Campaign to urge Irish and descendants in Britain to register ethnicity in census


MILLIONS OF Irish people and those with Irish grandparents and great-grandparents are to be encouraged to register their Irish roots in the British census in March through a campaign launched in the House of Commons in London yesterday.

In the 2001 census the number of Irish in Britain, particularly those of second and subsequent generations, was under-represented because many people did not understand that they could register as ethnically Irish while giving their nationality as British.

The public face of the campaign will be Manchester television and radio presenter Terry Christian but it has also received backing from Terry Wogan, Richard Corrigan, John Bird, founder of the Big Issue magazine, and footballers Mick McCarthy and Kevin Kilbane.

“Those of us who are Irish-born are very proud to tick our nationality as Irish, as are many of our children and grandchildren, but many may prefer to tick another box associated with their British identity,” said the chairwoman of the Federation of Irish Societies, Dr Mary Tilki.

“That is fine but it is important that we get as complete a picture as possible of the Irish in Britain. The census information is the basis on which all services are planned.

“The Irish community in Britain contributes to the richness of this society. It is important that this is recognised in the society in which we live and pay our taxes. The health of the Irish is something that needs to be addressed very carefully.”

The Irish in Britain have the highest rate of death from cancer, along with one of the highest tolls from heart attacks and strokes, while the suicide rate is higher than in other ethnic groups.

The figures are higher not just for those who are Irish-born but also for those in subsequent generations, including large numbers with long-term health issues and those affected by dementia, she said.

Ant Hanlon, chief executive of Leeds Irish Health Homes, which provides welfare services to Irish people in the city, said the census information will help to ensure that “culturally sensitive” social services are available to the Irish community.

Figures from the 2001 census that showed half of the Irish population in the Yorkshire city were aged over 50 led to the creation of care services for Irish people suffering from dementia, funded by the city’s local authority and the Irish Government, Mr Hanlon said.

Social networking sites such as Twitter (#ticktheirishbox) and websites such as and the campaign’s YouTube page are to be used heavily to build awareness in advance of the census, which will take place on March 27th, said Jennie McShannon, chief executive of the Federation of Irish Societies.

Saying that the benefits from a strong Irish response will “be very substantial”, Labour MP Chris Ruane said the census data will be vital “in mapping where the Irish are and ensure that we can look after their wellbeing”.

Strongly supporting the campaign, Irish diplomat Barbara Jones said it is “really important to get accurate figures about the size of the Irish family” in Britain.

“This is a unique opportunity to self-identify as Irish,” she said.

Former secretary of state for Northern Ireland Paul Murphy, whose father came from Ballincollig, Co Cork, said: “I am very proud to be a Welshman but I am also very proud to have Irish blood in my veins.”

The 2001 census reported that there were 691,000 Irish people in Britain, accounting for 1 per cent of the population there.