Manchester Irish in Britain Representation Group, part 2

This is the second section of a two-part history of the Manchester branch of the Irish in Britain Representation Group. For the first part, see here.

The axing of the “Irish Line” radio programme

“Irish Line” was a weekly programme started in 1983 and broadcast by BBC Radio Manchester in collaboration with IBRG. All the work done by IBRG presenters was unpaid. It was a mix of music, sport and “What’s On” which also covered some political issues. “Irish Line” was abruptly axed by the BBC in the summer of 1985 without consultation or discussion

Four of the presenters wrote to the Irish Post newspaper, outlining changes which had been imposed after the arrest of a number of IBRG members under the Prevention of Terrorism Act early in 1985. Those detained included Dr Maire O’Shea, a consultant psychiatrist who was acquitted of all charges at her trial in Manchester in 1986. The presenters said that a poster advertising “Irish Line as presented by BBC and IBRG” was scrapped before it was issued and replaced by one deleting all reference to IBRG. It had been usual to introduce each programme as “being presented by the IBRG from the Irish community in Greater Manchester” but the BBC cut out all mention of IBRG. They had recorded an interview with a member of Bolton IBRG who had been on the International Women’s Day delegation to Armagh prison in March 1985, but this had been excised by the BBC from the broadcast programme. The letter ended by stating that “Irish Line” had been given a “summer break” by the BBC and that none of them had been contacted by the BBC as to the future, and concluded with: “We do hope that Irish Line does not become yet another casualty of the British media’s reluctance to deal in any depth with any Irish issue.” This was an accurate prophecy. The BBC brought the programme back in the autumn, renaming it “Come Into The Parlour” and with new presenters. All political issues were dropped.

Relations with Manchester City Council

In October 1984 Manchester IBRG submitted a detailed report to Manchester City Council on the needs of the Irish, entitled “A New Deal for the Irish Community in Manchester”. They wrote that hoped that it would be the start of a “cordial and productive dialogue between the Irish community in Manchester and the City Council”. The report examined the causes and effects of anti-Irish racism, the lack of recognition of the Irish in the school system, the lack of Irish culture in libraries and other cultural spaces, discrimination in housing and welfare, the lack of recognition given to the experiences of Irish women and finally the effects of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. It made a series of recommendations aimed at raising the profile of the Irish and recognising some of the welfare, social and legal problems affecting the community.

In September 1990 IBRG wrote to Terry Day, head of the Equal Opportunities Unit, expressing their dismay at the lack of action by the council on the 1984 report or indeed any other issue concerning the Irish in Manchester. In her response, Ms Day pointed out that the numbers of Irish people employed by the City Council had risen from 3.1% to 3.8% and stated that “the fact that this increase has occurred proves, I think, that discrimination against Irish people had been occurring in the past, and that the measures we have adopted to eliminate discrimination have been at least partially successful in stopping discrimination against Irish people applying for Council jobs.”

Manchester Irish Week 1988

As part of its policy on Ireland, Manchester City Council had pledged itself to organise an Irish week in Manchester. Even from the start there were problems of democracy, accountability, and inclusion in the planning process, which prompted IBRG and other groups to contact the City Council asking that all Irish groups should be included. Eventually these issues resolved themselves (or so it was thought at the time) and meetings to plan a programme of events took place regularly at the Irish Centre in Cheetham with two delegates from each Irish organisation in Manchester (including IBRG).

The committee set up working parties to plan particular events such as history, games, community care and women’s events. The Irish Women’s Group decided on a programme of events including discussion of the issue of strip-searching in Northern Ireland using a video, employment, a play and a women-only social. When this programme was put before the main planning meeting it was treated with what the women involved considered was derision and condescension and voted down, at which point the IBRG delegates withdrew in protest. IBRG protested in the strongest possible terms to the Chair of the Race Sub Committee, Councillor Graham Balance, whilst women members of IBRG and a number of other Irish women attended a meeting with him to express their anger. The Council agreed that all events, no matter which Irish group had organised them, would be included in the official programme.

Tom McAndrew, a leading member of the Council of Irish Associations, then attacked IBRG in the Manchester Evening News, accusing the organisation of “tainting” the festival by including an event on the Birmingham 6. IBRG responded vigorously, arguing that in a week when the Birmigham Six case was being highlighted in St Patrick parades throughout the world, “we see no reason why it should not be raised during the Manchester Festival week, nor do we believe it would ‘taint’ the festival. The majority of Manchester Irish people support the campaign to have these innocent men released.”

IBRG worked in cooperation with the history group, the Irish Women’s group (Mna na hEireann) and other organisations to put together an imaginative programme, putting out their own independent leaflet for the Irish Week in March 1988.

