LETTER : Have a gloomy St Patrick's Day

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From Mr Gearoid O'Meachair

Sir: All over Britain this Friday, millions of people will be celebrating St Patrick's Day. Traditionally, St Patrick's Day is the one day in the year when everyone is aware of the Irish and everybody discovers some Irish roots in their family or at least something good about Irishness.

Poignantly, this year, St Patrick's Day falls on the same day as Comic Relief, but for the million or so Irish-born and the million plus second and third-generation Irish in Britain, it is no laughing matter. Despite the high profile of Irish celebrities, such as Terry Wogan and U2, and Irish success in culture, business, sport and the professions, life for many Irish people in Britain is grim.

Despite our successes, the 1991 Census and other research shows that we suffer major discrimination and disadvantage compared to the rest of the population. Only 44 per cent of us own our own homes compared to 60 per cent of everyone else; on all measures of household comfort that most people take for granted (eg privacy and central heating), the Irish- born population has the worst conditions of any group; and 20 per cent to 30 per cent of those sleeping rough are Irish.

The Irish have the highest standardised mortality rate of all groups and Irish males are the only migrant group whose life expectancy shortens on arrival in Britain. I could go on and list irrefutable statistical evidence of Irish disadvantage in the labour market, training and education.

Irish people are not asking for special favours, but for the same treatment as everyone else. A fair chance to get somewhere decent to live, to study, to get a job and to contribute. Is that too much to ask?

Today, people - particularly those who took honorary Irish citizenship during the World Cup - wearing their red noses and joining in the "crack" of their local St Patrick's Day celebrations should remember that we are not just Irish today, but for 365 days, year in, year out.

Yours,

GEAROID O'MEACHAIR

Chair

Management Committee

Cara Irish Housing Association

London, N15

15 March

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