Ireland’s four main political parties say they will build stronger relations with the Irish community in Britain in light of rising emigration.
Fine Gael, Labour, Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil are applying varying levels of importance to the creation of stronger links with the growing numbers of emigrants leaving Ireland.
It is estimated that 300,000 people will leave Ireland in the next four years, with many settling in Britain.
The parties have told The Irish Post they are mindful of the importance of maintaining a connection and said there is a willingness to widen the focus of their brief to include those who have left.
With a full time base in Westminster, Sinn Féin has the most obvious and strongest platform from which to build, followed by The Labour Party, which shares a long tradition of support with Labour in Britain.
Fine Gael told The Irish Post they have an active branch on the ground, while Fianna Fáil are taking more of a tokenistic approach, encouraging emigrants to open discourse through email.
Conor McGinn from the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party in Britain said relations between the Labour party in Britain and Ireland have grown significantly and are based on shared interest and encouraged by the large number of people now settling here.
“There’s a serious point to this,” he said. “Political parties in Ireland know Irish communities here are very important. They know Irish people abroad have made a significant contribution to the country in the past and will make a significant contribution again in the future.
“From a Labour party perspective there’s a feeling of duty to the community here because of the economic circumstances at home.
“There’s lots of talk in Britain about the Big Society and I think there are lessons that Ireland can learn from the experiences of the Irish community in Britain in terms of contribution.”
His position was reaffirmed by the Labour Party press office in Dublin.
The Irish Labour Party Society say they have formed working relationships with Irish groups while Mr McGinn pointed to the pre-presidential election visit of then Labour candidate Michael D Higgins as evidence of a tighter embrace along with the party’s involvement in British-Irish Parlimentary Assembly.
Sean Oliver from Sinn Féin said his party has been busy building links with Irish community groups and social centres through the country.
Mary Lou McDonald used these links to argue for maximum funding for the Emigrant Support Programme during discussions on the 2011 budget in Dublin.
“Senior Sinn Féin representatives, from both the north and south of Ireland, regularly visit London and other cities to meet with people across the spectrum, including politicians, trade unions, Irish community groups to their issues and concerns,” he said.
Mr Oliver said the party is supporting the work of campaign groups in Britain who will raise the issue of voting rights in the forthcoming Constitutional Convention – an issue that was addressed by Caoimhghin O’Caolain at an organised public meeting in the London Irish Centre.
A spokeswoman for Fine Gael said they were active on the ground in Britain, represented by a group known as ‘Friends of Fine Gael.’ The group is made up of Irish emigrants who feed into the party on policy.
“Absolutely, we are interested in bringing members of the Irish community in the UK, who have an interest in Fine Gael, together to facilitate such discourse,” said a spokeswoman in Dublin.
When contacted, Fianna Fáil described emigration as “single most important priority” but said the party does not organise on an official basis in London, however they do maintain contact with members in Britain.
“We welcome the input of all those who want to make a positive contribution to Ireland’s recovery. Any Irish people living abroad who would like to make a contribution to this process are invited to send their ideas to [email protected],” a spoke4sperson said.
“We know that many of our people who are working overseas want the chance to come home. We’re working to create the opportunities to allow that to happen.”