Bishop Hegarty thanks Irish emigrant outreach services in Birmingham

09 Nov 2006





The Bishop of Derry and Chair of Irish Episcopal Commission for Emigrants,
Dr Séamus Hegarty, today spoke in the Drop-in Centre and Supported Housing
Complex in Birmingham to elderly Irish beneficiaries of the Centre’s outreach
services.  Bishop Hegarty also presented the Centre with a financial
contribution from the Bishops’ Supporting Irish Abroad campaign.  Bishop
Hegarty said:

“I am delighted to be here with you today.  I have listened to reports
of the great work of the Irish welfare services here in Birmingham.  I
am aware of the heroic efforts that the Irish community in Birmingham
has made in the past.  It is clear that the inspirational work and legacy
of the late Fr Joseph Taffe OMI continues to motivate you today.

“Your ability to focus and get on with the task of serving those who need
to be served is your great gift.  However, what I have seen and heard today
has further convinced me that your own needs must also be met in concrete
and practical ways.

“During the recent Irish Bishops’ pilgrimage to Rome we heard, from the
Pontifical Commission for Migrants and Itinerant Peoples, that the Church
should always strive be at the service of human mobility.  This challenge
becomes more complex as the increasing movement of people continues apace.
Nonetheless, we all have a responsibility to build bridges with our
communities and individuals living abroad.

“There is no doubt that this changing world environment will bring with it
new challenges.  We should also be mindful that such challenges will not
be easy for either Church or State. But clearly the alternative – for
countries not to cooperate – is simply not an option.

“Our history shows us that during instances of people neglect, exploitation
and removal of status, it resulted in an immense fall-out in terms of human
suffering and economic stagnation.  And what, you may ask, is the 21st century
lesson that can be learnt from this historical legacy?  It is thus:  If we
lose sight of the individual migrant, we promote globalisation without a

“May I add that as we face the challenge of welcoming immigrants to Ireland
we find ourselves reflecting on the story of Irish emigration as a touchstone
for policy and initiatives.  We now have a real responsibility to ensure that
we provide a welcome that befits the dignity of those who migrate to Ireland.
I know from talking to many Irish emigrants here in Birmingham that you
support the granting of a warm welcome to those who seek a brighter future
away from their homeland in Ireland.

“Whatever about the challenges, there is light at the end of the tunnel!
The ideal we all should be working towards is the ‘Globalisation of Solidarity’.
The dignity of each individual migrant must always be respected. This ideal,
thankfully, is the desire of our people in Ireland and its evidence can be
seen in the generous support received by the Bishops for our “Supporting Irish
Abroad” campaign.  What is clear from the success of the campaign is that
Irish people at home express solidarity with you, their brothers and sisters,
living abroad.  As one recipient recently remarked to me: ‘The SIA campaign
has facilitated a whole new service infusion towards older people in need in
the UK.  Agencies that had partnered the SIA campaign have been able to
commence new projects and fortify existing ones’.

“I am delighted to see the benefits of the SIA fund here in Birmingham.  It
shows the generous and committed efforts of the welfare agencies and the
local Church.  The Bishops’ Emigrants Commission is now in a position to
support the project to the tune of £50,000 which will go far to strengthen
the outreach services to elderly Irish people in their homes.  Your project
is battling against their isolation and at the same time it helps address
their vital needs.”

Bishop Hegarty continued: “May I take this opportunity to thank all those
who have contributed to the SIA collection in 2005.  Your contributions
raised a total of €518,344.  May I assure those who have contributed that
we give considered reflection to the projects we support, and Birmingham is
an example of an outreach that would not be in place were it not for your
kindness and generosity.

“I also wish to acknowledge the increased funding from the Department of
Foreign Affairs for services for Irish emigrants. We appreciate deeply the
professional cooperation that we receive from the Department’s officials.
We look forward to working together, into the future, to ensure those most
in need are given priority in the allocation of funding.  I wish also to
acknowledge my appreciation to ALONE, which offers us generous backup and
support, as we continue to discern how best to serve those who are isolated.
In keeping with the theme of this year’s SIA campaign, may I encourage
families to stay in touch with elderly relatives living abroad.”

Bishop Hegarty concluded: “I thank you for your commitment and may God bless
you in your pastoral work.”


Notes for Editors
* The Irish Bishops’ Commission for emigrants and prisoners overseas
(IECE) was established in 1957.  It is based in Maynooth and has permanent
outreach bases (chaplaincies) in the UK; USA: New York, Boston, Chicago,
San Francisco, Philadelphia; Australia and Germany.

* In February 2004 at the Irish Centre in Camden Town, Bishop Hegarty
launched the three year “Supporting Irish Abroad” (SIA) awareness campaign.
The focus for the first year of the campaign – 2004 – was on the Irish living
in Britain, especially in London, who, having emigrated in the 1950s, ’60s
and ’70s, are now at the greatest risk in terms of their physical and mental

* Since 2004, the three year SIA campaign has focused on a different annual

– 2004: ‘Emigrants built the Ireland we enjoy today, don’t forget them’;
– 2005: the campaign in 2005 supported those Irish abroad experiencing harsh
living conditions due to their undocumented status;
– 2006: for this year the theme is ‘keep in contact with a relative abroad’.

* The acronym SIA is also an Irish word meaning ‘longer’ or ‘farther’.  The
emigrant is one who often feels cut of from the familiar surroundings of home.
Indeed a major part of our Biblical history focuses on God’s people exiled
from their home land.   ‘How can we sing a song to the Lord in a foreign land’
Ps 137:4.

* Fr Joseph Taffe was the longest serving and best known of the Irish Welfare
& Information Centre Directors, having spent 17 years serving the Irish community.
A very proud Mayo man and a lover of all things Irish, he was one in a line of
Oblates who gave their best years to this community.  He campaigned to have
the Irish in Birmingham recognised as an ethnic minority and was successful in
securing the first grant from Birmingham City Council to employ a paid Social
Worker and part-time out-reach worker to meet the needs of the city’s large
population of elderly Irish men and women – the young immigrants of the 1940s
and ’50s.  He was also a founder member of the Birmingham Irish Community Forum
and served on the committees of most of the Irish County Associations.  Fr Taffe
also played an important role in securing the freedom of the ‘Birmingham Six’.

For further information please contact:
Director of Communications Martin Long 086 1727 678
Communications Officer Brenda Drumm 087 233 7797
Director of the Commission for Emigrants Fr Alan Hilliard 00353 87 747 7110