Wealthy Irish in Britain urged to support poor


President Michael D Higgins has strongly supported a call for wealthy Irish living in Britain to support poorer Irish.

Calling on all those “who have been luckier and those who have surplus”, Mr Higgins, who studied and later worked in Britain in the 1960s and 1970s, said: “If we are all Irish together, we have to take responsibility for each other.”

He was responding to the call made by the head of the Brent Irish Advisory Service, Mike McGing. Describing the Brent service as “excellent”, Mr Higgins said he would be prepared to help the 40-year-old body – which is facing losing its offices rented from the local council – “in any way that I can”.

“I do hope that the appeal draws the response that it deserves. If I can be of any assistance as President, I join in that appeal and I would be happy to visit if that helped, or do anything else that helped,” he said.

“Services like the Brent service, with which I am very familiar, are just too important to be let go, or under-funded.”

Mr Higgins visited the Irish in Britain each year during his time as a TD. Some long-established Irish-owned construction firms in Britain, he said, had been “very positive” in the help that they offered towards some parts of the Irish community in Britain, particularly towards older people.

“But if the message that is being sent out – and it is a correct one – that there are those in the newer community of the wealthy who should come forward and give assistance, then I would agree with that,” he said.

The Gathering

Meanwhile, Mr Higgins strongly defended Ireland’s former cultural ambassador, actor Gabriel Byrne, who was heavily criticised in some quarters for saying many Irish-Americans regarded next year’s Gathering event in Ireland as a “scam”.

“I know Gabriel Byrne as a friend and as somebody who is just a very fine ambassador for Ireland across the cultural area,” he said. Mr Higgins said he had seen the full transcript of Byrne’s interview with Matt Cooper on Today FM’s The Last Word and believed Byrne was saying he wanted the Gathering “to have depth”.

“I think that what Gabriel is saying is that we will have a very successful gathering in 2013 but the work of retaining and deepening our connection with the diaspora goes on. He spoke, interestingly, if you look at the full text, about the spiritual side of the Irishness that for example those in North America have. It is also about retaining the connection.”