Successful Irish in Britain urged to look after compatriots who are less fortunate
Mike McGing has a history of working with welfare organisations facing hard times. In the 1990s, he went to work for the Irish Support and Advisory Service . “ was technically insolvent. I took a decision to stay even though I couldn’t pay my own salary at that stage,” he said.
“I had the bailiffs ringing, saying that they were going to take desks that were falling apart and computers that didn’t work. One of the key things that I knew was if the charity closed it would never come back.”
With time and money from the Irish government, the body was revived and is now known as London Irish Care. Its seven staff tend to the needs of over 2,000 people annually. Last September, McGing went to head up the Brent Irish Advisory Service. It, too, is in trouble.
One of the oldest such bodies in Britain, dating back to the 1970s, it soon could be homeless, since Brent Council wants back its building on Willesden Green’s High Road to clear the way for a local cultural centre.
Troubles, however, for Brent have come in battalions, since its funding under the Irish government’s Emigrant Support Programme – which has allocated €100 million since the 1990s – has fallen from £185,000 to £144,000.
Two of the staff – who provide respite care for families struggling to cope with relatives’ dementia, deal with benefit claims or just keep people “engaged with life” – will have to be made redundant, while one more will go part time, unless help arrives, says McGing.
In his days struggling to save his previous charity, McGing said they received “lots of support” from people willing to serve on its board and from the Irish government. “But we never got support from Irish businesses here,” he told The Irish Times. “It is very hard to engage and try to encourage those people to support Irish charities. Maybe some are not aware, maybe some give to other charities.”
British versus Irish charities
Some wealthy Irish in Britain, he notes, leave legacies in their wills to British charities, but they never think about Irish charities.
“A lot of Irish businesses have done really well out of the Irish community on the backs of the Irish community,” he said, “A lot of contractors have done really well and they have made millions. There are still big firms who generate hundreds of millions.
“I wouldn’t say that they are refusing to help: part of this is about raising awareness. I think it is about supporting your own. Other communities do. I see in the Irish papers photographs from this dinner dance, or that, but it often isn’t about Irish charities.
“Unfortunately, the Irish community don’t have a high enough profile. Part of the problem is that we are small, we don’t have the fundraisers, we don’t have the marketing and big budgets that the big British charities have,” he said.Some of the problem is explained by successful Irish assimilation in Britain. In the 1970s, up to a quarter of Brent’s population was Irish. Today, the figure is 4 or 5 per cent.
Dwindling community spirit
“Back then, there was this real community spirit,” said McGing. “People built centres, church halls from their own money and with their own time. That has now changed. The Irish community is dispersed. I suppose the Irish community kept together because of the Troubles, but there aren’t the same pressures to do so now.
“If someone said, for example, that they would fund a post for one, two or three years, that would be a significant contribution for them,” he said.
“But for us it would be 25 per cent of our turnover. That could mean that you could help 1,200 people over three years – people who wouldn’t be so isolated, who wouldn’t give up on life because nobody cares.”
Donations to Brent Irish Advisory Service: Bank of Ireland, Sort Code 30-16-07. A/C No. 49883190