22 FEBRUARY 2004
BISHOP OF DERRY SEAMUS HEGARTY, CHAIR OF THE IRISH BISHOPS’ COMMISSION FOR EMIGRANTS LAUNCHES
“SUPPORTING IRISH ABROAD AWARENESS CAMPAIGN”
IN THE IRISH CENTRE, CAMDEN TOWN, LONDON
* “We cannot afford to forget them”
* Government should establish Agency for the Irish Abroad headed by a dedicated
Minister of State;
* Alarming level of suicide rate amongst Irish internees in British prisons.
On his first visit to London as Chair of the Bishops’ Commission for Emigrants,
the Bishop of Derry Seamus Hegarty launched the “Supporting Irish Abroad” awareness
campaign at a dinner in the Irish Centre, Camden, last night (Saturday 21 February
2004). The dinner honoured Fr Paul Byrne OMI for his outstanding contribution to
emigrant services on behalf of the Catholic Church.
To an audience of 250 which included the Auxilary Bishop of Westminster Bernard
Longley and the Irish Ambassador to Britain Daithi O’Ceallaigh, Bishop Hegarty
said, “RTE’s Prime Time programme of 22nd December last gave public attention to
the longstanding problems facing generations of Irish emigrants who have fallen
on hard times and who are largely forgotten by those at home and by the Government.
The Prime Time programme brought the plight of the aging Irish community abroad
back into our homesteads in an arresting, vivid and explicit way. We can no longer
be allowed to forget the needs of the emigrant.
“Since June of last year the Irish Bishops’ Conference (IBC) has been planning to
raise awareness of the plight of our emigrant community abroad. As a result of this,
I can this evening announce that:
1. The IBC is launching a nationwide campaign to coincide with St Patrick s Day
2004 called SIA , Supporting the Irish Abroad, in order to:
(i) create an awareness of the plight of the Irish abroad; and,
(ii) raise money across the 32 counties in order to support the Chaplaincies of
the Irish Bishops Conference which operate abroad to assist our emigrants.
2. All Members of the Oireachtas and Members of the Legislative Assembly
will be sent a badge with the SIA symbol on it so that they can, if they choose,
explicitly support the plight of emigrants by wearing it. It is our hope that
ministers will also wear the badge when officially representing Ireland
internationally during the St Patrick s Day celebrations
3. The awareness campaign will also involve the distribution of posters and
information newsletters to churches throughout the 32 counties.
4. Ms Josephine McAvenna has recorded a song for the campaign.
Bishop Hegarty said, “The outreach services provded to emigrants, which were pioneered
by Catholic priests and supportive lay people over the years, continue to expand and
is truly in keeping with the Gospel. This work involves supporting the homeless,
members of the travelling community, those in need of company, those who are in
recovery and many other who are marginalised within their host society.
“Irish emigrants are not alone in their difficulties. It is also timely to highlight
the activity of the IBC’s Commission for Prisoners Overseas. Irish prisoners abroad,
especially the challenges facing their families, while being addressed at a pastoral
level by Bishops, requires greater support from Government. Of the 1,200 Irish
nationals in custody worldwide; 900 are incarcerated in 140 penal institutions in
England and Wales. Irish nationals now constitute the second largest ethnic group
within the prison system in England and Wales (900 Irish, 2256 Jamaican 2002 statistics).
Prison overcrowding, transfer of prisoners from one prison to another, prisoners
being locked up for 23 hours each day, e.g., Liverpool, Pentonville and Wandsworth
(source: Howard League for Penal Reform, 20 January 2004) are administratively
inimical to the welfare of prisoners from Ireland. Suicide among the Irish internees
is reaching alarming levels. From 1992 2004 there have been 23 suicides (male) by
Irish prisoners. Government should, at a minimum, facilitate the repatriation of
Bishop Hegarty concluded, “Subsequent to the Prime Time broadcast, I called on
Government to establish – as a matter of priority – an Agency for the Irish Abroad.
I repeat that call again tonight. We must become more aware of the plight of our
fellow compatriots. The Government, especially in this time of relative wealth,
has a responsibility in this regard. The establishment of an Agency for the Irish
Abroad was recommended by the Report of the Task Force on policy regarding emigrants
to the Minister for Foreign Affairs in August 2002. As of yet this important
recommendation has not been implemented, it should be expedited and, in my opinion,
ought to be led by a dedicated Minister of State for Emigrants.”
22 February 2004
NOTES FOR EDITORS
* The Irish Bishops’ Conferences services for emigrants and prisoners overseas is
based in Maynooth and has permanent outreach bases (Chaplaincies) in the UK, USA
(New York; Boston; Chicago; San Francisco; Philidelphia), Austrialia and Germany.
* Recommendation 7.7 (p61) of the 2002 Report of the Task Force on Policy Regarding
Emigrants, states that an: Agency for the Irish Abroad be established under the
aegis of the Department of Foreign Affairs to coordinate the provision of services
to the Irish Abroad.
* Article 2 of the 1937 Constitution of Ireland, as amended by Referendum held
following the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, provides that: It is the entitlement
and birthright of every person born in the island of Ireland, which includes its
islands and seas, to be part of the Irish nation. That is also the entitlement
of all persons otherwise qualified in accordance with law to be citizens of Ireland.
Furthermore, the Irish nation cherishes its special affinity with Irish people of
Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage.
For further information please contact:
Director of Communications Martin Long 086 1727 678
Communications Officer Brenda Drumm 087 233 7797
Director of the IBC’s Commission for Emigrants Fr Alan Hilliard 087 747 7110