Recognising the role of Irish Londoners

There was strong support for recognising Irish Londoners' immense contribution to the city by making the celebrations an official part of our annual calendar...

One of the most moving moments I experienced as Mayor of London was the first St Patrick’s parade we held in the city.

We knew that there was strong support for recognising Irish Londoners’ immense contribution to the city by making the celebrations an official part of our annual calendar, but even we were astonished by the massive response.

Tens of thousands kept joining the parade and eventually we had to shut Trafalgar Square as it was full to overflowing. This moment symbolised the sea change that there has been among Irish people not just in London, but across the country, which has accompanied the peace process and the Good Friday and subsequent Agreements.

The recent agreement at Hillsborough was the latest step forward in what has been an incredible positive advance, which many thought could never happen. Unparalleled opportunities for peace and reconciliation have been created, and the basis for addressing the deep rooted discrimination and exclusion in the north of Ireland, and for a new, inclusive arrangement. Despite the current economic crisis, affecting all of us and hitting Ireland particularly hard, there still exists immense good will and the prospect of economic prosperity in place of conflict and division.

A clear lesson of Ireland’s peace process is that dialogue and inclusivity, to address the heart of any problem, is the key to resolving conflict. During the time of the 1981-86 Greater London Council and many subsequent occasions, I was attacked for advocating this approach in relation to Ireland. Later governments came to accept that developing a political process and solution through dialogue was indeed the way forward.

Whilst many conflicts throughout the world have unique issues, which require specific responses, this fundamental lesson applies to most of them – not least in the Middle East.

Through inclusive dialogue, based on democratic mandates, the Good Friday Agreement laid out a clear basis forward. The principle of self-determination and the recognition of the political legitimacy of those who want a united Ireland are also clearly enshrined. For those of us in Britain who have long supported this, there is a clear opportunity now to develop the discussion and to support and assist the process – and to affect what the government here does.

One of Labour’s great achievements in government has been the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement. This carefully negotiated document works in many aspects, but in particular because it ensures power sharing and an end to any notion that there can be one-party rule, or reducing anyone in the community to second class citizens.

The Tories’ attitude to the north of Ireland has recently led to accusations that they are playing with fire amid concerns that they may tamper with the institutions agreed under the Good Friday Agreement. A future Conservative government threatening to attempt to alter or roll back what has been achieved would be making a very serious mistake indeed – and one doomed to failure. Instead, there clearly remains a positive way forward, building the Agreement and supporting that. As London’s largest ethnic minority, Irish people in London have a huge role to play, alongside other progressive people with an interest.

After decades of prejudice, anti-terror laws and anti-Irish vilification in some sections of the media and elsewhere, today it is infinitely more possible for Irish people to feel their voice can be heard – including on political issues relating to Ireland. In London, including all sections of our diverse community in the life of the city is absolutely important for the city’s life and future. Linked to that is understanding that we are not isolated, but, as a world in one city, injustice in any other part of the world affects us and all our communities here.

That is why I am particularly pleased to be participating on 20 February to join the discussion on Ireland’s future and how we, here, can support what continues to be a hugely positive progression in the relationship between our two islands.

Our guest writer is Ken Livingstone, former Mayor of London; Ken will be among speakers at the conference “Putting Irish Unity on the Agenda — opening the debate” on Saturday 20th February, at the TUC, Congress House, Great Russell Street, central London

• For full details and registration visit

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30 Responses to “Recognising the role of Irish Londoners”

  1. Liz McShane

    Maybe Ken should invite Douglas Murray (Director of the Centre for Social Cohesion and writer Ed West (journalist & social commentator) along given their recent pieces on the Daily Telegraph blogsite as they obviously could do with a bit of enlightenment…

  2. Colm

    Why is LFF promoting Sinn Fein?

  3. uberVU - social comments

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by leftfootfwd: Writing exclusively for @leftfootfwd, Ken Livingstone explains why he’s looking forward to the Irish Unity conference

  4. Colm

    Ken Livingston conflates his, and the rest of the hard left of the Labour party’s slavish and naive support for Republican terrorism in the 80s, with the mainstream Labour Party’s role in the peace process.

  5. Colm

    And Sinn Fein is somehow supposed to represent my interests as a progressive Irish Londoner? There are so many things about this article that I find insulting.

  6. Ben

    It looks a great forward-looking event, good timing given the recent Hillsborough Agreement, and interesting too that a rising SDLP star is also speaking.

    The dialogue with unionism session should be fascinating given the Hillsborough Agreement represented something of a watershed. Representatives of republicans and unionists reaching an agreed deal, including on parades, with limited involvement from London and Dublin is a definite step forward.

    Colm you sound a bit too angry though, why not make some reasoned arguments… To try and suggest Ken was not supportive of the peace process, or not involved in anyway, just makes you look angry and unthinking…

  7. Liz McShane

    Hi Ben!
    …”that a rising SDLP star is also speaking”…

    I think they may have been my words when asked who Conall McDevitt was…and he is by all accounts!

  8. Colm

    There is no need to resort to insults Ben.

    You think it was for him to support the IRA, I don’t. You agree with him that his cheerleading for terrorism in the 80s contributed to peace, I don’t.

  9. Tom Griffin

    I wouldn’t necessarily under-estimate Ken’s role in the peace process. This what the Belfast News Letter had to say a few years ago:

    “Mo Mowlam was involved with a ”secret network of go-betweens, informers and cronies” as she kept in touch with hush-hush talks with republicans for three years before she became Ulster Secretary, it was disclosed yesterday.

