three years and is serving the whole north of England. That is great to see, because the bilateral relationship between the United Kingdom and Ireland hit many bumps during the Brexit years. It was a very difficult time, and there was a huge decrease in trust between the two sides. We saw that a couple of years ago at a British-Irish Association event in Oxford, where there was a real asymmetry—this is a call more to colleagues on this side of the Irish sea—in the understanding of one another. In the Republic of Ireland, everyone is very well schooled in who is in our Cabinet and what our policies are, but it is sometimes felt that, on this side, we could be doing a lot more homework on what is one of the closest nations, peoples and cultures to the United Kingdom on this planet.

I finish on that and by again thanking all the Irish-lovers—whoever loves the Irish people across the whole United Kingdom. Have a wonderful St Patrick’s day, from someone originally from Ballymena, where obviously the great St Patrick spent many a year. We had an argument in the all-party parliamentary group on Ireland and the Irish in Britain, because I said that he spent more time in Ballymena than any other part. A Welsh colleague said, “No, he was in Wales longer,” and someone said that he was in Downpatrick longer. However, I can assure hon. Members that he spent most of his life in Slemish, looking over the sea.

Andrew Rosindell Portrait Andrew Rosindell
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Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mark Logan Portrait Mark Logan
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Not Romford! It could not possibly also be Romford.

Andrew Rosindell Portrait Andrew Rosindell
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My hon. Friend mentioned Wales. It was wonderful to see the flag of Wales flying from the flagpoles in New Palace Yard, and Westminster Abbey will fly the flag of St Patrick this weekend for St Patrick’s day. I hope that my hon. Friend will urge the Minister to ensure that Government buildings fly the cross of St Patrick to represent all Irish people, north and south, on the day of their patron saint on 17 March.

Mark Logan Portrait Mark Logan
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I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, and I absolutely agree; what a great way to finish.

Rachel Hopkins Portrait Rachel Hopkins (Luton South) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Dame Siobhan, in the fantastic debate that we have had so far. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey) and the right hon. Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Dame Karen Bradley) on securing it. There have been some excellent comments and speeches so far about the immeasurable impact of the Irish diaspora across the whole of the UK.

I will focus my remarks on the enormous contribution that our Irish diaspora has made to Luton over many decades. In fact, I said to my colleague and hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles when I came in that I have been asked many times where I am from. I say, “Luton”, and people say, “But where are you really from?” I will come on to that a little later in my speech.

Luton has benefited immensely over the years from Irish immigration, post-world war two in particular, and the generations of settled Irish diaspora. The 2021 census found that 3% of Luton identifies as white Irish, which is more than three times the average for England and Wales. There has been a positive impact across all aspects of life in Luton, with, I might suggest, a “work hard, play hard” approach to life.

I reflect on the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles about many trade union leaders being of Irish descent. I pay tribute to the many local trade union representatives in Luton who are of Irish descent. Maybe that understanding of community and solidarity plays out in the work that they do as representatives. Growing up in Luton, I feel that I benefited immensely from having friends from the Irish diaspora, many of whom I met at Luton Sixth Form College, who joined from Cardinal Newman Catholic School. Their parents came over to England from Ireland to work, and to work hard, with many building roads and houses or working at Luton’s Vauxhall plant. Some met at the Galtymore and wanted to settle down and move out to Luton.

My friends from the second-generation Irish community also worked hard. Many were the first to go to university, and others became skilled tradesmen, electricians and carpenters running their own businesses. However, everyone worked hard, which led to everyone playing hard once the end of the week arrived and being up for the craic. I first experienced and learned what the craic was in the summer after my A-levels, during the Italia ’90 World cup, which was the first football World cup championships that Ireland reached. I watched Ireland play Italy in the quarter finals in the Painters Arms and, even though Ireland lost, the party carried on, including at the Mad Hatter nightclub, with Irish tricolours flying high, and singing and dancing into the small hours. Understanding the craic means that, even when we lose, we still have a party.

Although sport is just one of the cultural influences of the Irish diaspora in Luton, whether it was some of my friends playing football for St Josephs back in the day or the next generation of young women playing for the Claddagh Gaels Gaelic football team today in Luton, the musical influence of the Irish community in Luton has enriched our town immensely. In preparing this speech, I was reminded by my good friends Mick and Trish about their talents on the fiddle and piano accordion respectively as teenagers. However, they had to admit that they were not a patch on their younger sister Clare, who won the All-Ireland Championship for under-12s on the banjo and mandolin back in 1985.

Irish music and watching bands have been a staple of our cultural offering and nightlife in Luton. Back in the ’90s, we would be sure to go if Poison the Poteen was playing, and many more bands over the years, be it the Whiskey Preachers, Kell or, more recently, Missing the Ferry have had songs of humour and sorrow. It is a commentary of life, building on the storytelling of traditional Irish folk songs passed down the generations. Music and singing are not just confined to Sundays at Our Lady, the Holy Ghost, Sacred Heart or St Margaret’s; they are more often heard at many of our fantastic pubs with close links to our Irish community: O’Sheas, the Phoenix, the Sugar Loaf, the Globe, the Baillie, the Wheelies, the Painters, my friend Marie’s pub the Gardeners Call and, for some of us of a certain age, the long-ago Club Erin and Eddie’s Bar. They are a real focus of community and solidarity, and we still frequent them often now.

