Role sought for Irish diaspora in NI talks

 

The British and Irish governments must harness the support of the Irish diaspora to "build bridges" between both communities in Northern Ireland and with the Irish community in Britain, the Federation of Irish Societies (FIS) said in London yesterday.

A standing council for the Irish diaspora should be created and seats should be made available in the Oireachtas and on North/South and East/West bodies so that Irish people living outside the island of Ireland can contribute towards the changing relationships between London, Dublin and Belfast.

FIS, an umbrella group representing Irish voluntary and community organisations, made its submission on the peace process to the Northern Ireland Political Development Minister, Mr Paul Murphy, at a private meeting in London yesterday. The group was represented by its chairman, Mr Gearoid O Meachair.

In its proposal on Strand Three - the relationship between Britain and Ireland - the group said both governments should "formally institutionalise" contact with the Irish community in Britain on long-standing social issues such as poor housing, ill health, unemployment and poverty.

The relationship should be supported by "trust building" measures to increase understanding between the Irish in Britain and both communities in Northern Ireland. The first step in achieving trust, it said, would be the repeal of the "totally discredited" Prevention of Terrorism Act.

Calling on London and Dublin to win "hearts and minds" during the process of reconciliation in Northern Ireland, the group insisted the Irish in Britain had a valuable contribution to make to the peace process and to the future of the North.

The submission accepted that "no community is going to 'get everything they want'. We therefore believe that the more engaging and participative the whole process is, of as many people as possible, the more likely it is that a solution can be reached which can lead to a long term peace settlement . . ."

FIS also expressed the wish that if links between London and Belfast carried executive authority then so should the relationship between Dublin and Belfast.