London: campaign launched for 'forgotten' Irish immigrants

 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, north London, on Saturday night. 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 Auxiliary 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 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 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: "The IBC is launching a nationwide campaign to coincide with St Patrick's Day 2004 called SIA , Supporting the Irish Abroad, in order to create an awareness of the plight of the Irish abroad; and raise money across the 32 counties in order to support the Chaplaincies of the Irish Bishops Conference which operate abroad to assist our emigrants. "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 "The awareness campaign will also involve the distribution of posters and information newsletters to churches throughout the 32 counties. "Ms Josephine McAvenna has recorded a song for the campaign." Bishop Hegarty said: "The outreach services provided 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, 2,256 Jamaican according to 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 to 2004 there have been 23 suicides by male Irish prisoners. Government should, at a minimum, facilitate the repatriation of prisoners." 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." 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; Philadelphia), Australia and Germany. Source: Irish BIshop's Conference Media Office

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