Where music and a pub are involved, there is usually a dance to be had. It is right that I celebrate the success of many Irish dancers and Irish dancing clubs in Luton, particularly Finbarr Conway and his academy of Irish dancing, which has produced many Irish dancing champions in Great Britain, as well as representatives who have made it to the world championships on a regular basis.

A key institution in Luton that must be celebrated in this debate is Luton Irish Forum. I particularly want to thank everyone there for its outstanding work on behalf of the Irish diaspora: Noah Lech, the chief executive, and Tom Scanlon, the chair, and of course the executive team, all the staff, and the regular volunteers, who do a brilliant job, as part of the charity, of promoting Irish identity, culture and heritage, and also improving the quality of life of the Irish community and all in Luton. That means supporting people in need, poverty or distress—particularly, but not exclusively, those of Irish descent—and working in partnership with Luton Council and other voluntary and community sector groups to support our Luton community.

Of course, Luton Irish Forum also advances education in Irish music, drama, arts and language. A key part of that is the annual Luton St Patrick’s festival, which is a leading part of Luton’s cultural calendar, whether people are Irish or not. It has brought Irish music, dance and drama to the streets and entertainment venues of Luton, and it has grown from strength to strength across the years. Given the way in which Luton celebrates, it was no coincidence that the previous Irish ambassador’s final engagement, in September 2022, was to attend the launch of “Paint the Town Green”, a documentary about the creation of Luton’s St Patrick’s day festival.

Just six or so months later, the incoming and now current ambassador came to Luton and was sure to visit Luton Irish Forum, where he said he received the best welcome he had ever had. I was there, and I would say it was the most rousing welcome, with the Emerald Pipe Band piping him in. The St Patrick’s festival is already under way, with many events taking place, and I cannot wait to join everyone on Sunday for the 25th Luton St Patrick’s parade.

Finally, we make much of St Patrick, but in Luton and through the Luton Irish Forum, we celebrate St Brigid. She is Ireland’s female patron saint and, for a number of years, Luton Irish Forum has hosted an annual afternoon tea and celebrated Irish women, such as those in sport and fashion. I particularly enjoyed last year’s event because it celebrated the achievements of Irish women in the NHS. As of June 2023, over 13,500 members of the NHS staff in England reported their nationality as Irish, including over 2,000 doctors and over 4,000 nurses. Luton’s St Brigid’s day event highlighted the stories of three women from our local Irish community: Betty Halfpenny and Roseanna Anderson, who came to the UK to be nurses, and Rosaleen Burke, a radiographer who worked at the Luton and Dunstable hospital for over 50 years.

To conclude, I want to say that Luton and our country have benefited enormously from our Irish community and the Irish diaspora. We are proud of all the work they have done to enrich and empower our community, and I am so proud that I am able to represent everybody as a Member of Parliament for Luton South. I cannot wait for the party on St Patrick’s Day on Sunday. Sláinte!

Andy Slaughter Portrait Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab)
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It is a real pleasure to be here and to have you chairing this debate, Dame Siobhain. I compliment those who have brought the debate forward—I think it is important that we do this every year. It is a privilege to represent one of the largest and longest-established Irish communities in England, and indeed one of the most talented. From W. B. Yeats to the Pogues, Hammersmith has represented the best of not just literature and music, but many different forms of arts and science.

I want to talk a little about the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith, which is rightly recognised as one of the centres of Irish culture in the UK. I pay tribute to the current team: William Foote, the director; Ros Scanlon, the artistic director; and Peter Power-Hynes, the chair of trustees. It is rather invidious to name people going back over the 30 years that the centre has existed, but I cannot not name the previous director, David O’Keefe, who sadly died tragically young in 2019; Ivan Gibbons, Hilda McCafferty, Mary Walker—people who have made the centre a lasting success—and, last but not least, Jim O’Hara, who for 13 years was the chair of trustees.

The centre runs a brilliant arts programme all year round, particularly in the weeks of St Patrick’s day and St Brigid’s day, and it includes not just music and theatre, but painting. Members should go to the centre if only to see the paintings illustrating the text of “Ulysses”, which are fantastic and a day out in themselves, in one of the best libraries of Irish books in the country. Just to prove that they do not just do administrative tasks, a couple of weeks ago I went to see Brian Friel’s fantastic play, “Lovers”, which some may be familiar with, and William, the director, starred, and Ros, the artistic director, directed.

A lot of what we do at the centre is home-grown. On Friday afternoons and evenings, there are music sessions. Anybody can come along with an instrument and join in—that is an open invitation to Members present, but it is surprisingly melodic and harmonious, so maybe they should check their level of ability. It is fantastic. Any member of the public can wander in and just sit for three or four hours every Friday and listen to some of the most beautiful Irish music.

These things do not happen by accident. My association goes back to when we first commissioned and built the Irish centre back in the early 1990s, when I was deputy leader of the council. It was principally the project of the then leader of the council, Iain Coleman, who was my predecessor as MP for Hammersmith and Fulham, and the councillor Sean Reddin. That was a time of austerity as well, but they found the site and the money, they put it together and they built the Irish centre. It was opened by the then Tánaiste, Dick Spring, and it was hugely successful.

