A message to a Minister: Irish immigrants deserve a say

Breda taking part in this year's St Patrick's Day parade in London 

Breda taking part in this year's St Patrick's Day parade in London 

By Breda Corish

I moved from Dublin to London in 1987 - a member of the Irish generation that got on the first Ryanair flight available after graduating from university.

I emigrated to London because I wanted to experience life in a truly international, multi-cultural city, but I was also running away from an oppressive country.  As a young adult, I loved my student years in Dublin but couldn’t bear the way Ireland inflicted repressive controls on those aspects of Irish people’s lives relating to sexuality, gender and reproductive rights.

Over the next three decades I was a regular holiday visitor back "home" to see friends and family, observing, but not influencing, the changes in Irish society.

London became my real home and I stayed at a distance from all the Irish diaspora groups – until 2016, when I joined the newly-established London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign.

We may no longer be living in Ireland. We may have emigrated three months ago - or 30 years ago - but we still care about our country and the way all people living there are treated under Irish law, irrespective of their class, income, gender, sexuality or nationality.

Our new Minister of State for Diaspora, Ciarán Cannon, needs to recognise that the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign and our international counterparts, campaigning for repeal of the 8th Amendment, are just as representative of the Irish diaspora today as the more traditional views of the diaspora defined by emigrant GAA clubs and county associations.

Irish women in the diaspora who want to return to Ireland are deterred by the prospect of returning to a country where, not only is there no meaningful access to abortion, but also where the National Consent Policy of the HSE restricts informed consent and informed refusal of treatment once you are pregnant.

The lack of emigrant voting rights means we have no democratic representation in Dáil Éireann when it finally decides to act on the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly.

Living in post-Brexit Britain, we want to see assurances from the Irish government that their negotiating position is taking account of the fact that people living in Ireland are heavily dependent on British private healthcare services to access abortions.   

Any future restrictions on EU citizens’ travel and access to emergency health services in Britain will impact all those women and girls who must continue to travel until free, safe and legal abortion services are available in Ireland.

In March 2017, the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign received a warm response as part of the St Patrick’s Day Parade in London.  In April, we were welcomed into the Irish Embassy to meet with Ambassador Dan Mulhall.  In May, we participated in the Global Irish Civic Forum in Dublin Castle.

We asked to meet with the previous Minister of State for the Diaspora, Joe McHugh, but he did not respond.  

How long will it take for the new Minister Ciarán Cannon to include us on the itinerary for his visits to London? Not long, we hope. 

Join Breda on Wednesday 19th July at the London Irish Centre in Camden for a discussion about the disenfranchised status of the Irish in Britain. Register for tickets here.

Hannah Little