On October 30th at our AGM, our 2018 Chair, Joseph Healy, gave his report for the year.
The Network is now entering its fifth year, sixth if you include the year we spent establishing it. Over that time it has had its highpoints and low points. A year ago, having gone through a difficult period we faced many challenges but with the support of our stalwart supporter, Innisfree Housing, we have weathered the storm and have just had one of our most successful years yet. A number of new committee members joined last year, including several young people, and we also gained the expertise of Sean Hutton, a veteran campaigner in the Irish community in Britain.
Our two big set events of the year have always been St Patrick’s Festival in March and the London Pride Festival in July. This year we ran a stall at the festival and had a sizeable contingent on the march – we also produced more of our t shirts which were proudly displayed on the march. We have a seat on the Mayor of London’s St Patrick’s Festival Community Committee and I had been taking part in meetings throughout the year ensuring that the festival was a success. I also walked at the head of the parade with the Mayor of London and other VIPs, although as the theme of this year’s parade was Mna na hEireann, I marched with the men in the second row! We also took part in the London Pride Parade and I would like to thank our very talented committee member and choreographer, James Berkery, for helping to organise the involvement of many young marchers in both parades!
We also organised two major events this year, one historical and the other literary. In July we held a talk given by young radical Irish historian Maurice Casey from Oxford University on the radical LGBT and feminist movement in the Republic in the late 70s and early 80s and how this influenced the campaign against the 8th Amendment on abortion in 1983. Maurice also pointed out that 1983 and the Fairview Park march was essentially Ireland’s Stonewall. Having taken part in this march and been active in Ireland at that time I found Maurice’s talk fascinating and truly educational.
In September, in conjunction with the Lewisham Irish Centre and the Lewisham LGBT Group we organised a play reading at the Lewisham Irish Centre of a play written by Colm Clifford, a young Irish gay man living in London who died of AIDS in 1989. The play, “Rio Rita” had been performed in London in the 80s and Colm was regarded as an up and coming playwright when he died. Our Secretary, John Lloyd, was a friend of Colm’s and he involved Colm’s literary executors in the play reading, where I read one of the parts. This was a big success and led to a packed reading which drew in not only members of the Irish community but also LGBT people from South London and beyond.
We have also been continuing our oral history project “Our Story” which is being led by our committee member, Vanessa Monaghan. This has led to several podcasts of interviews with LGBTQ people who arrived at various times in London over the last few decades and it gives a fascinating picture of what life was like for LGBT people at the time in both Ireland and London. The podcasts are available on our website and will at some point soon also be the basis for a book.
As a member organisation of Irish in Britain we attended their AGM last year and put a motion, which was passed, supporting the campaign for marriage equality in Northern Ireland. Over the last few months we have been working with Irish in Britain on a joint conference on both marriage equality and the position of Irish LGBTQ people in Britain and have organised a ground breaking conference in London on November 1st. This conference is the first of its kind and involves both MPs and others involved in the campaign for marriage equality in Northern Ireland and also speakers on Irish LGBTQ history in Britain looking at our experience over the last few decades. We hope that this conference will be a big success and will be a reference point for the Irish LGBTQ experience in Britain.
We maintain close contact with the Irish embassy and have attended a number of events over the year, including the Emigrant Support Programme social and also the annual St Patrick’s Day event at the embassy.
I have given a lot of interviews this year including to the Migration Museum in London (with an exhibition Room to Breathe opening on November 1st) the BBC for a documentary on Irish migration, the Irish World, the London Ear (the RTE radio programme for the Irish in London) and to Crosscare, a migration support network based in Dublin for those migrating to and from Ireland. I have also contributed a piece about our conference to the Irish Times Abroad.
Any account of the year would not be complete without mentioning the referendum on the 8th Amendment in Ireland. We were involved in supporting some of the anti-amendment groups in London such as London ARC and we co-signed a letter from diaspora groups criticising the Minister for the Diaspora over his stance on the issue. We were totally supportive of the campaign to repeal the 8th and saw it as a natural continuation of the Marriage Equality referendum and the creation of a more secular and progressive Republic.
As one of the founder members of the Network, I have served two years as Secretary and the last two years as Chair. I will be stepping down this year but remaining actively engaged with the Network as a committee member. The Network is a unique organisation and needs more involvement and support from the Irish LGBTQ community in London and I hope that we will see new people coming forward this year as committee members.
For those attending the conference on November 1st, I hope that you will find it engaging and thought provoking and that it will also lead to more engagement with LGBTQ members within your organisations as well as with the Network and the Irish LGBTQ community in Britain. I would like to thank Irish in Britain and Innisfree Housing for their support and encouragement of the Network over the last year.