Unfortunately, that centre did not survive—for political reasons I will not go into, the site was going to be sold—but a group of people who wanted it to survive came together. That included, in the end, the local authority, then led by Stephen Cowan, and Shepherd’s Bush Housing Association, led by Paul Doe. They bought the site, knocked down the existing centre and built an even better centre, which is there today, with about five floors of social housing on top of it. It is a real tribute to the community that that all came together in the way it did.

The key parties to that happening were the Irish embassy and the Irish Government, which, even during a time of great austerity, was able to find the resources to support it. I pay tribute to not just Martin Fraser, the current ambassador, but his predecessors, for everything they have done to support Irish culture and the Irish diaspora in the UK. They really understand the importance of that. They do not just pay lip service to it; they put in their money, resources and enthusiasm. I hope that will long continue. We have had the privilege of welcoming a number of Irish Prime Ministers, Deputy Prime Ministers and Cabinet Ministers, and I think we will again this week. I am indulging myself a little bit, Dame Siobhain, because the centre is a very important institution for not just the Irish community, but the whole community, and not just in Hammersmith, but in all of west London.

I will finish by touching on one other aspect. My seat is changing: if I am successful in the next election, I will keep Hammersmith but gain Chiswick. There are many links between Hammersmith and Chiswick, and one of them is Yeats. Anyone who has not done so should go on the Yeats walk, which begins in Hammersmith and takes you on a journey down the river and into Chiswick, because Yeats lived for a number of years in Bedford Park and composed some of his most famous works while he was living there. Chiswick Eyot is the model for “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”. That is my contention; I am not sure that everybody would agree, but that is certainly what we believe in west London.

Cahal Dallat, himself a very well-respected poet, has championed the cause of Yeats. We not only have the Yeats walk and a wonderful sculpture called “Enwrought Light”—people might recognise the literary reference there—in the grounds of St Michael’s church, but we have the Yeats app, so people can go round and visit all the sites that Yeats made famous as part of his life there. It is something that we treasure and a hugely important part of our culture. It is great that some of the greatest artists in the world have come and shared that with us in west London, but that is just so typical of the Irish diaspora, which has brought joy as well as talent across the world. That is what we should pay tribute to today.

Martin Docherty-Hughes Portrait Martin Docherty-Hughes (West Dunbartonshire) (SNP)
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Tapadh leat, a Cathaoirleach. I am delighted to participate in this debate, which was secured by the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey), and I thank them for doing so. We were talking earlier about how we are seemingly in the pull-out of The Irish Post today. That will not do me any harm, I am sure the hon. Member for Bolton North East (Mark Logan) will think.

I am reminded of a story we heard the last time we had this debate, in the Chamber, which was secured by our friend, the late Member for Rochdale, whom we miss from this debate today. I was telling the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles and the Minister that we had the debate and that by the time I got home to tell my dad in Clydebank that we were in the Donegal News, because that debate made headlines in Donegal, my dad was sitting there with his wee dog Sandy—no longer of this world, may she rest in peace—and he folded out his newspaper and went, “Yeah, I know.” He was reading the Donegal News. Needless to say, that had arrived the day previous by the bus from Donegal town to Clydebank, so I was beat by that. I am delighted to participate in today’s debate.

I am mindful of when the Uachtarán na hÉireann addressed the Parliament of Scotland back in in 2016. The relationship between Ireland and Scotland is familial; it is ancient. He stated:

“The bonds of kinship and history between our peoples are woven thick, finding expression today in a deep affection and empathy between Irish and Scots wherever our paths cross. Ours is a friendship which I deeply value as I know you do. You might even say that, given our shared and complex history, it has often been difficult to say where ends and where begins, or the other way around.”

I totally agree.

Given that my name—Máirtín Seán Ó Dochartaigh-Aodha—is probably one of the longest in Parliament, it would be remiss of me not to stand up here and speak on behalf not only of my party but of my constituents who are part of the Irish diaspora. At the all-party parliamentary group annual general meeting the other day—I think the hon. Member for Bolton North East mentioned this—we were all arguing about our connections to St Patrick. If I can use the Westminster process to trump everybody, my early-day motion in 2018 was clear that St Patrick came from the village of Old Kilpatrick in West Dunbartonshire, which was an ancient Roman fort at the western fringes of the Antonine Wall. It had clear consensus from every party in the Chamber, even the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who sadly is not with us today.

As I say to the hon. Member often, I am a proud Ulsterman. My family’s deep roots are in County Donegal. Donegal, along with Cavan in the Republic, is part of the ancient province of Ulster. I have no shame in that. It is important for those of us of not only the traditional Ulster notion but the Scots Irish and the Ulster Scots to be very proud of that mixed, complex and, yes, sometimes difficult history. It can still be difficult to have a St Patrick’s day in parts of the United Kingdom. Being vocal about your Irish heritage is sometimes looked down on, and we have to challenge that, for a range of reasons, so that we can see beyond what has happened in the past. I think the hon. Member for Belfast South (Claire Hanna) talked about how these islands were looked at as somewhere more progressive, with social democracy. As I am openly a member of the LGBT community, I know what that is all about.

It was therefore great for many of us to see the Irish Republic specifically push forward with constitutional debates and referenda on the right to equal marriage—not same-sex but equal marriage. To see that was extraordinary. People like myself, from a very openly Irish Catholic background, thought that would never happen.