    “According to a new biography of the colourful Labour politician, the go-betweens were engaged in highly secretive talks with top republicans and shuttled between them, the British Government and Dr Mowlam.

    “Ken Livingstone, now Mayor of London and a close friend, acted as her intermediary with Sinn Fein chief Gerry Adams.”

    I think there is a significant amount of goodwill reflected in the range of organisations from the Irish community that will be at the conference. That doesn’t mean that Irish Londoners are Sinn Féin supporters. I think it does mean a lot of people welcome the opportunity to have this kind of debate. In that respect, it’s good that Conall McDevitt of the SDLP, Lord Bew of the Ulster Unionists and former UPRG spokesman Davy Adams will be among the speakers.

  10. Rory

    Well said Colm

  11. London IrishUnity

    Ken Livingstone on this Saturdays Irish Unity conference (via @leftfootfwd) register at

  12. Ben Folley

    RT @ldnirishunity: Ken Livingstone on this Saturdays Irish Unity conference (via @leftfootfwd) register at http://b

  13. Ben Folley

    Ken Livingstone on this Saturdays Irish Unity conference (via @leftfootfwd) register at

  14. Liz McShane

    Colm – most serious politicians realise that they have to engage with their ‘enemies’ through dialogue etc – it may be hard for some to do, but I think in most conflicts, where people can learn to trust their opponents etc it shows that it is key for achieving peace and reconciliation – just look at the progress that NI has witnessed to date – not perfect I agree but unimagineable 10-15 years ago.

    Whatever you think of Ken etc, by inviting SF leaders to London to meet with Labour politicians it was still a good thing to do – they obviously engaged & focussed more on Republican activists than with ‘the other side’ but I suppose that was their perrogative at the time.

    It wasn’t only Ken etc who talked and faclitated meetings etc between SF – priests were also very active in doing this albeit much more covertly and maybe more tactfully.

    Back in the early 70s, Willie Whitelaw who invited a young Martin McGuinness to Paul Channon’s house in Chelsea for a secret meeting – so it’s nothing new.

  15. lee james brown

    RT @leftfootfwd: Writing exclusively, Ken Livingstone explains why he's looking forward to the Irish Unity conference

  16. Mellie Agon

    Colm: “cheerleading for terrorism”?

    The Irish have been invaded and occupied by England for the last 800 years. They have repeatedly fought back. To label their fight for self-determination against a colonial occupying power as “terrorism” is Orwellian to say the least.

    It is because the British could not defeat the Republican movement that the peace process got started.

  17. mary

    Colm I think you should read the article again, there is no suggestion that Sinn Fein is suppose to represent your interests as a ‘progressive irish londer’ what ever that is. Sinn Fein make no apologies for ensuring they do the best they can to represent the interests of the Irish in N. Ireland.
    You do underestimate the role K Livingstone has played in irish politics since the early 80s, not just the political situation in n. ireland but the experiences of the irish community in london as well, helping to pave the way for ‘progressive irish londoners’ like you. Get over it colm, this really is the only way forward, dialoge between all the various groups enures all have a voice, something Sinn Fein and its supports have in the past being so vehemently denied.

  18. Ray

    This event is not isolated from the continuous strand that Ken represented in the left in Britain. Because the Sun labelled Ken as the ‘most odious person in Britain’ doesn’t mean that there was a shred of evidence and having been in Labour Commiuttee on Ireland, I know full well that his links with Sinn Fein were important. His only difference between his and the government’s liasing with Sinn Fein was that he said he was and that he wasn’t waiting for IRA to renounce violence, as intransigence was useless.
    A tiny fraction of the left in Britain acted as cheerleaders, but it is outrageous to suggest Ken di – except if you’re a Sun reader

  19. Milena Buyum

    RT @benfolley Ken Livingstone on this Saturday's Irish Unity conference register at

  20. James Hume

    Great article, cant wait for this event

    Colm, I suggest you read the article again and obviously you don’t care very much about the majority of the Governments support for British state terrorism for many years.

  21. Lincoln

    Colm Ben’s insult was far from insulting. I would take his advice on board, and the advice of others who have commented thereafter. Your remarks show an obvious lackof understanding, and I suggest you come at things with a clearer head and better knowledge in future. Trust me, your debating skills will improve dramatically…..

    Look like a great event, anyone interested who hasn’t registered can still do so on the website or register on the day

  22. Butter Not Guns

    RT @leftfootfwd: Writing exclusively for @leftfootfwd, Ken Livingstone explains why he's looking forward to the Irish Unity conference

  23. Progressive London

    Ken Livingstone on recognising the role of Irish Londoners & prospects for Irish unity:

  24. Liz McShane

    Mellie Agon – I think we are all well aware of Ireland’s history past & present – it would be refreshing if we could look and talk about the future as opposed to what happened 800 years ago.

  25. Mags

    Does anyone know if the money for the event goes directly to Sinn Fein? Would be interested in hearing what the panel has to say – Conall McDeviit in particular – but I’ve always managed to avoid giving SF any money in the past and don’t want to start now!


  26. Liz McShane

    Mags – I wouldn’t imagine there’s a lot left over after paying for the hire of Congress House for the day etc. Agree with you re Conall McDevitt.

  27. Ben Folley

    RT @ProLondon Ken Livingstone on recognising the role of Irish Londoners & prospects for Irish unity:

  28. Adam White

    RT @ProLondon Ken Livingstone on recognising the role of Irish Londoners & prospects for Irish unity:

  29. Liberal Conspiracy » Irish Unity conference shows why it’s good to talk

    […] Adams and Livingstone have alluded to the roots of the event in the dialogue which began back in 1982, shortly after Sinn […]

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