On Saturday 12th March Mna na hEireann held a Irish Women’s Day at English Martyrs Parish Centre, Alexandra Road South in Whalley Range, which was advertised as “A day for Irish women to get together and discuss the issues that affect their lives eg emigration, class and education”. There were workshops on creative writing and discussion on issues of education and identity. The speakers were Moy McCrory, Oonagh ni Cleirig, Maude Casey and May Byrne.

On Tuesday 15th March the meeting on “The British Media and the Birmingham 6 Case” took place at the Green Room, organised by the North West Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom and co-ordinated by Granville Williams. The speakers were Charles Tremayne ( a researcher on the World in Action Birmingham 6 programmes) and Bob Woofinden (author of Miscarriage of Justice). The speakers explored the role of the media in both convicting innocent people and uncovering miscarriages of justice. There were also the events at the Green Room with Sean O’Neill & Company and The Jacket Potatoes.

The notion of an Irish Week was revived by the City Council in 1996 (although the 1988 events were accidentally or deliberately forgotten and the event was billed incorrectly as the first such week in Manchester). As their contribution to the Irish Festival in March 1996, Manchester IBRG organised the Irish Heartbeats conference. Thereafter IBRG decided to play no further part in the subsequent Irish Festivals, having concluded that the event was designed to annexe the Irish into the burgeoning heritage, leisure and entertainment industry in Manchester.

Prevention of Terrorism Act

Among the cases taken up by IBRG was that of Kate Magee, a young Irish woman charged under the Prevention of Terrorism Act with withholding information. In November 1993 IBRG leafleted a Christy Moore concert at the Manchester Opera House with a leaflet on Kate’s case and subsequently provided support and publicity for her during the long legal process leading up to her trial. IBRG Members attended her trial every day and were relieved when the jury found her Not Guilty.

On 25th October 1990 the branch organised a Repeal the PTA Meeting at St Brendan’s Centre in Old Trafford, one of three meetings held in the North West to support the campaign against the PTA. The speakers at the Manchester meeting were Father Bobby Gilmore from the Irish Chaplaincy in London and Kevin Hayes from the West Midlands PTA Research Association.

Prisoners

In September 1987 the branch wrote to Tony Lloyd MP raising the issue of the repatriation of Irish prisoners to the north and south of Ireland. In his reply he enclosed a response from the Earl of Caithness at the Home Office, adding that he had always supported the case of repatriation as a general principle “and tried to pursue this matter without any great success when the Home Affairs Select Committee looked at prisons in England and Wales.” He outlined some of the current problems on the issue and promised to “continue to support attempts to achieve a more acceptable solution in the circumstances both for the prisoners themselves and for their families”.

In May 1994 IBRG organised a meeting for Hugh Callaghan, one of the Birmingham Six, to talk about his book Cruel Fate at Frontline Books. Sally Mulready, who had been active in the London Campaign for the Six, accompanied Hugh and spoke about the effects of the imprisonment on the men’s wives and families and how very bravely they had taken the first steps in campaigning to get them out.

The War in Ireland

The continuing war in Ireland throughout the 1980s and most of the 1990s formed the backdrop against which Manchester IBRG operated and was something they consistently drew attention to in many of their activities. This distinguished them from other Irish community groups who were ready to promote culture, history and Irish Studies but extremely wary of any activities relating to the conflict. IBRG’s view was that it was impossible to talk about Irish history, Irish culture and Irish identity without at the same time talking about what was happening in the North of Ireland.

In October 1988 Tory Home Secretary Douglas Hurd introduced a broadcasting ban on Republican and Loyalist representatives being heard on TV and radio. The justification was that this denied “apologists for terrorism” a platform to propagate their views. In reality it was another in a long line of propaganda moves by British governments (Tory and Labour) to close down discussion on events in Northern Ireland and win acceptance for their analysis ie that it was all the fault of “the terrorists”. The government did not ban Republicans completely from the airwaves, just their voices, resulting in the surreal situation where their actual voices could not be broadcast but what they had said some hours earlier was voiced over instead by an actor. In time, and with practice by the actors, it become almost impossible to distinguish the “false” from the “real”.

On 25th January 1989 Bernadette Hyland from IBRG spoke at a meeting at which a video of a Channel 4 programme, Mother Ireland, was shown to a packed audience of over 150 at the Manchester Mechanics Institute. The film interlaced music, images and historical film with interviews with a number of women including Pat Murphy, Nell McCafferty, Bernadette McAliskey and Republican Mairead Farrell, who was shot dead by the SAS shortly afterwards in Gibraltar.

Mother Ireland was the first programme to fall foul of the Broadcasting Ban. In response the North West Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom organised a public meeting to allow an audience to make their own mind up. The meeting was chaired by the North West organiser of CPBF, Granville Williams. In her speech Bernadette outlined IBRG’s opposition to the ban: “It denies British people the right to the facts behind the conflict in the Six Counties, it denies Irish people the right to learn their own history”. IBRG joined a picket outside the BBC on Oxford Road on the 5th anniversary of the ban.