I will say a wee bit more about my historical links, which I mentioned previously, but I want to concentrate a wee bit on Donegal and Ulster specifically.

Karen Bradley Portrait Dame Karen Bradley
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The hon. Gentleman is making such important points about how progressive these islands have been. Of course, one of our shared histories is the fighting in world war one, particularly at the battle of the Somme. Does the hon. Member agree that the moment in 2016 when the Irish ambassador, joining other ambassadors and high commissioners, laid a wreath at the Cenotaph for the first time was a significant step forward in relations between the two countries?

Martin Docherty-Hughes Portrait Martin Docherty-Hughes
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The right hon. Lady has stolen a bit of my thunder. I totally agree, and for a specific reason: the complexity of our relationships. I go back to my other family, in County Mayo, in the province of Connacht. My great uncle James, who was part of the King’s Regiment of Scotland, fell the week before the armistice was signed, whereas his brother was in the Irish Republican Army—two very different sides of a very complex constitutional history. I very much agree with the right hon. Lady. Also, I think either a senior Minister or the Taoiseach himself has for many years now laid a wreath in Enniskillen, which shows how far we have progressed.

I come back to the personal connection—I am trying to keep to time, Cathaoirleach. When I did a DNA check a couple of years ago, I said to my dad, “What do you want for Christmas? How about a DNA check?” He said, “Aye, all right. Why not?” Well, I wish I hadn’t. My dad has cousins in Beijing and Alaska—it is just extraordinary. I think he is technically related to 35,000 people across the planet, going back to fourth cousins. This guy in Letterkenny came over for the commemoration of the Clydebank blitz, which is this week; the Irish diaspora in Clydebank, my home town, played a huge part in the war effort and in rebuilding shipping after the second war.

The then Mayor of Letterkenny, Jimmy Kavanagh, who is a councillor in County Donegal, came to this extraordinary orchestral movement, which was commissioned for the 80th anniversary. Jimmy and I were talking about the fact that we are the same height, and that each of us is kind of familiar looking—I have to say that he has more hair than me—and we laughed that we could be related. He said, “Where is your dad’s family from?” I said, “My grandad’s from Stralongford, between Letterkenny and Convoy.” He said, “My mother’s a Docherty; that is where she is from.” Needless to say, having done the DNA check, it turns out that Jimmy Kavanagh is my dad’s second cousin; Jimmy’s mum, who sadly passed away at 101, is my dad’s full cousin. Extraordinary.

We lost connection with our Donegal family for very specific reasons. So many of them left because of poverty, as has been alluded to in this debate. Maybe I can be a critical friend here, in a sense. We have talked about the great hunger, but we need to be very clear about history. It impacted the province of Ulster specifically, and also the whole west of Ireland. The famine was the impact of a political decision: that is the reality. We have come so far to rectify that, so that the whole island of Ireland has now reached a population that exceeds that of 1845, which is a remarkable turnaround for a country—an island—that saw 1 million people die and 1 million leave.

I have to say, though, that I am still glad they came to Clydebank, and to places such as Dumbarton and the Vale of Leven, to work in places like John Brown’s shipyard or Denny’s of Dumbarton, or with Turkey red dye in the Vale of Leven. Those workers’ participation in that industrial revolution should be commemorated. That is why I am wearing my tie, which shows the Royal Mail ship the Queen Mary. They participated in its construction, and that had a negative impact, not only on them, but on all the workers around them, through conditions caused by asbestos, such as mesothelioma. Many of the Irish diaspora who came to Scotland suffered the infamous asbestos-related conditions. Today, we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death of the first person to be diagnosed with asbestos-related conditions, Nellie Kershaw.

As I draw my thoughts to an end, I am mindful of the ordinary Irish people—not the well-known folk who have made names for themselves in the music industry, the arts or big business, but people such as Rita Dawson, a nun from the Religious Sisters of Charity, based on Clydebank in my constituency. She has been there for nearly 40 years and has led St Margaret of Scotland Hospice through thick and thin. She has been a leader of the palliative care community not just in Scotland, but across the whole of these islands. She is not only chief executive of that organisation, but has been a board member of St Joseph’s Hospice in Hackney and St Andrew’s Hospice in Lanarkshire.

I want to make special mention of Rita’s faith and commitment as an Irish woman who feels at home in my community and works across it, no matter who somebody is, what god they worship or which person they marry. Her leadership has ensured that palliative care and end-of-life support has been second to none—not only in West Dunbartonshire, but across the whole of Scotland.

I am also mindful that in Scotland Irish clubs seem to have fallen back. Perhaps that is because we know we are Irish or Scottish, and it really does not make any difference, so we have not needed them—although we used to have them. I remember the Ramelton Club in Linnvale, my home town; it is why I decided, with others such as Danny McCafferty, to create the first Dunbartonshire Irish trust to cover my constituency and the old county of Dunbartonshire. That would enable us to reconnect with that diversity and complexity, and celebrate St Patrick as he was.

