Writing for the Irish World, the Chief Executive of Irish in Britain Brian Dalton says the current growth of civil activism and social organisation is helping to counter the divisive effects of Brexit. We need it to continue, he says.
The events of recent years have created an environment of uncertainty and challenges for many organisations in the third sector. Much of the work I have undertaken since I arrived at Irish in Britain in May 2017 has been to repurpose and redesign how we operate and deliver to meet those challenges and ensure that we are a responsive and adaptive membership body.
In that time, we have made changes to how we deliver services to our membership, how we communicate to and profile our member organisations and the wider community and how we manage and develop our staff to meet the charitable objectives of our strategy.
Many of the changes we have made were driven by consultation with our membership but also, they are informed by a strategic review of all our services. We are now much more resilient, accountable, transparent and mission-led.
We are very pleased to have been awarded silver accreditation by Investors in People last month and it is a validation of the systems and processes we have put in place to ensure we are as effective as we can be.
We are a smaller but leaner organisation now – member services are delivered locally and quickly through our delivery partner network as well as centrally managed digital resources on our new website.
Our board has evolved and diversified, bringing in new skills, ideas and governance systems.
We have expanded the number of work areas, including policy and public affairs, to build a credible public profile for policymakers and enable us to respond to and contribute to a fast-moving policy environment, for example around Brexit and the Common Travel Area.
This has allowed us to make representations to the Select Committee on Exiting the EU and to build close liaison with the Home Office to convey community concerns about the rights associated with the Common Travel Area and subsequent Settled Status Scheme.
We have developed widely available resources for Cuimhne, our dementia-related training program, as well as our Green Hearts health initiatives and the launch of our Mental Health charter.
Given the age profile of our community, we will continue to promote a community-led response to support the most vulnerable of our citizens as well as advocating for culturally sensitive and bespoke commissioned services at a local level.
The needs of older Irish people, and in particular adult survivors of Ireland’s legacy of institutionalisation, will remain a priority area of our work as we campaign for equivalence for British-based survivors in terms of consultation and representation.
We are a different membership body now as the profile of our membership has evolved. Though many of our members remain central to meeting needs of those vulnerable to age-related illnesses and social isolation; we have also grown in size as we have attracted new constituencies that may not have considered being part of a wider coalition before.
Campaigning organisations, emergency services union affiliations, media and arts groups as well organisations led and run by younger Irish groups are now part of a progressive network.
We are developing a young leaders’ programme as part of our board development to ensure we harness these new ideas and enthusiasm.
Our community has the potential to lead and shape the conversations that will inform future policy and direction opportunity and I see that challenge as our core responsibility at Irish in Britain.
If we succeed, we can develop tomorrow’s trustees and a new generation of Irish community leadership. There is much to organise for.
I believe that given the turbulence and uncertainties of Brexit there is a new community appreciation of being part of a collective. Our recent growth and diversity represent this, and we will always strive to be an inclusive umbrella organisation for all parts of our diaspora.
There is clearly a new level of civil society activism and organisation in response to political uncertainties, but it is also recognition of a changing Ireland.
The positive referenda result of the last number of years mark a sea change in social attitudes and have transformed how Ireland is perceived here and abroad.
Our community has the potential to lead and shape the conversations that will inform future policy and direction; many of whom engaged with creativity and passion in last week’s diaspora strategy workshops facilitated by Minister Ciaran Cannon in London, Leeds and Manchester.
Whatever the consensus around the upcoming referendum on votes for Irish citizens abroad it is a huge opportunity to engage and contribute to this constitutional conversation and to register our voice as a dynamic diaspora.
We should use this opportunity to help shape the new diaspora strategy as a potential call for action.
We have the leaders in our community to do it. I see it every day in our diverse network; we now also have approximately 200,000 new Irish passport holders here in Britain since the referendum in 2016.
As we reflect on what are the values that bind and define us, we must remain open to and engage with these new constituencies, we have always adapted well as an immigrant community, we will continue to do so.
We have recently ensured that positive Irish contributions are represented in the media where the discussion around migrant contributions generally has often been negative or distorted.
To that end, we have much to gain by finding and cementing common community interests with other migrant groups and lead the debate about our civil society and its values of inclusion.
Leadership comes with responsibilities and our protections and entitlements under the Common Travel Area should galvanise how we all lead that conversation.
We understand our role will be to help facilitate these discussions, we know there is an appetite to get involved and our Brexit symposium this Saturday in Holloway confirms that we indeed value the chance to contribute in an effective way – and part of Irish in Britain’s role is to ensure all these voices are heard.