Throughout the course of the war in Ireland IBRG always defended the right of Sinn Fein elected representatives to visit Britain and put their case. In the autumn of 1986, during an official visit by two Sinn Fein local councilors to Manchester City Council, IBRG organized a meeting for Irish people to meet the councillors and listen to what they had to say.

In January 1995 the annual Bloody Sunday March was held in Manchester, the first time that the march had been held in the city . Local IBRG members joined the march, whilst IBRG National Chair Pat Reynolds addressed the rally in Albert Square alongside Martin McGuinness from Sinn Fein. The Daily Express attacked Manchester City Council for allowing the rally to take place in Albert Square. IBRG responded in the local Irish newspaper Irish Echo, defending the right to march.

Conclusion

Looking back, Bernadette Hyland, secretary of Manchester IBRG and also IBRG national chairperson for a number of years, reflected that “IBRG really was a community organisation. At its heart were people who had a strong sense of their own identity, a love of their own history and its people and a strong will to ensure that the inequality and marginalization of the community would not continue. For me personally, IBRG meant in the broadest terms a movement reflective of a socialist ideology, encompassing a better world not just for Irish people on these two islands but a better world for all people.”

Article by Michael Herbert

John Doherty

John Doherty was born in Ireland and moved to Manchester as a young man, working as cotton spinner.. In 1819 he was sentenced to two years in prison after taking part in a strike. Undaunted he led the Manchester spinners on two occasions and attempted to set up a national union for cotton spinners. He also supported factory reform and Irish independence. For a time he ran a radical bookshop and published radical newspapers.

John Doherty was born in Buncrana, County Donegal either in 1797 or 1798 and began work in the town’s cotton mills at the age of ten. A few years later he moved to Larne and thence on to the growing industrial city of Manchester where he arrived, probably in 1816.

Trade unions

John quickly became active in the cotton spinners’ union and played a leading role in a strike in the summer of 1818 whilst working in George Murray’s New Mill. The strike was well organised but unable to force the masters to concede.

He was involved marshalling and directing pickets to stop scabs (or “knobsticks” as they were known as in those days) going to work. There were outbreaks of violence and a spinner was shot dead. John was arrested outside Birley’s mill on 26th August. The crowd tried to free him and the Deputy Constable, a brutal fellow by the name of Nadin, had to call out a regiment of soldiers to escort his prisoner to the New Bailey prison. John was tried in Lancaster in January 1819, along with a number of other strike leaders, and sentenced to two years hard labour in Lancaster Castle.

The harsh sentence did not diminish his zeal and he recommenced his union activities on release. John was closely involved in an attempt to form a federal union of the spinners in 1824-25 and also in their successful agitation against the re-imposition of the anti-trade union Combination Acts. He was secretary of the Manchester spinners between 1828 and 1830 and again between 1834 and 1836.

John also led the Manchester spinners in a six month strike against wage cuts in 1829, issuing weekly addresses on the state of the dispute and calling for public support. The strike failed but undaunted he immediately tried to establish a national union of the spinners, The Grand General Union of Operative Cotton Spinners. Seventeen delegates from across Britain met in Douglas on the Isle of Man in December 1829 to set up the union which lasted until 1831.

John Doherty was also involved in an attempt to set up a national union for all trades – the National Association for the Protection of Labour . . After some initial successes in attracting trades and members the association declined and was finished by 1832.

By now he was working as a bookseller, running a bookshop, coffee-shop and newsroom at 37 Withy Grove, where he also lived with his wife Laura and four children. In 1834 the family moved to 4 Withy Grove. Not only did John sell the radical press but he also published a number of radical and trade union newspapers himself, including The Poor Man’s Advocate..

In 1833, influenced by the co-operative and labour-exchange ideas of Robert Owen and in particular his plan for the “National Moral Union of the Productive Classes”, John undertook a number of speaking tours in support of a plan to reduce the hours of adult workers to eight hours a day without any loss of pay. In Sheffield he spoke on the same platform as Robert Owen. Abstinence from drink was another cause he supported (Doherty was a member of the Manchester Temperance Society) and advocated in his newspapers.

In 1834 six agricultural labourers from Tolpuddle were sentenced to seven years transportation to Australia – ostensibly for administering unlawful oaths – but in reality for joining a trade union. There was a national outcry against the sentences and John spoke at a meeting on 7 April in the Reverend Scholfield’s chapel on Every Street, Ancoats in which he attacked the “crafty, base and cruel Whigs”, who like the Tories before them “now sought to trample them underfoot”. The Tolpuddle Martyrs – as they had now become known – were eventually pardoned and returned to England in 1838.