St Patrick was not a Protestant or a Catholic; he was an old Celtic Christian who was forceful, and whose history is as complex as anybody else’s. His foundation of Iona Abbey had an impact that stretched beyond these islands. The modern Christian Church exists today because Patrick of the Province of Ulster and his missionaries maintained the fabric of civilisation in what some people call the dark ages. If it was not for people such as him, we would probably not be sitting here today. I am delighted, as an ancestor of Niall of the Nine Hostages, with all the complexity of that history, to be able to participate in this debate and speak on behalf of my colleagues from the Scottish National party.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson (Putney) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

How pleasurable it is to serve under your chairmanship, Dame Siobhain, and how apposite it is that you are the Chair for this wonderful celebration of the Irish diaspora in the UK. Happy St Patrick’s day to everyone contributing and listening to the debate.

St Patrick was himself a traveller between these isles, like the people we are celebrating today. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey) and the right hon. Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Dame Karen Bradley) for bringing forward this debate and giving us this opportunity. I thank the many Members who have turned out today and spoken so eloquently. They have demonstrated so much understanding of the vital Irish contribution to life in our constituencies and across the UK.

I echo the many tributes to Tony Lloyd. I sat with him in December for the last speech that he gave in this very Chamber. He sat in the chair just behind me. I think of him every time I am here, as I am sure everybody does.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles for celebrating the many achievements of the Irish diaspora in business, cultural, political, trade union and scientific life. She gave us a great list of Irish champions. She spoke about life in the second generation and about checking her identity all the time, which I absolutely understand, and she praised The Irish Post.

The right hon. Member for Staffordshire Moorlands spoke of the honour of being Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I am also honoured to be a shadow Minister for Northern Ireland, and I receive a fantastically warm welcome every time I visit. She told us so much, and she championed the work of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly.

Karen Bradley Portrait Dame Karen Bradley
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I apologise for intervening on the hon. Lady and am grateful to her for giving way. I have just realised that I failed to mention in my speech my co-chair of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, Brendan Smith TD, or Teachta Dála, who is an absolute champion for the British-Irish relationship. It would be remiss of me to allow this debate to finish without putting his name on the record.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am glad that the right hon. Lady has been able to set the record straight. A lot of work by British parliamentarians with Irish politicians goes unnoticed by many people, so I am really glad to have had this opportunity to hear so much about the work of the assembly.

I thank the hon. Member for Belfast South (Claire Hanna) for speaking in Irish and acknowledging the painful parts of our shared past, as well as the strength of the shared lives that we have built together. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins) for her celebration of the contribution of the Irish diaspora in Luton. She demonstrated an encyclopaedic knowledge of Luton clubs, making a special mention of the Irish dancers and the Luton Irish Forum.

[Mr Virendra Sharma in the Chair]

Similarly, my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) praised the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith, and highlighted all that the Irish embassy has done to contribute to the role of the Irish diaspora here, and to strengthen our communities living alongside each other.

The rugby last weekend really stretched good relations between England and Ireland to their limit, but I am glad that the Irish contribution to British life is being fully demonstrated at Cheltenham, even as we speak.

In the 2021 census, 362,000 people in England and Wales identified as Irish, either solely or in combination with a UK national identity; 299,500 people identified solely as Irish; and 324,000 people were born in the Republic of Ireland. However, those figures actually diminish the real numbers; as has been said, probably about 5 million people across the country have Irish family connections.

Our two countries share so much history, culture, ideas, politics and people. This story runs like a thread through these isles and the lives of so many families, including my own. My grandmother came from Templemoyle in Northern Ireland and I am married to a proud London Irishman. My father-in-law came to London from Sligo in 1962. He is a carpenter and a builder and has worked hard, as so many Irish people did; that has been alluded to already. My mother-in-law, Nora, came to Doncaster from Donegal, before moving to Glasgow, then London, as a nurse. She came over in 1959. They met at a dance in London and married in a double wedding, with Nora’s sister and her husband, at St Mary’s Church in Clapham.

My parents-in-law brought up their six children in south-west London and their contribution to my life, the life of their church, the life of their whole community and the life of our whole family is immeasurable. They have 20 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. It is their lives, and the lives of so many people like them, that we are celebrating today. They built a bright future, with a truly shared heritage; they are an immigration success story and I am very proud to be part of their London-Irish family.

I pay particular tribute to the Irish Centres across the country, which have been family, welfare support, a place to meet and make friends, to stay, to dance, to celebrate, to organise and just to feel at home. Many of them have closed, as was mentioned earlier. I give a special mention to the Plunkett club in Clapham South, but I also thank and celebrate several London Irish Centres: those in Wimbledon, Camden, Bexleyheath, Haringey, Lewisham and, as has been mentioned, Hammersmith. I thank and celebrate all those who run them and go to them, ensuring their success in our communities.

The Mayor of London has taken that process to the next level with his annual St Patrick’s day festival and parade, which deserves a special mention. It will be enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people this weekend—people proudly going out to be a little bit Irish for one day only, joining in the celebrations and watching or taking part in the parade. We are all happy and thankful to do that, which says a lot about how well the Irish diaspora is integrated within our country.

On her historic visit to Ireland in 2011, Queen Elizabeth II spoke powerfully about

“the ties of family, friendship and affection”,

which were

“the lifeblood of the partnership across these islands.”

How right she was! This tapestry contributes to our civic, cultural, political and social lives, and we would be immeasurably poorer without the strong influence of everything Irish.

However, our history has not always been a benign one. Our relationship over the centuries has seen terrible wrongs, which should be acknowledged, great violence and revolution. Nevertheless, that thread has remained in place and found new expression in recent years in ways that would have seemed unimaginable to us in the past. We have to pay tribute to everyone who has consciously built that peace over time.

Sadly, in recent years UK-Ireland relations have become strained, including over the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which the Government thankfully halted after the Windsor framework was signed; and now over the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act 2023. In Government, Labour will reset our relationship with our closest and most important neighbour. Ireland and the United Kingdom must get on for the sake of both its peoples and we in Labour will work hard toward that end.

I want to take this opportunity to reaffirm Labour’s support for the British Citizenship (Northern Ireland) Bill, tabled by the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson), which would establish a separate stand-alone route to British citizenship for Irish nationals born after 1948 who have been resident in Northern Ireland, and hence the UK, for significant periods of time. Across our two countries we share a unique bond, and I believe the Bill honours that.

Lastly, I again want to thank everyone who has taken part in the debate and I wish everyone a very happy St Patrick’s day. I hope all hon. Members celebrate appropriately.

Steve Baker Portrait The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr Steve Baker)
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I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sharma. Alas, not every debate in the House inspires the same spirit of collegiality and a shared celebration as this one. It is a sign of its quality and pleasure that the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Dame Siobhain McDonagh) has stayed in the Chamber to listen to the rest of it. I am grateful to her for chairing the earlier part.

It is a real joy for me to respond. I thank the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Dame Karen Bradley) for securing this timely debate to celebrate St Patrick’s day and the contribution of the Irish diaspora, which hon. Members have talked about so skilfully today. The hon. Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson) began her speech by talking about St Patrick being a traveller between these isles. As far as I am aware, that is my only connection to Ireland: I grew up in Cornwall and the Saints’ Way from Fowey to Padstow was—perhaps mythically—a route trodden by St Patrick. As a Celtic Christian myself, it gives me some pleasure to respond to this debate.

I had the pleasure of travelling to Northern Ireland for some years before my appointment to the Department, and since then I have been grateful for the opportunity to travel both to Northern Ireland and the Republic. As the hon. Member for Putney said, many people will get to be just a little bit Irish for one day only, and she is right that that speaks volumes for our integration. Like her, I have been made extremely welcome in Northern Ireland and in the Republic.

We are fortunate that we have robust and productive forums for co-operation and dialogue, which we attend alongside the Irish Government. Since being in post, I have attended three plenary sessions of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly in Cavan, Jersey and Kildare, and four meetings of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, as well as the annual British Irish Association conference. Those forums are critical to our formal friendship.

I turn to the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands. She was right to pay tribute to our friend James Brokenshire—a great Northern Ireland Secretary. I also recognise what my right hon. Friend said: it is one of the greatest honours to be a Minister for the Northern Ireland Office and for Northern Ireland. I particularly recognise the welcome we are extended. She also mentioned the depth of hope and expectation placed on us. The whole debate and particularly that contribution remind us of the importance of politics and how each of us conducts it.

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend’s work as co-chair of BIPA. She has made me very welcome—indeed, she made it clear that if I did not attend she would be making me very unwelcome, probably in the House. I also pay tribute to Brendan Smith, who has made me extremely welcome. I am grateful to him for that.

I have just realised that I unfortunately skipped past the response that I owe the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles. I really enjoyed listening to her speech and she was absolutely right to acknowledge the hon. Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) as a champion of our relationship with Ireland and she has also given me guidance along the way. The hon. Member for Salford and Eccles gave us a remarkable and magisterial survey of the immense contribution of the Irish diaspora to the UK. I hope she will not mind me saying that I was surprised and very pleased to hear my late Conservative association president, Sir William McAlpine, cited. She will understand that he, as the most Tory of Tories, would have been both honoured and slightly amused that the hon. Lady cited him. Of course, Tony Lloyd moved a similar motion in 2022. As we have heard today, he is much missed on both sides of the House, and no doubt on both sides of the Irish sea. I congratulate the hon. Lady on her wide-ranging, witty and touching speech, which I much enjoyed.

I will now turn to our new and, if I may say so, already reset relationship with Ireland. I am very grateful to the former Tánaiste, Simon Coveney, to the current Tánaiste, Micheál Martin, and to the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, for their continued efforts to improve, further and strengthen British-Irish relations over the last few years. The Secretary of State and I have put a great deal of effort into that relationship, which I believe has paid dividends. I will return to the issue of legacy, which I do not propose to elaborate on further today, but it is important that we make progress for the sake of all the people on the island of Ireland and, indeed, across Great Britain.

I am pleased that the bilateral relationship is strengthening, and I agree with Micheál Martin’s view that it is fundamental to both the United Kingdom and Ireland that we have a great relationship of equals, which we can carry forward in a spirit of family. To that end, I want to pay tribute to Mr Martin Fraser, the Irish ambassador to the UK. I do not think he would mind me saying that he is a very able statesman and diplomat, who I have enjoyed working with immensely. He is a man of great humour but also great sincerity. While we were in the process of resetting our relations through the Windsor framework, he argued in a speech that this was always a family dispute, and that we were always going to get through it and make up. I think he was right in that, and it is a theme I would like to elaborate.