That same year John gave evidence to a Parliamentary Select Committee which was enquiring into trade unionism at the instigation of Daniel O’Connell, who had presented evidence of violence amongst trade unionists in Dublin, Glasgow and other towns. The unions feared that the government was planning to bring back the Combination Laws and make them illegal again. Doherty was asked by the Manchester spinners to represent them at the enquiry although, as he admitted himself, he had not had anything to with them for some years. He gave evidence in defence of trade unions on 7th June and insisted, despite long cross-examination by O’Connell, that a workman would be perfectly free in Manchester to accept spinning work at reduced prices and without joining the union and still not be subject to violence.

Ireland

Ironically John was a great supporter of O’Connell and advocated the repeal of the Union in the newspapers he edited or published. When the Whig government introduced the Suppression of Disturbances Bill early in 1833 to crush protest in Ireland, radicals held a great protest meeting in Manchester on 4th March in Camp Field. John wrote that he hoped “the people of Ireland would not rashly fling themselves on the bayonets and bullets of the borough-mongering standing army; but first make a trial of their strength”. He also asserted that within six miles there were “at the least 20,000 real, stout, determined Irishmen, prepared to assist them by every means within their power, and that feeling was not merely confined to Manchester or this neighbourhood”. Doherty’s shop was one of the places where a petition could be signed against the bill, tithes and the Poor Law.

John became secretary of the Manchester Repeal Association with branches in the Irish districts of the town and in early 1834 meetings were held in different Lancashire towns in support of O’Connell’s campaign. On 10th February, for instance, Doherty and local radical John Knight spoke in Oldham where an association was set up for repeal and radical reform to be supported by weekly penny subscriptions. Having been denied rooms in Manchester an outdoor meeting attended by a thousand or so Irish weavers was held outdoors on 17th March at St George’s Fields near St Patrick’s church, which was addressed by Doherty and a number of other local radicals including Archibald Prentice and James Wroe.

Towards the end of the meeting the St Patrick’s Day parade organised by the Manchester Hibernian Society came onto the fields and John asked the crowd to give them three cheers, believing that they were about to join the meeting. Instead the marchers continued on their way and Doherty then attacked them in his speech, saying that “at the very moment when Englishmen and Irishmen were deliberating on the best means of relieving Ireland from her present degraded condition they had insulted the meeting by parading near the place where they were assembled”.

At the end of the four hour meeting James Wroe moved the successful motion in favour of a petition to parliament to repeal the Union. Doherty published a two penny twenty page pamphlet on behalf of the Repeal Association which sold over twenty thousand copies by May. By the following year, however, Daniel O’Connell had made his peace with the Whigs and the Repeal Associations lapsed until O’Connell revived the movement in the 1840s.

In 1835 Doherty became the Manchester agent of the weekly Dublin Satirist and in the autumn of 1836 he published the Life, Trial and Conversations of Robert Emmet in thirteen weekly parts. He does not seem to be have been involved in Irish affairs after 1840.

Factory Reform

For two decades Doherty was active in the campaign for factory reform, which was trying to limit the excessive hours being worked in mills and factories. Workers set up Short-time Committees in northern towns to support the campaign for a parliamentary bill. In November 1828 , for instance, he chaired a meeting at the Manchester Mechanics Institute, called to adopt measures to prevent the overworking of children in cotton factories, where most of the speakers were spinners. In October 1832 he made a public speaking tour of the Lancashire cotton towns, ascertaining and publicising the treatment of workers by employers in each town. In January 1836 Doherty chaired a delegate conference in Manchester on how to take the long campaign forward.

In January 1842 he spoke for an hour and a half at a meeting on the necessity of a ten-hour bill. Victory was finally achieved when a ten-hour bill was passed in the Commons in June 1847

Last Years

After twenty five very busy years, Doherty’s public political life seems to have ended by 1845. He died on 14th April 1854 at 83 New Bridge Street, largely forgotten. A character named Allen in Harriet Martineau’s novel The Manchester Strike was reputedly based on Doherty. His own words from August 1831 may serve as an epitaph.

“I want to better the condition of the people-to have them stand erect and look boldly in the faces of their masters, and to tell them “We are not your slaves; we are your equals. We are one side of the bargain, you are only the other. We give you an equivalent for what we get from you, and are therefore entitled to, at least, equal respect”. Whoever opposes the present system will be the object of attacks. I will persevere to oppose it in whatever situation I may be placed. I am so convinced of its injustice, that the idea of those who create all receiving scarcely anything is so monstrous, that I can never be persuaded to remain quiet as long as the system exists”

Further Reading

Michael Herbert, The Wearing of the Green ; a political History of the Irish in Manchester (2000)
R G Kirby, The Voice of the People, John Doherty 1798-1854. (1975)

Article by Michael Herbert