I would like to say a very deep and heartfelt thank you very much indeed to Mr Martin Fraser for all that he has done, as well as making a number of us welcome at the embassy last night for a few halves of Guinness, which some of us are still recovering from. He is ably supported by the deputy head of mission, Orla McBreen, and I was grateful that she attended the earlier part of this debate. In the interests of Anglo-Irish relations, I ought not to repeat my claim that the stout produced by the Rebellion brewery in my constituency is better than Guinness, but it is possibly too late. I would certainly see that as a family disagreement that has been largely placed behind us, which I think is reflected in the spirit of the debate we have heard today.

The peoples of Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have a long and complex shared history, which has not always been easy, but we have realised that there is more we share than that which divides us. It is often said that the Irish never forget our shared history, and the English never remember. Alas, that is the case. I just want to put on record that I am very grateful to my friend, Éamon Ó Cuív, for his work in helping me to understand Irish history from the Irish perspective. He has been a great source of inspiration for the idea that this relationship could flourish in the future in a spirit of goodwill.

For many, the route taken from Ireland to the UK has been to seek work and opportunity, particularly in times of hardship. As an engineer myself, I am struck that many of our greatest civil engineering achievements are a standing monument to the efforts of so many Irish people who built this United Kingdom. The NHS is stronger for the contributions of many Irish nationals who serve here today and have done since its founding. The most recent statistics on this, in June 2023, showed that nearly 14,000 members of NHS staff were Irish, including doctors, nurses and support staff.

It is important to reflect on the great service and sacrifice of so many Irish people during the first world war, and like others I share the admiration for the laying of that wreath. Many have remarked that the post-war rebuilding and recovery of Britain would not have been possible without the efforts of Irish hands, and I am glad to pay tribute to the manifold contributions of the Irish diaspora as part of this debate.

I will now turn to the common travel area, which will be a great context for reflecting on the contributions we have heard from Members. The flow of people, energy and ideas between both islands continues unabated. Whether it is by inventing, leading or making, we continue to make one another richer in every sense of the word—economically, socially and culturally. That historic and close relationship has been enshrined in the common travel area arrangement, which has existed for over a century and is now also protected in statute. That special status enables citizens to live and work freely across both islands. The common travel area provides reciprocal rights to live, work, study and access health and welfare services. Those CTA protections reflect the unique nature of life on the island of Ireland.

The UK Government take seriously our commitments to protecting and upholding the common travel area. It is not hyperbole to say that the CTA is central to the UK and Ireland’s enduring social and cultural ties. In recognition of those close ties, I am delighted that the Government are supporting amendments to the British Citizenship (Northern Ireland) Bill, introduced by the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson), which would make it easier for people from Ireland who are resident in the UK to become British citizens.

I very much enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Belfast South (Claire Hanna). She is an absolutely formidable parliamentarian, as I remember from her first days in this House. She mentioned isolation and discrimination. It is a sad fact remembering how people were treated in the past—I am grateful that things are now very different. She mentioned that Ireland is a global cultural superpower, and of course she is absolutely right. I hope people will not mind me saying that of course Northern Ireland is a crucial part of the overall island’s cultural record. She particularly talked about the importance of embracing “or both”. I have seen that at work. It is important that we should be comfortable in who we are and in our identity, whichever part of the UK we live in and whatever our identity may be. That brings me to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton North East (Mark Logan).

My hon. Friend invited me to speak Ulster Scots, but I have to tell him that I am notorious for my poor language skills. Since I have established a reputation for being able to say Tánaiste—thank goodness I said it right that time—and Taoiseach, I do not think I should spoil my record my attempting any Irish today. I would be grateful if he would try to teach me some Ulster Scots later. He reminded me of when I went to the Discover Ulster-Scots Centre, where I met the CEO Ian Crozier— I do not think he would mind me saying this—and asked him, “What does being Ulster Scots mean to you?” After only the briefest pause, he said, “Everything,” and I could see the feeling that he had. For people like me—my parents were from Hampshire and I grew up in Cornwall, with no particular sense of it other than from growing up as a child in that place—it is important to recognise that for others, their identity is everything. We should ensure that we respect and embrace identity, and that, as the hon. Member for Belfast South said, we make it possible for people to be both/and.

My hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) requested that we fly the flag of St Patrick over Government buildings. I will certainly consider that request, but I have to tell him that I have lost too many friends in Unionism already to risk losing any more.

The hon. Member for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins) paid tribute to the large diaspora in her constituency. She explained the craic, for which I am grateful to her; she said it means, “Even when you lose, you still have a party”—I wonder if she has been bugging my kitchen table. I will leave it to others to work out what I am getting at. She mentioned St Brigid, and I am grateful to her for prompting me to put on record my admiration for the female leadership that I have seen in Northern Ireland. There is an amazing range of truly inspirational female leaders right across all sections of Northern Ireland, from promoting social capital and reconciliation between communities through to the highest levels of business. It has been really humbling and inspiring to meet those ladies. It is right that we remember St Brigid too.

The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) mentioned the Irish Cultural Centre and reminded us that we can have a good day out to see the paintings illustrating “Ulysses”. Perhaps the Irish-Scots drum might be taken along by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton North East.

The hon. Member for Glasgow North—

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Baker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg the hon. Gentleman’s pardon?

Martin Docherty-Hughes Portrait Martin Docherty-Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

West Dunbartonshire!

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Baker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am so sorry; I do beg the hon. Gentleman’s pardon. I have a temporary Parliamentary Private Secretary, but he has become temporary in more than one way. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman unreservedly, but he made a very good and important speech, and I was grateful to hear it. I have often stood in Northern Ireland looking across to Donegal, and he reminds me that I should visit.

The hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes) made a point about familial and ancient ties, and of course he is absolutely right. If English MPs have a fault, although they may be few, it is that too rarely we consider the importance of all parts of this United Kingdom. These past few months and years have been a reminder that every MP in this House and this United Kingdom should pay close attention to all parts of the United Kingdom, and indeed should remember the history that we have together. The hon. Gentleman mentioned poverty, and I remember with great sadness, sorrow and regret the impact of the famine on Ireland. He reminded me that “what we do in life, echoes in eternity”, as someone once said in a movie. We may not be able to set right the injustices of the past, but his speech reminded me that we can certainly avoid perpetuating injustices today and into the future. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the manner in which he set that out in his speech.

Economic ties between us have been elaborated on in the course of this debate. I just add that, in the four quarters to 2023, Ireland was the UK’s third largest export partner and the 10th largest source of imports. Beyond those statistics, those close economic ties are demonstrated by the contribution of Irish businesses to our economy, as pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands. She may not have mentioned Kerrygold, but I was expecting her to mention it—

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Baker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Did I miss it? She mentioned that Kerrygold is packaged in her constituency in Staffordshire, and another example is of course Guinness being packaged in Belfast and Runcorn. The impact of Irish people on UK public life has been profound, and I am very grateful that a number of Members set out how.

I was planning to mention two former British Prime Ministers, the Earl of Shelburne and the Duke of Wellington, but the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles beat me to it. I did have to check that those two Prime Ministers were not guilty of some crime against the Irish before I mentioned them, but I discovered that they were great champions of Catholic Emancipation—so for that I am very grateful. I also add the name of Edmund Burke, somebody from whom many of us have learned a great deal.

I also want to touch on the peace process. The anniversary of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement was a great thing to witness, and one of the things that it revealed was the immense good will for the island of Ireland, particularly Northern Ireland, from right across the world. People have invested a vast amount of their lives and careers into ensuring that Northern Ireland is peaceful and that the prospect of reconciliation can be held out.

I pay tribute to some individuals whom I have been privileged to meet in the course of the anniversary and some whom alas I could not. I want to refer to the relationship between Garrett FitzGerald and Margaret Thatcher leading to the Anglo-Irish agreement in 1985; the relationship between John Major and Albert Reynolds; and the robust collegiality between Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair, whose stalwart work secured the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. I want to mark the enormous contributions of the Irish Presidents Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese, who demonstrated valiant leadership during some of the darkest days when it seemed like the peace process might never come to pass. The UK Government are firmly committed to upholding and promoting the established structures created by the agreement to support the prosperity of the Irish people who want to strengthen their identity and culture as part of the wider family of nations that make up the UK.

Furthermore, the robust health of the strand 3 institutions reflects the depth of commitment from both Governments to our roles as co-guarantors of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. Far from being mere talking shops, these fora allow us, have allowed us, and will continue to allow us to have honest and constructive discussions, not only on the subjects on which our two Governments agree, but on those areas where we have disagreed, one of which was identified by the hon. Member for Belfast South. I am extremely grateful to all of the other UK Government Ministers who have come along to the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference; I know that that has been appreciated by the Government of Ireland.

For too long, of course, strand 3 stood alone as the only show in town, so I am delighted that, this time, as we approach St Patrick’s day, we can once again celebrate the full restoration of all three strands of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement through the North South Ministerial Council, through the upcoming meetings of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference and the British-Irish Council, and, of course, the fully-functioning Assembly and Executive. I particularly want to pay tribute to the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister of the Executive for the inspirational leadership that they are providing to everyone in how they are coming together in the best interests of the people of Northern Ireland.

Finally, I finish by reflecting that the familial relationship with Ireland is absolutely fundamental to the UK Government. It is so important to people across the UK. Many of us look forward to the annual St Patrick’s day celebrations, which showcase the contributions of Irish women and men. Some of those celebrations this year will include parades through the cities of Belfast, Cardiff, Glasgow, Liverpool and Leeds and, of course, at Trafalgar Square. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is looking forward to a hundred thousand welcomes in the US this week for the St Patrick’s day celebrations. It only remains for me to thank, as others have done, all those generations of Irish people who have contributed so much to help make this great country as great as it is, and to wish everyone here, and all those people looking forward to celebrating, a very happy St Patrick’s day.

Rebecca Long Bailey Portrait Rebecca Long Bailey
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Very briefly, I want to thank the Minister and the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson), for their comments. This has been a collegiate and warm debate that highlights the best that Parliament can be. No matter our political affiliations, I think our Irish heritage, or our love of Irish heritage, brings us together in this House. Just to touch on the Minister thinking that it was hilarious that I had mentioned Lord McAlpine; he might be a Tory, but he’s our Tory, so he stays on the list!


That this House has considered St Patrick’s Day and the contribution of the Irish diaspora to the UK.

Sitting adjourned.